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New Hope grants demolition permit for Cintra Mansion

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New Hope Borough Council members Tuesday night granted a demolition permit for Cintra Mansion as part of a developer’s plan to replace it with a replica.

J. Robert Hillier, the architect planning the development of the Cintra Mansion, appeared at Tuesday night’s meeting to discuss demolition of the 200 year-old building.

Cintra was built in 1816 by William Maris, a local industrialist and entrepreneur, and is supposedly based on a palace outside Lisbon. The 2.5-story mansion has a unique floor plan — an octagonal main entrance with two identical wings — and housed the antiques collection of Joseph Stanley until recently. Before Stanley, Cintra was the home of Ruth Paxson Ely and a fugitive named Henry Lee. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Hillier and his team sought a demolition permit due to the state of deterioration. Three independent structural engineers evaluated the site. All testified that the mansion’s exterior walls were beyond saving and that the decay is the result of 100 years or more of damage. Council members previously asked whether anything could’ve been done to maintain the property after Hillier bought it in 2013.

At previous meetings, council members asked Hillier to explore saving the building, much like the restoration process at the River House at Odette’s, which was relocated after engineers tabled demolition. Hillier hired a local geologist to further investigate the stone around Cintra. He testified that the geologic formations under Cintra are different from those under the original site of Odette’s. According to the geologist, the rock at Odette’s is hard and impermeable in comparison to Cintra, which was built using the soft, soluble stone found in the area.

Hillier said his team could try “selective demolition,” which would preserve parts of the mansion while knocking down all of the exterior. In particular, he could attempt to save the interior walls that support the chimney. Unfortunately, they’re coated in plaster, so developers won’t know what the walls are actually made of (Hillier is hoping for brick) until they tear the plaster off. Selective demolition would cost substantially more, said Hillier, and there would be no guarantee that the interior walls would remain once they discover the building material. Borough solicitor John Fenningham echoed those statements, summarizing the borough’s Historical Architectural Review Board’s decision: the exterior walls cannot be salvaged; during selective demolition, each step could result in a negative outcome; it’s possible to preserve some interior elements; but it’s best to demolish everything and use new materials to replicate the historic building.

According to Hillier, his team could save some interior features, such as the original wood floor boards. He cited his previous work on historic restoration as proof that replication is the best path forward.

Council members and members of the public both stated their support of the project. Multiple council members said that while they were upset about demolishing a historic structure, they were glad Hillier was running the project to restore it. The public largely echoed their feelings, agreeing that the building needs to come down.

New Hope Borough, Cintra mansion, history

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