Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office

Local Landmarks For Sale: National Guard Armories

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There is an armory in almost every county in Pennsylvania.  Some counties have two or three.  They are one of the most historically significant and, in most cases, architecturally distinctive buildings in the communities lucky enough to host one.  The National Guard in Pennsylvania has a long history of military and civic service and the armories are the physical expression of that history.  The Department of General Services is offering eleven of these historic armories for sale.  This is the perfect opportunity to adaptively reuse these buildings and retain an important landmark in your community.

Bradford Armory

Bradford Armory

The foundation of the National Guard lies in the militias of the colonial period, developed to protect their community whether from Indian attacks, local rebellions (Whiskey Rebellion) or foreign forces (Revolutionary War).  In 1755 Pennsylvania Assembly authorized the first formal volunteer militia. After the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania militia volunteers participated in many of the country’s military engagements in the 19th century such as the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.  These early militia volunteers met in the village squares to drill and practice.  After the Civil War, in 1870, the militias were formalized into the National Guard of Pennsylvania.

Scranton (Watres) Armory

Scranton (Watres) Armory

Changing times brought the need for the construction of buildings to house the functions of the National Guard.   Beginning in the late 19th century, the armories contained space for offices, storage, and drill space.  Many constructed in this period looked like medieval fortresses, called the “castellated Gothic” style, symbolizing protection and strength. The large open drill space became multi function civic/social spaces, for dances, voting, etc., when not in use by the Guard.

Waynesboro Armory

Waynesboro Armory

As weapons and technology advanced, the shelter requirements changed.  Construction material and strength requirements evolved as equipment became larger and heavier.  As these elements changed during the early 20th century, the architectural style of the armories changed as well.  Concrete construction in the Art Deco style became more common, symbolizing modernity and technological advancements.

Altoona Armory

Altoona Armory

Many of the armories have become obsolete and are being closed or replaced with modern construction to accommodate the use of computers and state of the art training.  While these older armories are militarily obsolete, they are prime opportunities for reuse.  The large drill area creates flexibility for adaptive reuse.  Across the country, armories are finding new uses as schools, apartments, museums, social service centers, libraries; and the list goes on.  The Pennsylvania National Guard has several armories on the market, available to any organization, group or individual.  These armories can continue to be community assets with the assistance of those with creative vision and economic know-how.

The fair market value of each armory is reduced by 20% if purchased with the approved Historic Preservation Covenant.  The covenant requires that the rehabilitation for adaptive reuse be accomplished in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings (link – http://www.nps.gov/tps/standards.htm).  Other incentives and financial assistance is available to the owners of a historic building such as these armories.  For income producing properties, there is the federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit program and potential state credits available for the rehabilitation of National Register listed properties.  For information on this program, contact Scott Doyle at midoyle@pa.gov. Also the PHMC offers a grant program for local governments and non-profit organizations interested in the rehabilitation of historic buildings.   For information on this program, contact Karen Arnold at kaarnold@pa.gov.

The National Trust put together a booklet, Still Serving: Reusing America’s Historic National Guard Armories to provide guidance for finding new uses through case studies.  These case studies provide ideas, processes, hurdles, solutions, and resources.  The armories currently for sale are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and worthy of preservation because they are architecturally unique and contribute to the community’s sense of place.  These armories are located in Altoona, Bellefonte, Berwick, Bradford, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Ridgway, Scranton, Sunbury, Tyrone, and Waynesboro.

This is a great opportunity to own a piece of history.  For more details contact the following people at Department of General Services:  Lisa Kettering at lkettering@pa.gov or Michael Showers at mishowers@pa.gov.

Author: Ann Safley

Ann Safley is a Historic Preservation Specialist with the Bureau for Historic Preservation. She has worked with the National Register Program and Section 106 Regulations for more than 20 years and never tires seeing the creative new uses for and rehabilitation of historic buildings.

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