In a companion move, the Olds-Norman House, located at 216 W. Seventh St., in the next three years will be moved a few hundred feet to a spot now occupied by Gannon's Wehrle Hall at 211 W. Sixth St., which will be demolished. The restored Olds-Norman house will be used as a bed-and-breakfast style residence for use by the university.
Three 19th and early 20th century houses in Erie’s West Sixth Street historic district will see new life and new uses through a partnership between Gannon University, Thomas B. Hagen and the Historic Erie Preservation Trust.
The agreement, reached in late March, will continue Hagen’s transformation of Erie’s West Sixth Street and further advance Gannon’s campus transformations by restoring two historic houses on the street followed by moving and restoring a third historic house from West Seventh Street to West Sixth Street. This transfer and restoration will create a string of stunning, historically significant buildings in the West Sixth Street Historic District neighborhood just west of Sassafras Street at the heart of Gannon’s campus. The full project is expected to take several years to complete, but initial steps will begin this year.
“This is a most important step in our ongoing efforts to preserve the stately and irreplaceable West Sixth Historic District houses that are so much a part of Erie’s architectural and historic heritage,” Hagen said. “We applaud Gannon and Dr. Taylor’s visionary leadership for their community awareness in joining with us in this significant project.”
“We are so grateful to Mr. Hagen for his generosity and support for our Erie community and taking yet another step forward in transforming our urban neighborhood,” said Keith Taylor, Ph.D., president of Gannon University. “The result of this project will be three more beautiful houses on Sixth Street and an urban parklet on this block.”
The current plan is to use the Carter-Shannon House at 203 W. Sixth St. for student apartments and the Frederick Jarecki House at 221 W. Sixth St. as the university’s alumni house, with offices and community spaces for welcoming Gannon alums back home to campus and Erie. The third home, the Olds-Norman House currently located at 216 W. Seventh St., will become a bed & breakfast style residence for university use once it is complete.
Work on the Carter-Shannon and Jarecki Houses should begin this year. The relocation of the third home will occur after Gannon’s Wehrle Hall is taken down within the next three years. Wehrle Hall is at the end of its useful life, and its replacement within the university’s master plan will be revealed in the upcoming opening of South Hall in August of this year.
“As a university, we have a strong planning and strategy development focus and, in the realm of campus master planning, our assessment of our properties and prioritization has led to their most important future uses,” Taylor said. “We have a long history of transforming existing buildings in the community to serve new purposes for the university and for Erie’s downtown, and we are proud to serve as a leader in improving our neighborhoods and built environment.”
South Hall is the most recent example of Gannon’s re-use of older properties. The residence hall is the reincarnation of the former RCWE building (originally Sumner E. Nichols Building), which had sat nearly vacant for several years. The Morosky Academic Center and I-HACK were the result of the university’s transformation of the two former Verizon centers; Palumbo Academic Center replaced a former department store; Center for Business Ingenuity and Center for Communication and the Arts, former underutilized office buildings; Center for Advanced Engineering, the former Boys and Girls Club (originally YWCA); West Hall, a former convent; the Forensic Investigation Center at 246 W. Sixth St., a circa 1908 home in the West Sixth Street historic district; and The Catholic House residential hall at 306 W. Sixth St., the 1890 built home of industrialist James McBrier also in the West Sixth Street historic district. Hagen has contributed to the work at The Catholic House.
The Frederick Jarecki House was previously known as Gannon’s Barr House and had been a residence for many years for faculty who taught at the university. The Tudor Revival style structure was built in 1901 for Erie industrialist Frederick Jarecki. The Carter-Shannon House is a three-story brick structure that was built about 1835 and underwent substantial renovations in 1890 into a Queen Anne-style home. More recently, it had been used as the university’s health center. Neither building has been in use for several years.
The timing of this agreement coincides with updates to Gannon’s master plan, which outlines the efforts designed to define and enhance the campus to serve the essential needs of the students and their student experience. The central block of the Erie campus between West Sixth Street and West Seventh Street along Sassafras Street is one critical component of that plan. The preservation of these three buildings and the eventual demolition of Wehrle Hall will add new character as well as greenspace to that part of the Erie campus.
“None of this would be possible without the willingness, generosity and vision of Mr. Hagen,” Taylor said. “He has been an incredible advocate for the preservation and enlightenment of the history of Erie. This will be another testament to his good works.”