It took years, but Dr. Mike Vancheri found the right person for the job

PUNXSUTAWNEY — It took years of planning, but the former T.M. Kurtz home at 312 West Mahoning St. — now the office of Dr. Michael A. Vancheri — has another part of its original design intact.

Saturday, the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society honored Vancheri with one of its four Awards of Commendation, for his work in restoring the exterior second-floor balustrades to their original design, thus “bringing to modern residents the original look of this part of Millionaires’ Row.”

A balustrade is a row of repeating balusters, small posts that support the upper rail of a railing, often seen on staircases and porches.

The house — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — was built in 1904, and Vancheri has housed his orthodontics practice there since 1996.

“I’ve always liked architecture, and when it became available, the floor plan worked out for us,” he said.

Vancheri — whose office also houses Punxsy’s local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation — said the architect of the house was Henry C. Park, who also designed the Jackson Theater and used this classically-designed balustrade in much of his work.

“The interesting thing is that the new one was able to be constructed on the ‘footprint’ of the original, as there was evidence of stray paint marks on the bricks of the building depicting the shape of the top urn finial, and thus this gave an indication of the height,” he said.

The tar roofing material also showed an imprint of the size of the base of the posts. 

Using that information, in 1996 or 1997, Vancheri used graph paper to sketch out the development of the proportions of the new one.

He said he asked around of patients who are carpenters if they would be — or knew of anyone — interested in taking on the project of restoring the balustrades, but he said, “No one wanted to take on the job.”

Finally, Vancheri found someone for the project: Sam Stanford and his son Sam Jr., who built the new cedar balustrades off-site in their workshop in Burnside and fit it together on the porch roof in October 2009. 

“One might consider it to be especially unique, in that there are curved easements as the balustrade rails tie into the posts,” Vancheri said. “I’ve read this was thought to be more ‘delicate.’”

He also acquired other similarly-made, salvaged balustrades to get a sense of how to use the several pieces of wood to construct the new one. 

“My thanks go out to Sam for being willing to take on such an ambitious project and to the Society for their recognition,” Vancheri said.

He provided a document from the April 20, 1904, edition of The Punxsutawney Spirit, which read, “Building operations will be well underway in Punxsutawney before the close of the week providing the weather is favorable, and the prospects are that before the end of a fortnight, work will be in progress on at least a dozen buildings.

“The operations include the erection of four fine dwellings on West Mahoning Street,” the article read. “Messrs. T.M. Kurtz and Davis Goheen, who recently became the purchasers of the old Hastings properties, lying between J.A. Weber’s residence and Dr. Grube’s home, have already begun active operations by removing the old buildings and clearing the grounds to the alley in the rear.”

The article concluded, “With all of these building operations in progress, in addition to the starting of several new industries, the prospects for a busy and prosperous summer in Punxsutawney seem to be exceptionally bright.”

The Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society’s Awards of Commendation are presented annually to area residents or organizations who have actively and voluntarily supported the goals of restoring and preserving Punxsutawney area history in their private efforts.