Someone is having difficulty telling these two buildings apart. In fairness, I can see that there is a striking resemblance…
April 15, 2017
Yesterday, someone pointed out to me that an anonymous person was making charges on a social media site regarding Masontown, Pennsylvania, that I was a “Taj Mahal Architect.” I haven’t actually been an architect for seven years now, but in one sense, I’m kind of amused by the claim. At some point in their careers, any architect worth his or her salt will have been been called out by some critic as being a “Taj Mahal architect.” It’s late to the party, to be sure, but at least I can know after the fact that before I left the profession, I’d apparently arrived.
The charge was based on the fact that my former architectural firm was selected to design the renovation of the former Gabler Drug Store in the heart of the Borough, converting it into a new, much-needed Municipal Center including Borough offices and meeting rooms, Police Department, and separately, space for the relocated District Magistrate’s offices. The “Taj Mahal” reference is intended to be a charge that the project was lavish and expensive, a waste of money. On the social media site, copies of my invoices for the project were presented as if the fees were excessive, and the claim was made that the Borough Council acted improperly in retaining my firm for the project because at the time, Harry Lee, my father, was serving as Council President. The anonymous person making the post implied that there was some impropriety in this process. They also criticized the Council, claiming that instead of retaining a local architect, they unreasonably went to “a guy in Ohio.”
I’d like to make a few initial statements of fact. The project budget and cost to renovate the building into a new Municipal Center was actually quite modest by construction cost data for similar projects. Further, the amount of my fee on this project was not at all unreasonable – quite the contrary, actually. It’s relatively easy to find architectural fees for building renovation projects of similar scope and budget performed for public entities. If anyone would care to do a simple search of this data, they would find that my fees were actually on the low end of the reasonable scale for work of this type. That’s because of the personal pride and commitment that I have for Masontown, which I’ll discuss later. Further, while I’m no longer in architectural practice and don’t have the exact numbers at my fingertips, a significant portion of the fees charged were paid to my consulting engineers – Fayette Engineering, as local a firm as could be found. Finally, the question of my selection as architect was an issue that was reviewed by the Borough’s legal counsel from the very first moment it was suggested, and it was determined that there was nothing improper being proposed.
Beyond those facts, I’d like to offer some extended comments about the claim that I am – or at least, was – just some “guy in Ohio,” because the facts I mention above are all easily shown and the accuser’s claims dismissed, but this is the charge that most leaves me scratching my head.
I recognize that as each year goes by, there are more and more residents of Masontown who may not know me. Still, I know that there are many people there who were adults – teachers, parents of friends, etc. – and a number of people roughly my own age who I grew up with, who still live in town. If you remember me from those times, you probably remember me as the nerdy “smart kid;” the kid who had no noticeable athletic skills at all, who was sure to be the last kid picked in sandlot games; the kid who got really serious about his religious faith – sometimes, maybe too serious – during his high school years. But beyond those surface impressions, I suspect and hope that most people knew me as a normal, average Masontown kid, who was certainly no saint but who was overall a decent person and a good friend.
Both sides of my family have long history and deep roots in Masontown and the surrounding area. I was born in the Uniontown Hospital. As an infant, I was baptized in the long-gone Presbyterian Church in Ronco. When I was very young, my parents and I lived in Fort Mason Village. When I was eight or nine, my parents built a home on Columbus Avenue in the West End, the home that my mother still lives in. It was during that time that I became fascinated with the drawings and construction of the house, and decided that I wanted to be an architect.
I attended Masontown Elementary Schools, both Central and West End, and Masontown Jr. High School. I then went on to the original Albert Gallatin Sr. High School. I have fond memories of teachers too numerous to mention for fear I’d forget some. I was a band geek, playing trombone in both Gibby Rockwell’s band in Masontown, and Stan Burns’ in high school. I’ve performed dozens of halftime shows at the old AG football field; played countless renditions of the “Washington & Lee Swing” whenever we scored a touchdown. I still know all the words to the original Albert Gallatin Alma Mater.
As a youth, I played Little Knights baseball – poorly, for the most part, but to this day I’m proud to have been a member or the Giants, and an old black-and-white team photo, taken when I was ten or eleven, is still proudly displayed in my living room all these years later. I’ve eaten more hamburgers at the Savoy Restaurant, Mojock’s Corner, and DJ’s Fiesta, than I could count. To this day, wherever I go, I judge every pizza I eat based on whether it’s as good as one of the Dolfi’s pizzas from back in the day, bought out of the take-out window at the back of the building. As a teen, I stood on the street and watched the façade of the old Leroy Hotel crash into Main Street after the fire that destroyed it. Throughout my youth, I cheered for Masontown’s successes, and felt its losses as my own. Together with all the people of Masontown, I mourned the tragic loss of my friend and classmate, Emmett Diamond, just days before our high school graduation.
After graduating high school, I attended Penn State University, majoring in architecture. During the summers, I continued to live in Masontown, and I worked as an intern in local architecture firms in both Masontown and Uniontown. After graduation, I continued to live in Masontown while working for a firm in Uniontown. During those years, I worked as a draftsman on a number of local projects. I did drawings to renovate the now-demolished Central/Jr High School. I provided similar service when Dolfi’s Restaurant was expanded to its current configuration, back when it was owned by the Lofstead brothers. I also did some of the architectural drawing for the J Lynmar manufacturing building on Route 21, which, I believe, is now occupied by Hotronix. In an odd twist, I even did some of the drawings for the Gabler Building when it was originally built. In addition to that, I worked on a number of school projects, including the complete renovation and addition to what was then the Lafayette Jr. High School, as well as the Benjamin Franklin Jr. High School in Uniontown. There were many other local projects that I was involved in, including renovations to many public housing developments, several small renovations within the Fayette County Courthouse, and others.
Just as has been the case for the vast majority of people growing up in Masontown for many, many years now, I had to leave the area in order to pursue a living. That pursuit took me to Columbus, Ohio. After relocating there, and establishing my own architectural firm a number of years afterward, my connection to Masontown continued. When the late Bob Berish contacted me, asking if I would be interested in doing the design work for a small amphitheater “stage” at the German-Masontown Park, I couldn’t have been more proud to do something, even if this very small thing, for my hometown. Later, my firm would do the design work for the renovation of the Masontown Volunteer Fire Department, another project that gave me great pride to be part of. And yes, when I was asked by the Borough Council to offer a proposal to serve as the architect, I felt a great sense of pride in being able to truly do something positive for my hometown, and to help in bringing life, and frankly, business traffic, back to one of the key corners in town.
Eventually, I left the practice of architecture and entered the ministry; I currently serve as the pastor of the 300-member Springdale Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. When I left the architectural practice, I donated all but a few volumes of my personal library of architecture books to the German-Masontown Public Library. As a boy, I remember climbing the stairs and tugging on the god-awful heavy front doors of the old library building, and reading through every single architecture book that they had at that time In donating my own books, I enjoyed the thought that maybe my books would help to inspire some other Masontown boy or girl to pursue a profession in architecture as I had.
That’s all a very long-winded way of making clear that no matter where I go, or whatever I do, I carry a bit of my hometown in my heart, and I still proudly tell people that I’m a native of Masontown. I could go on and on with memories about growing up there, but suffice it to say that I am so very much more than just “a guy from Ohio,” as that anonymous person called me online.
I don’t mind admitting that I’m both angry and hurt by the attempts of this ignorant person on the internet who won’t even have the courage to post under his actual name, trying to erase my love and commitment to my hometown, and to make my service to Masontown something dirty, inappropriate, or improper. It makes me even more angry to think that this person is trying to use me in order to hurt my father – a man who has dedicated decades of his life to service to the Borough, both as a member and former Chief of the Fire Department, and as a long-time member of the Borough Council. Masontown should be proud of him. I can tell you that I certainly am.
Of course, I’m aware that this person, who not-very-successfully enjoys the anonymity of the internet, really knows that my Masontown roots run deep. In fact, this person talks out of both sides of their mouth – first complaining that an architect with local connections should have been hired for the project, and then complaining and criticizing the Council because they did.
The fact is that given my past and present ties to Masontown, there simply was no more logical, reasonable choice to be the architect for this project. There was no other architect, regardless of where they lived, who had the capacity to perform the services and who had such a deep connection to, pride in, and love for, the Borough of Masontown.
I’m also aware that this anonymous person doesn’t really care about me, or about the actual facts of the matter. As previously mentioned, they’re simply using me as a vehicle to attempt a smear campaign against my father during an election cycle. This person throws mud and innuendo around, in the hopes of deceiving enough people to reach their intended political goals. I hope that there are still enough people in Masontown who do still remember me, and know enough about my past, my present, and my character – and more importantly, the character of the man I proudly call Dad – to see through the maliciousness and ignorance, and to understand that there’s nothing of substance in this person’s attempted smear campaign.
Rev. Dwain Lee