Downtown Abbey

Downtown Abbey

SOTA’s Bethlehem Show House Benefits Allentown Art Museum

By Ann Wlazelek

Whether you are a fan of the hit British TV series “Downton Abbey” or not, there is plenty of history, intrigue and style to beckon you inside the Society of the Arts (SOTA) Show House in Bethlehem when it opens to the public during a fund-raising event this month.

The house – a large, white 1870s federal-style home owned by retired physicians, philanthropists and art supporters Drs. William and Margaret “Peggy” Hoffman – features architecture, antiques and furnishings designed to awe all who enter, be they servant, guest or nobility.

Twenty or more designers, including six landscapers and a stager, have been contracted to work with Colonial, African and European collectibles, including a 16th Century linen press and original watercolor painting of the home by artist Fred Bees, while furnishing and decorating the grand staircase, billiards room, sleeping porch and former servants’ quarters in a style keeping with the house’s history and the owners’ taste.

“I think people would want to see it even if it hadn’t been redesigned,” SOTA Show House co-chair Shirlee Neumeyer said of the stately mansion at 47 E. Church Street. Located on grounds once owned by Pennsylvania founding father William Penn and the Moravian Church, the five-bedroom, three-bathroom house was nicknamed “Downtown Abbey” for its grandeur and connection to the historic church community.

Open April 26 through May 18, the Show House will be available for touring Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.  Tickets, priced lower this year at $12 in advance and $15 at the door, reflect SOTA’s efforts to work with the Allentown Art Museum to be more available and affordable to area residents. Proceeds help pay for the museum’s free-admission Sundays, educational programs and endowments, as well as the purchase of some fine art prints.

A major draw to the Downtown Abbey is expected to be its kitchen cabinets. According to Neumeyer, they are original St. Charles metal cabinets, the same brand the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright used in the 1930s when building his “Fallingwater” home in Mill Run, southwestern Pennsylvania. The cabinets are no longer made but in high demand by collectors who will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said.

Also of interest are an American tall case clock, two tall-back pulpit chairs from a Moravian church and a microscope Dr. William Hoffman had used in medical school. The Moravian Book Shop and Gift Gallery, one of the designers, will play up the servant’s kitchen and butler’s pantry, making use of the antique butcher block and oak table presently in the house.

Visitors will be able to explore an enclosed, second-floor porch that once served as a “sleeping” or “cure” porch for the son of the house’s third owners, Jane Coyle and her husband, the Col. William Coyle, a former Marine, National Guardsman and U.S. Representative. The Coyles enlarged the house in the mid-1900s, according to SOTA historian Mary Jane Risch, and had it “electrified” in 1924. William Hoffman, a retired heart surgeon, and his wife Margaret, a retired internist, bought the historic mansion in 1984.

On the perimeter of the half-acre grounds are wisteria bushes and old American elm trees believed to be nearly as old as the house. Among other attractions are the crown moldings, fireplaces with handcrafted Mercer tiles and a wainscoted garage, where the help lived more than a century ago. The garage, with a small bathroom, will also be the setting for SOTA’s popular “Repeat Boutique” in which gently used household items, furniture, jewelry and cookbooks will be sold.

Guided and group tours with added details about the history of the home and its contents can be had for a small extra fee. Bottled water and café “nibbles” will be available for free on the house’s 448-square foot veranda.

Although SOTA’s Show Houses have been located in many local communities, including Allentown, Macungie, Breinigsville and Coopersburg, Bethlehem was chosen for this, the 41st anniversary, because the first show house was held in the Christmas City. Co-chairing the Downtown Abbey event with Neumeyer is Sherry May.

The theme of this year’s Show House is “Renew, Refresh, Redo,” chosen to reflect a more realistic representation of what designers are typically hired to do. “In the past, designers often came into an empty or vacant house and took over, but that’s not the reality of the design world,” Neumeyer said. “In most cases, home owners don’t say, ‘Gut the entire house,’ they say, ‘These are my treasures that I want to keep and this is what I’d like done.’”

Some of the wallpapers chosen by the Hoffmans and previous home owners are in excellent condition and will stay, along with some large antiques and family heirlooms. The billiards room, for example, was redecorated in the 1990s, and will remain as is, along with the antique desk of Col. Coyle, who died in 1962 at age 83 and is buried a few blocks away in Nisky Hill Cemetery.

“… they are original St. Charles metal cabinets, the same brand the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright used in the 1930s when building his “Fallingwater” home…

Celebrated Manhattan designer and author Liz O’Brien has agreed to cut the ribbon and greet guests at the show’s opening. SOTA members also invited her to attend the preview party, April 25, at the Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest’s Steel Stacks in Bethlehem.

The preview party starts at 7:30 p.m. and includes a “grazing buffet of food concepts through the decades” and music by former mayor Don Cunningham’s band. Ticket holders may preview the house 6:30-8:30 p.m. that evening. For an invitation, at $75 per person, contact the Allentown Art Museum at 610.432.4333.

SOTA is a non-profit group of women who volunteer to work at the museum and its gift shop, conduct tours, give presentations at schools and raise money for art education and prints. Since its founding in 1964, SOTA members have raised more than $1.1 million from events such as the every-two-year Show House tours.

Tickets for the Downtown Abbey Show House may be purchased in advance from the art museum and various Valley locations listed on the SOTA Web site, sotapa.org/show-house/.

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