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Craig Totaro, Creating a Campus for Arts and Entertainment

What do Brazilian music, weddings, piano lessons, arts festivals, and Zumba classes have in common? They all take place at the Twentieth Century Club in the heart of Lansdowne.

Located on a leafy section of Lansdowne Avenue, the Twentieth Century Club was originally built in 1911 as “a center of thought and action among women.” The Borough of Lansdowne acquired the club in 1979 and the handsome, cream-colored Tudor Revival building has served as a community hub for arts programming and special events ever since.

In 2007, a house on a half-acre of land adjacent to the Twentieth Century Club went up for sale. For Lansdowne Borough, purchasing the property represented a rare opportunity to grow a proven community amenity within densely-developed Lansdowne.

One of the leaders in buying the 20 Lansdowne Court was Craig Totaro, Lansdowne’s Borough Manager and a board member of the Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation (LEDC).

“The borough purchased the building because it was next to an existing building that we already owned, and it really filled out a more sensible campus area. Then we were like, ‘So what do we do now with that?’ It was kind of a backwards thing.”

The borough needed a plan to make the most of the newly-combined properties. Craig first heard about the Community Design Collaborative while working at The Reinvestment Fund, and thought that it was a perfect fit for developing a conceptual master plan for the expanded Twentieth Century Club property. So the Borough applied for a design grant from the Collaborative.

A Chance for People to Be Heard

From the very beginning, Craig was impressed with the Collaborative’s work, especially when it came to interacting with the community. 

“I think that the community is always very interested and appreciative of being involved. It’s always a big deal for people to be heard...The Collaborative addressed the community’s input and memorialized it into the document.”

The conceptual design by the Collaborative team focused on site improvements and the reuse of the newly-acquired house and an outbuilding. The plan adds much-needed parking to the site, with porous pavers and plantings to manage stormwater, and relocates the formal lawn and pairs it with a teaching garden and a meadow.

The house, vacant for some time but found to be in remarkably sound condition, will be reconfigured inside to provide new meeting spaces and offices for the Twentieth Century Club. An elevator will be added for accessibility.  

“I was amazed about how professional the report and the process were, especially considering it is only conceptual design,” says Craig. “The sketches and cost estimate are just fantastic. I was surprised it was so thorough and detailed.”

Not Just a Crazy Idea

Not content to let the project sit on a shelf, Craig began applying for grants, referencing the report’s valuable background information, renderings, and even using parts word-for-word in applications. It paid off.

“We used it to write a grant and an economic impact study for transforming what is now a community center into an arts and entertainment campus, really raising the profile of it. The report helped us secure a $1 million grant to fund the work,” says Craig. “It allowed me to talk about the feasibility, fiscally and engineering-wise too. With the knowledge of the report in hand it wasn’t just a crazy idea anymore.”

With this grant money, Lansdowne recently sent out a Request for Proposals for the completion of the project, and he hopes that the physical work can start by next spring. Though he knows that construction will pose challenges, Craig is excited about how upcoming work goes beyond basic systems repairs.

“It’s been fun exploring the design work that will turn into something that is very tangible and visible, not just something like a new boiler. And that’s what we’ve had to do over the last couple of decades, new boilers and air conditioning units and heating. Now we get to do the fun stuff.”



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