Stars And Hype To Save Town Hall

Posted: October 01, 1987

Madonna was there. So was Chuck Berry. Janet Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and even Alice Cooper made appearances. But in the end, it was Michael Jackson who stole the show.

Why all the celebrities?

Residents of Conshohocken are trying to save their borough hall, a nearly 100-year-old mansion at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Fayette Street. And they decided that a good way to raise money toward that end would be to throw a party and invite the hit-makers to belt out some of their hits.

The party, thrown by the Conshohocken Crossing Guards at A.A. Garthwaite Field Sunday night, was actually a parody of the television show "Puttin' On The Hits," and the celebrities were really look-alikes.

But that didn't matter to music fans. The event drew about 300 people and raised $800 for the fund.

"The town is rallying around the whole idea," said a beaming Joseph P. Collins, president of the Conshohocken Historical Society.

Conshohocken resident and crossing guard Rita Wilczynski got the idea to help raise money for the borough hall restoration when she went before the board in April seeking a pay raise for the guards.

"We got our raise," she said, "but then I heard Joe Collins speak to the council about raising money to save the hall, and I got an idea."

Though Wilczynski said she doesn't follow through on most of her ideas, she did in this case, and the result was deemed a success by organizers and patrons alike.

After the votes were tallied by judges, including such dignitaries as the mayor and the Borough Council president, 9-year-old Richard Schilling's

interpretation of Jackson's "Beat It" won top honors, and Renee Makowski's dazzling performance of Jackson's "Billie Jean" garnered runner-up honors.

Stephanie Willey, Amy Willey and Colleen Flemming, who performed to the Angels' 1960s hit "My Boyfriend's Back," placed third; and 7-year-old Kim Kelly's rendition of Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principle" captured fourth.

Philadelphia National Bank donated the $100 first prize, Commonwealth Bank donated the $75 second prize, Progress Bank donated the $50 third prize and Meridian Bank donated the $25 fourth prize.

According to an architect hired by the borough, it will take $200,000 to repair and restore the 19th-century building.

"It comes down to repair or replace," said historical society member Jack Coll. "The Borough Council wanted to repair, and we wanted to replace."

The three-story stone house was built in the 1890s. It was once the home of J. Elwood Lee, a native son of Conshohocken and the founder of Lee Tire & Rubber Co. and Lee Surgical Supply Co. The latter merged with Johnson & Johnson, and the former became one of the largest tire manufacturers in the world.

Lee died in 1914 at the age of 54, and his wife, Jenay, sold the mansion in 1945. In 1964, the borough purchased the mansion and made it the borough hall.

The committee hopes to reach its $200,000 goal by the beginning of 1988, Collins said. To date, the restoration committee has raised $20,000.

In addition to the $800 from "Puttin' On The Hits," Collins recently received a $10,000 check from Jonas Eberhardt Warrell, of Carlisle, whose grandmother was Jenay Cleaver Lee's sister.

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