Before & After: The Epic Quest to Restore Walter J. Hall’s Legendary Lynn Hall
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Before & After: The Epic Quest to Restore Walter J. Hall’s Legendary Lynn Hall

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By Kathryn M.
Walter J. Hall was the master craftsman who built Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater—but not before he built his own masterpiece.

Before Fallingwater, there was Lynn Hall. Built between 1934 and 1935, this  early modernist structure was the creation of Walter J. Hall, who was later hired by Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater.

While Lynn Hall has lived many lives over the years—as a dance hall, restaurant, and office—it remains a classic example of the Prairie style that Wright made famous. Now, Walter’s legacy—and that of his son, Raymond "Ray" Viner Hall—is receiving renewed attention as two friends set out on an epic quest to restore the historic landmark.

In its early years, Lynn Hall was a popular roadside stop along the famous Route 6 in Port Allegany, Pennsylvania, a small mountain town about three hours north of Pittsburgh.

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A self-taught stonemason and builder, Walter imagined carving a country inn out of the Pennsylvania hillside, letting the site topography guide his plans. Lynn Hall fulfilled this vision with an ingenious design that flows with the landscape inside and out—both figuratively and literally.

Walter integrated organic features in ways that went beyond aesthetics—from a rainwater collection system that ends in a waterfall, to an interior pond fed by a natural spring. Marks of the structure’s Prairie style include strong horizontal lines showcasing broad stretches of glass, as well as varied ceiling heights and other uses of the expansion/compression technique.

A historical postcard of Lynn Hall—a true destination for travelers and locals back in the day.

At first, Lynn Hall was a restaurant and dance hall, with the early automobile age fueling its popularity as a roadside stop for locals and travelers alike. Declining business following World War II eventually led Walter to convert the building into an office for himself and his son, Ray, who had by that point started a design and building firm of his own.

While the property stood resolute for decades, it went mostly unused after Ray died in the early 1980s, and it slowly deteriorated as the natural world crept in.

A recent photo shows the main structure and adjacent cottage, both of which were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. At that point in time, this view of the property would have been hidden by dozens of hemlocks encroaching on the building.

It wasn't until the landmark registration in 2007, and later when a local couple purchased the property from the Hall Family in 2013, that things began to turn around. The couple, Gary and Sue DeVore, launched a renovation process that eventually inspired current owners Adam Grant and Rick Sparkes to purchase the property in 2016.

Grant and Sparkes spent the last three years tackling renovations room by room, converting the landmark into a grand private residence and mixed-use community space. Scroll ahead to learn more about their progress and incredible journey to save Lynn Hall.

Before: Exterior / Facade Waterfall

An early picture of Lynn Hall nestled against the hillside. The facade stood out for its clean lines, as well as the elegant use of natural stone and wood.

After: Exterior / Facade Waterfall

A view of the restored waterfall from a walkway in front of the main entrance. The water feature isn’t just for looks—it also functions as a cistern that collects rainwater from drains in the flat roof.

"Unfortunately, much of the building had been stripped down from years of theft, sell-off, or simply decay. Inside, we had to deconstruct each room back to the studs, rebuilding and saving where possible," says Grant.

The duo have taken on everything from bringing the electricity and plumbing up to code, to refinishing original sconces and designing new ones based on their years of experience in product design. The main spaces are now fully renovated, although Grant and Sparkes plan to renovate a family apartment that is also located in the building.

Before: Great Hall / Restaurant Space

Lynn Hall was once the place to be in Port Allegany. Pictured here, the original restaurant was located on the first floor, to the right of the main entrance.

An opposite view of the original restaurant space and the bar area. The space included custom furniture designed by Ray Viner Hall.

After: Great Hall / Restaurant Space

Today, the entrance features a restored version of the original bench and new hand-painted wallpaper. The original slate floors were tinted black to hide years of abuse and lack of maintenance.

A view of the great hall today. Restored soffit lighting glows against original mahogany panels and stonework. Other elements of Walter Hall's design were also renewed—including decorative vents built into the windowsills to hide radiant in-wall heating.

The fireplace holds a modern gas insert. Hall originally built the five-foot-wide fireplace to recirculate heat using inset iron pipes and convection to project warm air throughout the room.

Before: Dance Room / Ray’s Office Area

An image of the one-time dance hall and original smoking area, which offered access to an outdoor deck. Later, when the building was repurposed for Ray’s architecture firm, this area served as his personal office.

The dance hall when Grant and Sparkes began renovations. With its wall of glass offering sweeping valley views, the second-floor space has always been the crown jewel of Lynn Hall.

After: Dance Room / Viner Hall's Office Area

The space after renovations, with cantilevering cabinetry along the perimeter to preserve and protect Hall's original radiant heating vents in the windowsills—an example of his innovative solutions for meeting the space's functional needs.

The upper-level dance hall now serves as a private residence for Grant and Sparkes. Yet, the space’s multiple prior uses made it more challenging to determine Walter’s original intention in certain areas.

"When we run up against a problem, we always ask ourselves, ‘What would Walter do?’ On a subconscious level he must be watching, because time and again our efforts are rewarded with serendipitous success," says Grant.

A chef's kitchen now occupies the space that once held the smoking lounge and Ray’s office. The mahogany cabinetry was inspired by the former restaurant kitchen at Lynn Hall.

Once such case of serendipity arrived after Grant and Sparkes installed a fish scale molding motif on cabinetry and doors in the kitchen.

"We wanted a design to complement the architecture and unify the space," comments Grant. "Later, we discovered a historic photo of the dance hall that showed a similar triangular molding underneath the windows."

Grant and Sparkes introduced a fish scale molding design to the cabinetry and walls—and later discovered that it’s similar to the triangular molding that Walter ran beneath the windows.

The back corner of the former dance hall is now a library, with new built-in shelving inspired by designs found in the original family apartment. The natural contour of rocks varies along the hillside; Walter embraced this obstacle by designing this space to sit higher than the dance hall.

Before: Landing / Interior Water Feature

The upper level landing features a small pond built into the rear wall of the structure, which also serves as a retaining wall to hold back the hill. Originally, the fountain was connected to natural springs located on the mountain.

In a landing area outside the restaurant and dance hall, an indoor water feature reportedly once held live trout. "The fountain is connected to a complex system of pipes that run from the flat roofs to the outdoor water feature," says Grant. "This design was Walter’s ingenious solution for controlling rainwater and the flow from surrounding natural springs."

After: Landing / Interior Water Feature

A view of the restored water feature. Today, water is circulated using a mechanical pump, as renovations required the diversion of pipes away from the area in order to stabilize the hillside.

Before: Master Bedroom

A look at an unfinished area when Grant and Sparkes purchased the property. According to original plans, the space was to become additional guest rooms for Walter’s country inn concept. 

After: Master Bedroom

The renovated master bedroom features a restored seamless corner window with metal factory sash components—a trademark design element for Walter. Another wing of the structure also contains an original family apartment, which Grant and Sparkes are planning to renovate next.

When asked about the challenges of such a massive renovation, Grant and Sparkes admit there have been many, with the terrain of the property perhaps being the hardest one. "An especially large task was replacing the water main running from a well in the detached cottage to Lynn Hall," recalls Grant. "We dug a three-foot-deep channel across the steep hillsides during what became one of the wettest summers for the region. A large pool of water soon collected behind the building and almost collapsed the back wall. We got through the ordeal and have since logged several hundred hours on an excavator, running water lines, building retaining walls, and stabilizing the mountain."

The building's last official floor plan details its use as an office for Ray’s architecture and design firm. It also shows the private apartment area on the upper level.

With the major renovations now complete, both Grant and Sparkes dream of continuing their quest beyond Lynn Hall. The partially restored property is now listed for sale, with an asking price of $800,000. They plan to continue renovations while waiting for the right buyer.

Yet, the passion they have developed for Lynn Hall is also the basis for their next goal: a campaign to build interest in the local area as the origin of Allegheny modernism. Building on the region’s rich history from the invention of Pittsburgh Corning glass blocks, Grant and Sparks imagine that Lynn Hall can become a base for discovering local Port Allegany architecture as well. They hope that no one forgets the significant legacies of Walter and Ray, who himself designed hundreds of notable midcentury homes in the area.

A view over Lynn Hall, pictured lower middle. Situated between Susquehannock State Forest and the Allegheny National Forest, the property’s location still makes for an idyllic drive even some 90 years later. 

Lynn Hall is currently for sale by the owners, with an asking price of $800,000. For more information and inquiries, please visit the official Lynn Hall website.

Project Credits:

Architect and Builder (1934): Walter J. Hall

Present-day Interior Design & Renovation: Adam Grant and Rick Sparkes

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