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.
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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.
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.
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
After: Exterior / Facade Waterfall
"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
After: Great Hall / Restaurant Space
Before: Dance Room / Ray’s Office Area
After: Dance Room / Viner Hall's Office Area
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.
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."
Before: Landing / Interior Water Feature
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
Before: Master Bedroom
After: Master Bedroom
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."
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.
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.
Architect and Builder (1934): Walter J. Hall
Present-day Interior Design & Renovation: Adam Grant and Rick Sparkes
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