Kay Sykora had lived in Manayunk and Roxborough since 1973, raising her children there and renovating several houses. Over 39 years, she helped found the Manayunk Development Corp., where she spent 16 years as executive director. She loved the area's history and charm.
Frank Meis spent four decades in a classic Colonial in Lafayette Hill, raising a family there with his then-wife.
When he and Sykora decided to marry in 2008, they looked for a place that was "theirs." She was smitten with the hill towns, and he warmed to the idea of city living, but with one caveat: He wanted a driveway. They found one at the top of Green Lane in Roxborough. The garden and the generous backyard sealed the deal.
Their postcard-worthy Victorian dates to 1858. Its original owner, back when coal would come downriver through the canal system from Schuylkill County, was Richard Wetherill, a coal dealer. The property was part of a 40-acre farm owned by the Mitchells, Leverings, Martins and Pechins, a foursome who ultimately gave the farm to the city, asking that their names remain on the nearby streets. Next door lived Benjamin Guggenheim, who died on the Titanic; his brother, Solomon, donated the funds for the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Though its history is part of the allure of the Sykora/Meis house, the structure itself is a jewel that was well-loved by a previous owner, an architect, who redid the kitchen in Shaker style; it now opens to a family room. He restored much of the wood, including the inlay in the hardwood floors; added a wall of bookshelves in the family room that curves around an arched doorway, and made a wall of cabinetry in the dining room.
When Sykora and Meis moved in, they redid the master bathroom, which now has a Jacuzzi and new flooring, and made the four-bedroom house into three by opening up a wall.
Today, the second-floor master bedroom has French doors leading to a sitting room, where he can watch games while she reads. The original winding stair leads to the third floor, which features two more bedrooms and a full bath.
French doors throughout the modest-size house offer breathing room, which Meis, the founder and president of PC Solutions, a computer business, loves. One set of doors separates the living room and dining room; another sets the dining room apart from the family room.
"I like the idea of being able to see from the front porch to the back porch," he says. "I love houses that are airy, and this one is."
From May to October, the couple are outside in their oversize yard, often dining al fresco. Come winter, they are in the family room, cozy by the fireplace, often with friends and relations.
Joe Johnson, of Workerman Galleries, installed the gas fireplace and designed the ornate wood surround, which matches the style of the house — what Sykora calls "simplified Victorian." Johnson also restored the ample front porch, where they can sit and watch their neighbors walk by.
The neighborhood features an array of house styles, which she loves.
"Down the street, we have what I call the `Great Gatsby' house, which dates back to 1910 and was the home of an industrialist," says Sykora. "People are coming in and doing some nice renovations on these houses."
They feel a sense of community here. "Roxborough has quietly evolved. We have old-timers, and those new to the area. We have potluck dinners and plant swaps because we have so many gardeners here," she says.
The couple like being near the Wissahickon and the Schuylkill trails. Meis now works part time for Gaudenzia Inc, a nonprofit drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation center. In his down time, he can catch the train nearby and be in Center City in 20 minutes.
"I love being able to walk everywhere I want to go, from the gym to favorite restaurants, to walking around the corner to hang out with friends," he says.
Sykora is still involved heavily in the betterment of Manayunk and Roxborough. Her current waterfront project includes planning and building trails, recreation, docks, and even a theater along the Schuylkill (visit http://www.destinationschuylkillriver.org for details).
"It has been exciting to see the evolution. What started as simply economic-development projects on Main Street, Manayunk, has allowed me to grow and to be a part of and appreciate this community of people who care about their neighborhood," Sykora says.
For her and her husband, working on this house meant working on a new life.
"What makes this house special is the work we did on it together," she says, "picking out details from appliances and light fixtures to silly things like switches." As one friend commented as they did their renovations: "You finally have that white picket fence."