Castle Shannon Design Guidelines





Façade Design Incentive Program Guidelines






Castle Shannon Revitalization Committee


Adopted October 22, 1987

Revised December 16, 2014


Façade Program Procedure

Secretary of Interiors Standards

Signs and Awnings

















Façade Program Procedure


The Castle Shannon Revitalization Corporation officially adopted the following guidelines for persons using funding assistance through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The re-adoption of the guidelines in 2014 reflects changes in the program incentives and target area. 


All approved projects must be within the project area in order to be eligible for the program funds. Commercial property owners and tenants within the project area are eligible to apply for assistance.


The Façade Program operates on a reimbursement process.  Reimbursement will occur when the project is completed. The applicant will be reimbursed for 50% of the cost of the approved scope of work. Exterior improvements that comply with the guidelines will be the only improvements funded though this grant program. The maximum amount to be dispersed to any one project is $5,000, which would require a match of $5,000.


Reimbursement is made only when the following criteria is met:


1.     The applicant will submit a drawing of that is to be renovated on the building with a material list to the Design Committee.  Applications can be dropped off at Castle Shannon Borough Hall, 3310 Mc Roberts Road, Castle Shannon.

2.     All projects must meet the criteria of the Castle Shannon Revitalization Committee Façade Design Program Guidelines.

3.     All applications will be taken in the order of expressed interest.  Letters of Intent preliminary applications will be required and time stamped to create the order of grant program offering.  The initial opening for the application acceptance will commence on December 1, 2014 for the purpose of establishing need for application for funds.  Each Application will be assigned a number and will receive grants in the order of application, provided all other requirements are met.

4.     The program will not fund after the fact improvements.  Any improvement started before submission will be denied funding.  Any work that starts before approval of the design by the design committee will be denied funding.  Any work completed outside the scope of what the design committee approval will be denied funding. 

5.     No person with a financial interest in a building or a relative of the person applying for financial assistance shall be eligible to bid on or do any work on project building.

6.     All work must comply with the Secretary of Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation.






Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation


The Standards (Department of Interior regulations, 36 CFR 67) pertain to historic buildings of all materials, construction types, sizes, and occupancy and encompass the exterior and the interior, related landscape features and the building's site and environment as well as attached, adjacent, or related new construction. The Standards are to be applied to specific rehabilitation projects in a reasonable manner, taking into consideration economic and technical feasibility.

1.     A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.

2.     The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.

3.     Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.

4.     Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.

5.     Distinctive features, finishes, and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property shall be preserved.

6.     Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features shall be substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence.

7.     Chemical or physical treatments, such as sandblasting, that cause damage to historic materials shall not be used. The surface cleaning of structures, if appropriate, shall be undertaken using the gentlest means possible.

8.     Significant archeological resources affected by a project shall be protected and preserved. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures shall be undertaken.

9.     New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.

10.   New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.







Awnings and Signs



Awnings are a historically popular means of sheltering pedestrians, advertising a business and protecting window merchandise from sun damage. Historically, awnings project at a continuous angle away from the face of the building on a metal frame, terminating at a skirt or valance.

The Design Committee encourages:

1.     Locating awnings over the full length of the storefront display or individual display windows or entrances

2.     Fixed or retractable awnings with solid or striped canvas, whose color, style and location are compatible with the building’s historic character

3.     Awnings made of cloth based materials

4.     Awnings that project approximately three feet from the face of the building in a continuous angle with an eight to twelve inch straight or scalloped valance

5.     Installing awning hardware in a manner that minimizes damage to historic building materials


The Design Committee discourages:


1.     Using contemporary or glossy awning materials such as metal, plastics or leatherette, which are incompatible with the building’s historic character

2.     Internally lit awnings

3.     The use of contemporary awning shapes such as rounded balloon awnings

4.     The use of canvas and awning materials for signs

5.     The installation of awnings at historically inappropriate locations




Historically, early signs were made of wood, either attached directly to the building or suspended from metal brackets. As technology advanced and building styles changed, a wider range of materials were used. These included bronze plates attached to buildings, cast iron, stainless steel, etched or painted glass, leaded glass, gold leaf, tile and terrazzo. Each material was popular during a particular time period, and might not be appropriate for all buildings. Some materials may no longer be practical for signage installations due to limited availability or expense. For example redwood is more durable for exterior installations than other types of wood but is very expensive; similarly, wrought iron is considerably more labor intensive and expensive to manufacture than cast iron. Available substitutes for redwood include Urethane board and MDO board. Both materials can be painted, carved or routed similarly to wood, but are not subject to warping in the same manner as lower grade woods or plywood. Urethane board is compressed, hardened foam, and is generally lighter and thicker that MDO board, which is made of six layers of alternately, grained wood material to protect against warping. MDO board has an approximate seven-year life span.


The Design Committee encourages:


1.     Using materials that are consistent with the historic character of the building including wood, bronze, brass, gold leaf, etched glass, paint, aluminum, stainless steel, enameled metal, leaded glass, appliqués, tile, and terrazzo

2.     Mounting individual wood or metal letters to a building or sign board

3.     Using modern durable materials such as Urethane board or MDO board that are similar in appearance to historic materials

4.     Using cast iron brackets to hang signs with hardware of a compatible appearance

5.     Repairing historic signage with materials to match the original whenever possible

6.     Regular maintenance of signage


The Design Committee discourages:


1.     The use of contemporary materials such as plastics or plexi-glass, or plastic or glossy coatings, which are incompatible with the building’s historic character

2.     Temporary paper signs mounted to the building wall, or to exterior or interior window glass


Sign Shape:


Most sign shapes are either simple geometric forms such as squares, rectangles, circles and ovals; geometric shapes with decorative edges or rounded corners; or shapes that convey the type of business. When considering which sign shape is most appropriate for a specific location, the applicant should consider the sign type, information to be conveyed, size and location of the sign, building style, and other signs at the property or adjacent properties.


Sign Illumination:


In many instances, available ambient street or storefront lighting can illuminate signs, which is preferred to the installation of additional lighting. The Zoning Code also limits the use of sign illumination.


The Design Committee encourages:

1.     Using existing ambient street light or storefront lighting whenever possible

2.     Using small scale, indirect or hidden lights such as gooseneck lights directed towards sign

3.     Using lights that are consistent with the character of the historic building

4.     Using low wattage bulbs to minimize potential glare to other properties, pedestrians and vehicle operators


The Design Committee discourages:

1.     High wattage light sources such as bare spotlights and metal halides

2.     Internally illuminated signs and awnings with the exception of channel letters at compatible locations




Neon signs, originally developed in the 1920s, are made of narrow, gas filled tubes that are illuminated through electrification. Given the age and character of many buildings within the historic districts, the use of exterior neon is carefully reviewed by Design Committee to determine compatibility.


The Design Committee encourages:

1.     Customizing neon to enhance the style or character of a building, if appropriate, in consultation with the Design Committee


The Design Committee discourages:

1.     The use of neon signage at a building’s interior that is highly visible from a public way

2.     The installation of interior pre-manufactured neon signs advertising a product or service that is highly visible from a public way


Sign Size


The Borough of Castle Shannon Zoning Code regulates the size and total number of signs permitted for each property.


1.     Signage should be compatible to the scale of the building, adjacent buildings, the streetscape and adjacent signage.

2.     Small-scale signs are also appropriate when using more than one sign.

3.     All exterior signs are included in the calculation of the sign area for each property.

4.     A well-designed smaller sign can have more of an impact than larger signs. This is particularly true in the commercial areas of Castle Shannon where the means of travel is by foot or slow moving vehicles.

Sign and Awning Colors

In considering appropriate colors for signs and awnings, applicants must balance the need to make them legible, convey the business identity or logo and complement the historic character of the building and environment.

The contrast between the logo or lettering and background color can greatly increase the overall legibility of the sign or awning. In many instances limiting the number of colors to those necessary to convey the information also increases the legibility. In addition, applicants can consider light colored letters or logos on a dark background, which can make their message more prominent.

Colors that are complementary to the historic building and environment are encouraged. Bright colors tend to be incompatible with the historic character of the buildings and environment as well as overwhelm the viewer.


Sign and Awning Lettering

Similar to selecting a color, when considering letter style for signs and awnings, applicants must balance the need to make them legible, convey the business identity or logo, and complement the historic character of the building and environment. Excessive amounts of text or highly stylized type styles can overwhelm a viewer and make the message effectively illegible. In general, there are three styles of lettering available,

a.     Serif

b.     Non-Serif

c.     Script

Within each general style numerous typefaces are available, making them bold or italicized can vary. Similar to materials, different styles of lettering were typically utilized for specific periods. Applicants are encouraged to utilize lettering and materials that complement their particular property.


Logos can be an important identifying feature for any business, and generally, applicants are encouraged to utilize a logo or symbol that identifies their business. However, HARB is not obligated to accept a sign or awning design that is based upon a national or regional image required by a corporation or franchise.


Storefront Development

A storefront is typically defined as a ground-level façade constructed with large sheets of glass to display merchandise. The development of storefronts was linked to the desire to increase commercial visibility and merchandise display possibilities. As technology
progressed through the middle of the nineteenth century, the configuration of storefronts was also modified. Smaller windows in commercial buildings were replaced with larger sheets of glass and new materials such as cast iron were introduced into architecture. Advances in technology also allowed new configurations of buildings including corner entrances with wrap-around storefronts to maximize commercial visibility. Commercial storefronts can:

1.     Attract potential customers with eye-catching merchandise displays

2.     Serve a key role in a commercial building’s identity

3.     Define a pedestrian’s visual experience and create a sense of transparency at the ground floor

Composition Of Commercial Buildings

The commercial buildings have several similar features including three vertically stacked zones. Although the three zones of a commercial building are distinct, they are integrated into a unified design. Retaining the characteristic sections of commercial buildings with their distinctive elements is important for maintaining the character of individual buildings and the streetscape as a whole.


They are as follows:

1. Ornamental Building Cornices tend to be composed of projecting moldings at the top of building wall, providing a visual cap or termination to the building. The complexity of the cornice will often reflect the style of the building with many including panels, brackets, or parapets with incorporated signage. The cornice materials can also vary widely and be constructed of wood, cast iron, pressed metal, limestone, terra cotta or decorative brick patterns.

2. Upper Floor walls at commercial buildings in Castle Shannon tend to be brick and relatively solid with the windows appearing to be “punched” through the wall surface. Upper floor windows are usually operable and arranged on a flat wall surface in a regular pattern that does not necessarily coincide with the storefront openings below. Upper floor windows can be arched and have decorative trim components or detailing.

3. Storefronts can be defined as a ground-level façade constructed with large sheets of glass to display merchandise. Storefront entrances are usually recessed within an alcove with a secondary door to provide access to upper levels.


The Design Committee encourages:

1.     Retaining the characteristic elements of the three distinct zones of commercial buildings

2.     Retaining and maintaining all building cornices, features and details

3.     Maintaining the size and shape of upper floor windows with the associated trim and moldings

4.     Reopening previously filled windows

The Design Committee discourages:

1.     Enclosing or removing elements, such as building cornices and storefronts

2.     Locating air conditioners in street elevation windows or creating new openings for thru-wall air conditioners that are visible from the street

3.     Infilling or altering window openings

4.     Removing a building cornice without providing a compatible new cornice of similar scale and detailing.



The storefront is one of the most significant features of a commercial building whether it was originally constructed for commercial purposes or converted from another use. Most people experience buildings at the ground floor level and the attractiveness and overall maintenance of a storefront can greatly influence a casual observer’s perception of a building and the business within. Because a positive impression can help draw potential customers, regular maintenance and careful design can be positive on the bottom line.

Although the specific configurations of storefronts can vary greatly at different building locations, the typical construction includes large expanses of glass to display merchandise and one or more entrances. Historic storefronts were typically constructed of wood, metal (cast iron, bronze, copper, tin, galvanized sheet metal, cast zinc, or stainless steel), masonry (brick or stone) and clear, translucent or pigmented glass at transoms.

Storefront Cornices are projecting moldings at the top of storefront, providing a visual cap or termination to the storefront and a separation with the upper floors. Cornice materials can vary widely and include wood, pressed metal, limestone, terra cotta or decorative brick patterns. Cornice details can include brackets, dentils and panels.

Transom Windows are located above display windows and doorways to provide additional daylight, and can be either fixed or operable for ventilation. They can be either single or multi-paned and are often leaded, stained, pigmented or textured glass. Historically transom windows could also include signage, lettering or other ornamental details.

Display Windows are typically large expanses of glazing to present the available merchandise within a shop. Display windows typically flank the entrance alcove to a store and can include additional advertising to further entice potential customers.

Entrances at storefronts can be located flush with the outside of the building or recessed within an alcove providing additional display areas and shelter from the elements. In addition to commercial entrances, there are often secondary entrance doors that provide access to upper building levels

Structural Supports at storefronts are necessary to carry the weight of the building and roof above and are often decorative, reinforcing the storefront’s style. Typically, structural supports flank entrance doors and display windows and can be constructed of wood, cast iron or masonry.

Aprons act as the base for the display windows and at the interior can provide a raised platform for merchandise display. Aprons can be constructed of a variety of materials with different finishes including wood, masonry and tile.

A storefront’s entrance alcove acts as a transitional space from the sidewalk to the commercial entrance. It provides shelter from the weather, and is often designed to increase the display area of the storefront to entice potential customers. Entrance alcoves tend to include a decorative ceiling and floor, and be flanked by large storefront display windows leading to a central entrance door.

The Design Committee encourages:

1.     Retaining the characteristic elements of the entrance alcoves including the floor, ceiling, flanking display windows, and entrances

2.     Retaining the entrance alcoves as exterior space rather than enclosing the alcoves as part of the interior of a store

The Design Committee discourages:

1.     Enclosing or removing elements, or materials such as ceilings, floors or display windows




Storefront Treatment

Making changes to storefronts can be a costly endeavor that if not properly planned might negatively impact a business.   Prior to considering alterations, it is recommended that property owners take the time to identify the key storefront elements and consider alternatives prior to proceeding with the work. By carefully studying alternatives, property owners tend to be much happier with the finished results. When contemplating storefront work, the following approach is recommended.

1.     Develop an understanding of the architectural character of the storefront including the overall size, major divisions or bays, placement of components such as doors, windows and distinctive elements. This can be based on selective removals or documentation such as old photographs or drawings.


2.     Once important historic elements have been identified, they should be incorporated into the storefront design. Deterioration of some historic elements might require stabilization, replacement in-kind, or replacement with a similar substitute material utilizing the historic material as the guide.


3.     Replacement of a historic storefront is only encouraged when the existing storefront materials are too deteriorated to be repairable, or a historic storefront has been encased in a newer storefront and the historic form and detailing are still present allowing for an accurate representation. Replacement of historic storefronts with modern storefront systems is strongly discouraged.

Reconstructing a New Storefront With Historic Documentation:

If there is no physical evidence of a historic storefront, there might be sufficient historical or pictorial evidence to allow for appropriate reconstruction. Appropriate research is recommended to ensure the greatest degree of accuracy feasible in the reconstruction.

Installing a New Storefront Without Historic Information:

If there is not sufficient information and documentation to accurately reconstruct a storefront, the new design should be compatible in size, pattern, scale, material and color as the overall building and similar storefronts from the period, but have distinctly contemporary characters that reflect rather than copy historic storefronts.

Although each storefront is unique, the following lists provide general recommendations when addressing storefronts. Property owners are invited to consult with the Design Committee early in the process when contemplating storefront modifications. In some instances the Design Committee can suggest less costly new or alternate materials that can simulate the details and appearance of historic storefronts.

The Design Committee encourages:

1.     Understanding the historic character of the storefront through investigation and documentation prior to making changes and reconstructing storefronts based upon evidence of original materials or pictorial documentation

2.     Retaining historic character and elements of storefronts including building material and forms

3.     Retaining original entrances, windows, display alcoves and their locations

4.     Retaining storefront windows after a change in use and installing blinds or thermal curtains behind storefront windows if privacy is desired

5.     Opening previously closed windows

6.     Retaining historic building materials where feasible – appropriate suitable alternate materials that convey the same visual appearance can be used where the use of historic materials is not technically or economically feasible

7.     Respecting the scale and proportion of the existing building when contemplating a new storefront and not extending beyond the original in height or width

8.     Considering merchandizing needs when modifying a storefront design

9.     Maintaining the planes of the historic storefront relative to the building façade including flush, projecting or recessed areas

10.  Although the Design Committee does not review paint, it recommends that a paint scheme be selected that complements the style and features of a storefront and building

The Design Committee discourages:

1.     Enclosing or removing elements, such as building cornices and storefronts

2.     Altering size or shape of major building forms such as window, door and transom openings

3.     Installing stylistic elements from periods that are different from the storefront or building and do not complement the overall stylistic expression

4.     Altering a façade from commercial to residential character unless the building was previously residential and there is sufficient evidence or documentation to provide an accurate representation

5.     Installing inappropriate materials at storefronts including vinyl siding, some types of wood siding, artificial brick, masonry and mirrored glass

6.     Installing any material other than clear glass within a display window

7.     Installing built-in furniture visually blocking the inside of display windows

8.     Installing window air conditioners in transom windows or thru-wall air conditioners that are visible from a public way

9.     Introducing a new storefront or element that alters or destroys historic building materials

10.  Creating an incompatible design or false historic appearance based upon insufficient documentation

11.  Adding a false front or false story to a building