February 23-March 1, 2006
cover storyWoodland Building Supply
In West Philly everyone working on an old house (is there any other kind?) agrees: If you want to match old trim and such, Woodland Building Supply is the only place to go.
You can tell Woodland is a genuine, old-time lumber yard by the goopy mud in the yard, which doesn't quite cover the old rail spur. Back in the day all lumber arrived by rail. Tracks are a sign that folks have been picking up building materials at 47th Street and Woodland Avenue for some time.
Step over those rails into the cedar-scented wood shopavoiding the two-legged pit bull of an owner in his office lairand you'll meet the acknowledged prince of wood butchers, Ed Patterson.
Patterson was the name of this establishment until recently. "My father sold it to Larry Bernstein and Larry Reese," Ed explains. "It was a family business for 50 years. I was a partner till my dad took sick. Dad was the nicest guy. He'd loan you the hammer off his work bench. Everybody around here loved him. I grew up here, and I still love it."
He has a passion for solving restoration problems. "Bring me a piece or a drawing and I can make it for you." He motions toward a badly decayed scrap of dental: "I'm doing 40 feet of this."
Hunting around the typical wood shop chaos, Patterson locates and holds up a gracefully curved cornice, one of 120 he's doing at 261 S. 41st Street, "where they are doing an accurate historic restoration."
A large square window leaning against a table is unlike any in modern catalogues. "Bring me your window and I'll repair it or make you a new one." Patterson is especially proud of his old-style doors, showing one with mortise-and-tenon joinery in Spanish red cedar that looks like light mahogany.
There is no minimum order for reproducing trim, but Patterson explains that the larger the order, the more cost-effective it is. The time to do the setup and get special knives for unusual pieces is constant regardless of the order size. "It's not cheap. If people are trying to economize I tell them to look in the ready-made bin. Sometimes they get lucky and find extra pieces of custom work in there."
Patterson loves a challenge, so he places no limits on the special orders he takes. "I've had people bring in old doors to have me make a mantel, folks who want furniture from a tree from their yard, or other stuff with sentimental value."