Hill's Peter Saylor: ‘Great architect, wonderful father’


Peter M. Saylor, 81, an award-winning architect who designed and renovated numerous academic and cultural buildings for more than 40 years, died June 1 of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Foulkeways, a Quaker retirement community in Gwynedd.

Saylor lived in Wyndmoor and Chestnut Hill for many years and his professional work included the major expansion of the Chestnut Hill College campus, and contributions to Woodmere Art Museum as well as the Franklin Institute, Drexel University, the Philadelphia Zoo and the University of Pennsylvania.  He was a member of several Chestnut Hill organizations including the Chestnut Hill Conservancy, The Philadelphia Cricket Club and Chestnut Hill Community Association.

Saylor was also a beloved husband and father. 

We were very fortunate,” said Libby, Saylor's daughter, a 1993 Springside School alumna who grew up in Wyndmoor and now lives in Lafayette Hill. “Dad was very accomplished in business but always made time for the kids. He helped with homework and bath time. Every person who spends so much time in business cannot pull this off, but dad did. Dad was always just a phone call away. He was so warm, patient and kind. 

He was a very active grandfather to my son, now 24, and (brother) Tom's kids, now 16 and 13,” she continued. “We had wonderful summers and so much fun at the pool. All girls should have a father like this. It is a tremendous loss.”

Saylor's son, Tom, a graduate of Springfield Township High School who now lives in Swarthmore, told us, “He was such a great dad. I played hockey for the Wissahickon Skating Club, and he would come to the games. He'd pop his head into my room at night to ask how I was doing. We'd play with a frisbee in the backyard. I was 12 years old in the early '80s when Market East had just been built. It was not open to trains yet, but dad took me down there, and it dawned on me that he was a part of the biggest project in the city at that time. 

“And he taught us that you have to work hard for what you want. He was a part of that generation that believed that. He loved the rotary telephone, still used address books and loved decorating for the holidays. He made planes and clipper ships with balsa wood and hung them from the ceiling in our rooms. “

Peter Saylor was also a skilled photographer, his son said. “He could have been a professional. He saved the Kodachrome pictures he took in Africa when he was in the Peace Corps, and they will be in his celebration of life,” Tom Saylor continued. “In the last two months he really lifted my spirits. Although he had Alzheimer's disease for the last three years, a worker at Foulkeways asked if he knew who I was, and he said, 'That's Tom.' That was so special.”

Peter Saylor graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1963 and continued studying the discipline, earning a master’s degree in 1965. He joined the Peace Corps in 1966 and was stationed in Gabon, West Africa.

Saylor married Caroline Walker Metcalf in April of 1970, at which time the New York Times reported that “Miss Caroline Walker Metcalf, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Rich Metcalf of Princeton and York, Maine, was married this afternoon to Peter Martin Saylor, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Theodore Saylor of Ardmore, Pa. The ceremony in the Princeton University Chapel was performed by the Right Rev. Dudley Scott Start, retired Episcopal Bishop of Rochester...” 

Saylor started his career in Philadelphia with Mitchell-Giurgola, was a partner at DagitSaylor Architects, SaylorGregg Architects and then a principal at JacobsWyper Architects. Peter was a past president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

He was actively involved with the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, now the Chestnut Hill Conservancy (board of directors, 1988-1995; president, 1989-1992), Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks (board of directors, 1989-1996; president, 1993-1994), Philadelphia Museum of Art (friends of the board of directors, 1990-1993), Philadelphia Cricket Club (board of directors, 1985-1991) and Mask and Wig Club (president, 1980-1981).

He is survived by his wife, Caroline Saylor, son Tom and wife, Annie Lennon-Saylor; daughter Libby and husband, Paul Runyon Sr.; grandchildren Liam Harrison Cashman, Quinten Peter Saylor and Nelson Gifford Saylor, step-grandson Paul Runyon, Jr. and siblings Sally Reynolds, Ted and Michael.

Funeral services were held Friday, June 16, at The Church of the Holy Trinity, 1904 Walnut St. in Center City.

Memorial donations may be made in Peter’s memory to The Weitzman School of Design at University of Pennsylvania at alumni.design.upenn.edu/give or The Alzheimer's Association at alz.org. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com