Forrester Enterprises Helps Build a Castle in Gladwyne

Tue November 13, 2007 - Northeast Edition
Robert Forrester



A French country manor home of well over 30,000 sq. ft. was completed in October in Gladwyne, Pa., but looks as if it could carry a date stone that reads 1904.

Baby boomers across the country are building homes that mirror those that were built by industrialists in the early 20th Century and this mansion, which took more than four and a half years to build, is part of that trend.

Forrester Enterprises of Aston, Pa., began this project by demolishing an existing home that included a pool and tennis court. Working with Balmer Bros. Concrete Works Inc., of Akron, Pa., they poured 2,210 ft. (673.6 m) of concrete walls with window bucks and wells that included piers and offsets that were tangent to the curves. The poured foundation won The Basement of the Year Award in 2005 at the Annual Concrete Foundations Association of North America Conference in Las Vegas.

“This is the most complex project regarding ’high tech’ meets ’old country charm’ that we have merged together,” said Forrester. “Start with 4.2 miles of pipe underground. Add a storm water management system that doubles as a moat — yes, a moat — and top it off with a touch-screen security and lighting system and a scaled-down version of the dancing Bellagio fountains.”

Forrester worked with Balmer Bros. on the terrace and moat. Robert Forrester, president of Forrester Enterprises, explained that the moat is a unique way to capture the storm water runoff from the 9,500-plus sq. ft. (883.6 sq m) cobblestone courtyard. The moat features include 32 submersible lights, an aerator system and re-circulating filter. It holds 13 in. of water at all times with a weir to handle heavy rainfall and an M-inlet to handle overflow conditions. It also contains a bubble-up spreader that handles post run-off.

For a company that’s been around for nearly 70 years, complex projects are an anticipated, and in the case of this magnificent estate, greatly enjoyed, part of the job.

Lester Forrester established Forrester Excavating Company in 1939. In 1952, Lester passed on the business to his son, Robert, while he moved on to become chief of police in Springfield, Pa. Robert was an original founding member of the Suburban Contractors Association.

Robert Forrester Jr. joined his father during the first major project that Forrester Excavating landed, the Springfield Mall. That project began in 1972 and from then until 1974, Robert Jr. did a work-study program at his high school, spending his mornings at school and his afternoons on the job with his father. Weekends and summers also were spent in the business, until he went full-time after graduation.

In 1998, when Robert Sr. retired to Florida, Robert Jr. established Forrester Enterprises. He explained that, “what started out in the 1940s plowing Victory Gardens has progressed from residential construction to commercial buildings, running the gambit from shopping malls to high-end family homes.”

The builder of this particular high-end family home, which Robert Jr. said his young daughter referred to as “the castle” while he was working on it is Malvern Development Group, located in Malvern, Pa.

“Brothers Mike, Nick and Joe Rabena along with partner and cousin Rick Maltese, brought unique insight to every aspect of this project with over 100 years of combined experience. Decisions were made quickly and with cost in mind. They were able to make construction of complex projects such as this one more manageable,” said Robert Jr.

Powering this home with gas, water and electricity requires what would be needed to supply a 12 home subdivision. Some of the special features of this home that benefit from the underground installation include 16 bathrooms, nine gas fireplaces, two pools, sauna, fountains, tennis court, elevator, barbershop and a two-lane bowling alley.

Installing the underground wiring and piping system that handle gate controls, outdoor lighting, security, loop fields, laminar flow jets, fiber optics and variable-speed water jets was a major challenge. The wiring and piping systems compete for space but are not always compatible together without isolation distances.

“The house is visible from the road and people will stop and stare, especially when it’s all lit up at night,” said Forrester, proudly. “When people ask me what it looks like, I tell them, ’remember the first time you went to Disney World and saw the castle? It looks like that.’”

Throughout this extensive project, as well as through three generations of Forrester excavation businesses, Ransome CAT has been supplying them with equipment.

“I don’t even remember how many pieces of equipment we have purchased from them over the years. There are four pieces of Cat equipment in the photos of the mansion project. We had others there, too, throughout the whole project,” said Forrester.

“I have a D-3B extra 75 series Cat dozer with an original clock that reads 19,003 hours. People don’t believe me when I tell them that. It’s from 1986 and I ran it just the other day. It’s my longest running piece of equipment. I wish they made cars that way. Quality, performance, service, parts availability and resale value are what make Ransome CAT great, period. Currently, we have a mix of new and used equipment in the fleet. That’s where Mike Evans and Tom Rosser of Ransome CAT help me out. They are able to size and price a machine geared towards my projects,” he added.

Joe “Doc” Dougherty, lead operator of Forrester Enterprises is pleased with the latest addition to the fleet, a Cat 420 DIT. The machine is fully loaded including forks. Dougherty said he is able to ask other subcontractors on the job to store their materials on pallets. “This way I can move their materials where they need them and also move them out of my way to excavate or grade,” he said.

In addition to the flexibility of a cab-controlled quick disconnect, air ride seat, pilot controls; Dougherty claimed the stereo is not too shabby either. CEG