Sometimes in those moments between waking and sleeping, memories of childhood come floating back. This morning I awoke to memories of a pink stucco house with blueberry bushes beyond the pool, a pool where my little sister first learned to swim. The house was located at 134 Cheswold Lane in Haverford.
So, no this is not a post about Chester County. This post is about memories.
In the early 1970s, my parents were starting to think about moving from Society Hill to the Main Line. Somehow they were connected to lovely people named John and Jean Markel and they agreed to house sit for the entire summer. My sister and I were fairly little, and this was a strange idea for us because summer usually meant the beach, but this house was magical with a secret pool tucked into the back and lovely gardens to explore. Immediately adjacent to The Merion Cricket Club we could hear every day the pop pop sound of tennis balls when they hit the racquets- and an added bonus when the tennis balls sailed over the pink stucco garden walls for us to collect.
I think the summer of ’73 because I remember it was the summer they tore down the Haverford Hotel and Mrs. Sharpe’s carriage house doors with the large heavy metal (iron?) lion heads with rings in their mouths jutted out to the sidewalk on Haverford Station Road. I have distinct memories of walking along Haverford Station Road with my father and how large the lions heads and rings seemed, and the carriage house doors imposing. I also remember before they demolished the Haverford Hotel they sold a lot of things off, like furniture and fixtures. At one point, the sweeping lawns of this old hotel had rows upon rows of mattresses lined up in the summer sun like corpses.
I have looked and looked for photos of the old hotel, and the only one I can find is from an old edition of the Main Line Times:
ML History: Recapping the summer of ’73 archives By Kathy O’Loughlin Aug 11, 2010
I also found reference to the hotel and Mrs. Sharpe on the Lower Merion Historical Society website:
Catherine H. Dixon Sharpe bequeathed her home and a 2 1/2-acre property at Montgomery Avenue and Haverford Station Road to the township for a bird sanctuary. In 1978 her house was razed, and fencing and trails for walking through the wooded area were added…..A Haverford landmark for sixty years was the Haverford Hotel, built of brick in 1913 at the corner of Grays Lane and Montgomery Avenue. Its stately white columns supported the roof over a wide and gracious porch entrance. Fifty rooms were decorated with Chippendale desks, Chinese screen paintings, mahogany china cabinets, brass sconces, and sparkling chandeliers. Many wedding receptions, including that of President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, balls, other parties, and meetings were held there, but in 1973 the hotel was demolished, and Gray’s Lane House, an apartment condominium designed by Vincent Kling, now occupies the site.
It was a lovely summer. My school friend Paula’s aunt I think it was, lived close by so I would see her and I remember visiting other people my parents knew on Elbow Lane, and other nearby roads and lanes in Haverford and Bryn Mawr.
My father’s job was in the city, so I remember a lot of the time he stayed in our house in Society Hill during the week, and took the Paoli Local to Haverford Station on the weekends.
The Markels house was a magical house, and there are details I remember to this day inside. A lovely wood paneled library with floor to ceiling books, a piano, a Butler’s Pantry loaded with the most beautiful and feminine sets of china and flatware. I think it was that summer I fell in love with English and French porcelain.
There were stools in the kitchen which was large and sunny. I remember watching television sitting on a stool – there was a tiny black and white television on one of the expansive kitchen counters.
Outside were what were to me at the time the best secret gardens ever. The gardens were so beautiful and there was also a lovely pool. I remember the Markels had inside and outside staff who would come take care of things during the week.
Ironically this was the summer I also remember seeing Loch Aerie for the first time because I remember my parents exploring way past the borders of the Main Line. I remember driving out Lancaster Avenue into Chester County for movies and antique stores. I remember that there were also drive in movie theaters in Chester County at that time, but I digress.
The Markels house was old school Main Line beauty. The house was large and gracious, but just beautiful and subtle inside. It was also a very livable house. I think it was because of this summer that a few years later my parents eventually settled in Haverford after a year in Gladwyne.
According to Montgomery County public property records, the people whom eventually bought this lovely house from the Markels sold it to Merion Cricket Club more than a few years ago for a little over $1.5 million:
Unless you lived back on those streets, you really weren’t paying attention to who was selling and who was buying. I remember before I left the Main Line talks of Merion Cricket Club amassing neighboring properties so they could expand. I just didn’t pay much attention to it. I was never a member, only ever a guest.
Recently, someone sent me a Zoning notice from Lower Merion Township:
Wow, so now we know why Merion was buying all the properties over the past years, right? They want to become a land locked Main Line Country Club? Forget that the history of the club, and the traditions of the club do not lend themselves to this, that there already are swim clubs and country clubs on the Main Line.
But given the nouveau Main Line, I completely expect all of these lovely houses Merion Cricket has amassed in these still lovely neighborhoods will fall to the wrecking ball with hardly a whimper.
These are beautiful homes. They are also part of an increasing history of the Main Line no one cares about, or they find it is acceptable to just sacrifice these established and lovely neighborhoods. This is a change that will impact this area. For those of us with childhood memories it is sad and / or bittersweet. I am guessing my own personal memories of a magical childhood summer have surfaced because of this news.
Here is a recent article on the topic:
LM Zoning: Merion Cricket Club seeks demo of club-owned historic homes Viability of club’s future addressed in plan
By Richard Ilgenfritz firstname.lastname@example.org @rpilgenfritz on Twitter Apr 21, 2017 Updated Apr 21, 2017
Citing the need to attract additional members, officials from the Merion Cricket Club are seeking Lower Merion Township zoning approval of a plan to demolish seven historic homes in Haverford, including those built by famed architect Walter Durham, and repurpose others.
“The club has seen its membership levels drop over a significant period. In order to address the long-term, continued viability of the club, the club has, over the years, acquired the adjoining parcels and has embarked on a master planning process to develop a vision for proposed improvements to the club’s facilities. By providing for improved facilities, the club’s objective is to allow the club to stabilize membership levels, and thereafter return to and sustain its previous membership levels,” according to the application submitted to the Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board…..The Cricket Club has owned many of the properties for more than a decade and under the plans will demolish houses on Elbow Lane near Cheswold Lane and ones near Grays Lane to the rear of its historic property. Four homes in the center of the Elbow Lane to the rear of the club will be retained and repurposed for other uses.
The Lower Merion Conservancy placed the Durham homes that date back to the early and mid-1900s on its Historic Preservation Watch List last year due to concerns that they would be demolished.
Sometimes things done in the name of “progress” are painful. But I no longer live there, so I write about this as an observer memorializing memories of a summer long ago.
Enjoy the lovely day.