historic preservation is inspiring and infectious, why can’t we have more not less?

This was something the greeted me this morning when I popped open my tablet. An update from Meg Veno at Life’s Patina about the restoration in progress of the Jenny Lind house in Historic Yellow Springs Village this morning she was talking about antique fire backs and it triggered a memory in me, reminding me of my late father upon seeing these fire backs.

When I was very young, as I have written before, my parents bought a wreck of a house from the redevelopment authority in Philadelphia. Literally a wreck. It was their first house and they had lived in an apartment close by as newlyweds.

An 1811 double front townhouse turned into bad apartments in the depression (if memory serves.) This was the early 60s and most of Society Hill was a slum. I remember my father hunting for fire backs for all the fireplaces (and almost every room had one except for the back building.) Because the homes were in such a general condition of disrepair, you would salvage for missing parts quite literally from other homes being torn down.

This was the original “sale sign” on the house my parents bought in the ‘60s in Society Hill

Yes above you see the actual sale sign that was hanging on the house my parents bought from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in the early 1960s. I will note that in today’s world, realtors and others get the actual date of this house I was born in wrong. Sometimes it’s just buy a couple of years, other times it’s been by decades. I don’t know how they can’t do their research. I keep the sign with me as a souvenir of my childhood there.

I have distinct memories of Society Hill when I was really little and it was like a giant construction site. There were so many houses that were beyond repair being torn down, other houses being restored, and in some cases entire blocks being leveled for new construction. Including next door to our house.

From Philadelphia government archives. Photo dates to 1957

From Philadelphia government archives. Photo dates to 1930s

If you look at those photos, the one immediately above the one that was taken in the 1930s when the house was part of an entire row of homes built in the same early 19th century. The photo above that is from 1957 and a bunch of the houses had already been demolished. I will further note that the house at the end of the row in the 1957 photo (269 S. 4th) was torn down by the time my parents bought their house (271 S. 4th.)

When I was a little girl until they started building, right next-door to us was a big old empty lot with a giant sycamore tree in the back corner.

The two screen shots above are from the PhillyHistory.org amazing photo archives. This next screenshot is from Philadelphia Architects and Buildings and was taken in the 1980s:

When I look at that photo I get wistful because the little street tree is a pin oak tree my father planted when I was a little girl. I also have that memory of him planting the street tree and taking care of it throughout the years. Just like I have memories of my mother scrubbing down by hand the white marble steps. It was the only way to keep them clean.

The next screenshot is a Google shot my parents’ old house today. I have no idea who owns it I know it’s sold a couple of years ago. I presume it is still single-family. It would kill me if it was put back to apartments after all these years.

And look to the left of my parents home townhouses built in the early 1970s. I don’t think it was late 1960s, but maybe they were at least in planning. Look at the difference between what you see being built today and what was built then. It has a better size and scale to fit into the existing neighborhood. The design while modern, nods to the past. It is a shame we can’t get that today with new construction, isn’t it?

Society hill in the 1960s was a very different place than a place you see being gentrified today. It was like this unspoken word-of-mouth saying that when houses were being either taken down or strip to the studs, people from the neighborhood that were in the middle of restoration projects always got a pick at salvage basically.

Meg’s photo of her firebacks took me back to when my father was restoring the fireplaces in our house back then. I have no idea if the fireplaces are still wood-burning, but they were when I was a child. And I remember my father going in and out of houses being torn down or houses that had been torn down and all were left were piles of rubble looking for hardware and firebacks and even some mantelpieces. The mantelpieces in this house I was born in were predominantly marble. A lot of them were black marble with beautiful veining.

The mantelpieces my father picked up out of homes being torn down were wood. Some of those had future use in other houses.  Daddy hated the waste so he literally collected hardware, doors, etc. Everyone did in those days.  Of course yes there were scavengers that just stole from everyone but I don’t remember them actually living in Society Hill.  They would just appear like carrion crows every now and again. I do remember my father chasing a contractor out onto the roof of the 4th floor for using interior mouldings as window trim. (But I digress as I ramble)

The PhillyHistory.org is a treasure trove of photos. You can see how bad a lot of the houses were on the inside, let alone the outside. I haven’t been able to find archival photos of my parents’ house from before they bought it but here’s a screenshot I took from one of the neighborhood homes of these archives that will give you an idea of the restoration that was necessary:

It’s crazy when I think about the way it was to what it has become as an area today. One thing no one ever talks about is how Society Hill got the name Society Hill.  Cue USHistory.org :

Named after the long defunct Free Society of Traders, this area of Philadelphia extends from Walnut to Lombard Streets, from Front to 8th Street.

 

The Society for which Society Hill is named is now defunct. The Free Society of Traders, a stock company to whom William Penn made liberal concessions of land and privileges, encountered virgin territory and woodlands stretching westward to the Schuylkill. They found some Dutch and Swedes living here as well. Though by 1683 the Society’s assets already included a sawmill, a glasshouse, and a tannery in Philadelphia, but two score years later they were bankrupt. The Assembly put the property of the Society in the hand of trustees in order to pay its debts.

 

Home to many members of the federal government when Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital, the area also attracted the locally wealthy and international nabobs as well. As the land juxtaposed the river and the seat of government, it was the most valuable in the city. From greed and speculation, lots were divided and divided again. The result: the serpentine walkways, abrupt angles, and tiny alleys that today make the area so appealingly intimate.

 

Over decades the area lost its cachet and ultimately became a dilapidated slum with a massive food distribution center located on Dock Street

 

But an interesting thing about when Society Hill came back to life is a lot was abandoned and derelict and empty.  It wasn’t a case of just displacing people to allow gentrification. That happened in many other areas of the city, however.  I am not going to say the Redevelopment Authority was full of angels.  There were always stories growing up.

PLAN PHILLY/WHYY: GENTRIFIED: STORIES FROM RAPIDLY CHANGING PHILADELPHIA
From slums to sleek towers: How Philly became cleaner, safer, and more unequal
By Jake Blumgart Jim Saksa March 12, 2018

Harry Schwartz, 84, remembers when his neighborhood, Society Hill, was one of the poorest parts of Philadelphia. But by the time he moved there as a young lawyer in 1969, things had changed. City planners had fixed up crowded blocks of crumbling old houses and razed a congested, old wholesale produce market to make way for majestic modernist towers. Schwartz and his pediatrician wife were attracted to Society Hill’s architectural gems, tucked among its cobblestoned, walkable streets. Soon, they found themselves surrounded by a community of artists, activists, and young professionals like them.

They loved it. Society Hill allowed them to bike to work and walk to friends’ houses for Julia Child-inspired dinner parties…The reinvention of Society Hill in the 1960s is widely considered one of the first instances of gentrification — although no one called it that at the time….“What happened in Society Hill in our experience, and I speak only from that, was not displacement,” says Schwartz, who moved in about a decade after city government spurred the redevelopment of the neighborhood. “But rather [by the time they moved in 1969], re-occupation and restoration.”

 

It was different.  And it was a time where progress didn’t hurt so much and people were actively participating in historic preservation.

There is this website I have discovered called Preserving Society Hill.  They have these oral histories transcribed. Some I have read have made me very emotional reading them. These are the people of my earliest years, the faces of where I lived. Some I still know today.  It is boring for all of you to hear me talk about this website, but for me, I am reading interviews given by people whose houses I played in or who my mother was in the babysitting co-op with and so on.

I will share a snippet of one given by Mrs. Burnette.  She and her husband who is an architect were friends of my parents and my sister and I went to school with their daughters.  They lived on S. 3rd Street.  I loved their house and still am connected to the daughters today:

DS: Tell me more about the condition of the house. Had it been open to the elements? Had it been vacant for a long period of time?

MB: I think it had been vacant for a while, because it was – as I remember, it was just large and dirty. [Laughs]

DS: Large and dirty. Were there animals or anything inside?

MB: No, no, it didn’t seem to be that way.

DS: Pigeons?

MB: No. Of course, it’s surprising that we went up into the attic and cleaned (5:00) the attic first of all. I remember being up there with a broom and sweeping out the attic and finding an old shoe. But the rest of it was pretty open. I don’t know if the Redevelopment Authority had come in and cleaned some of it out. Has anybody else said anything about that?

……DS: The Redevelopment Authority – you bought it from them.

MB: Yes. As I remember, it was $9,800.

DS: Gosh!

 

Another oral history was given by my friend’s father Philip Price.  What an amazing man he is!

Philip Price, Jr.’s account of his experience restoring 321 Spruce Street seems to include more lawsuits than do those of other narrators. A fire on the third floor had done a lot of damage to the house when Phil and his wife Sarah bought the place in 1965. The house was in “absolutely appalling” condition, but Phil and Sarah wanted to live in Center City and “enjoy the challenges of moving into a redevelopment area.” They also bought the property next door, 319 Spruce, where they would enjoy planting a garden. They did a complete rehab of the house: electrical, plumbing, roof, painting, nine fireplaces all restored to working order, and ultimately shutters required by the Redevelopment Authority.

One lawsuit arose after Phil and his contractor discovered that the chimney shared by the unrestored, unoccupied house next door at 323 Spruce was about to fall off the houses and crash onto the sidewalk – so imminently that Phil had the chimney removed immediately and wrote a letter to the other owner describing what had happened. The other owner sued Phil, but Phil prevailed

Truthfully this Preserving Society Hill website is a gem to me.  Even some of my childhood playmates are interviewed with the oral histories. If you lived in Society Hill when we did you will love the memories evoked. It’s why I love oral histories and think they are so important. I have always said communities should commit to oral histories.

But what is also so great about the oral histories I am reading on this website is I am not mis-remembering things. Like all of us who got jumped or mugged. Yes truly and as kids. They stole my friend’s bike right out from under us in Bingham Court which was down the street from our house.  My friend wore glasses and they smashed them in her face.  Then there was the Halloween a whole bunch of us got mugged for our Unicef collection boxes. And we were with parents. I remember we were wearing these giant paper costumes by Creative Playthings too – parents loved them because you could bundle kids up underneath.

Society Hill was tough but it was wonderful.  I loved the history of it and still do.  It was proof that historic preservation does and can work.  This is my touchstone when I think about historic preservation anywhere.  Society Hill brought together people from all walks of life, backgrounds, races, religions.  Oh and guess what else? Most people had walled gardens they created as they were restoring their houses.

So Meg Veno? Thank you for inspiring me today and evoking happy memories that made me take another ramble down my own memory lane.

We need more preservation.  We need development to fit with where we live when it happens. It is possible.


life in black and white…at life’s patina

Once upon a time in 2012 in the summer I was asked to photograph beautiful Chester County properties for a historic house tour. The Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust’s Annual Historic House Tour.

On this day, for the first time I saw Willowbrook Farm, which most of you know as Life’s Patina. At this point in 2012, the barn where so many go to enjoy special events and charity shopping days was being restored. I had not even met Meg Veno yet.

I fell in love with this farm on that day many years ago.

The restoration and adaptive reuse of the barn and the restoration of the property is an amazing thing to behold. It’s just so beautiful.

The care, the love, the attention to detail. And I have loved all of my many subsequent visits ever since.

Meg is inspirational to me. She is endlessly creative and has an incredible eye. She is also one of the kindest people I have ever met.

I was going through old photos and came across these and thought I would share them.

Life’s Patina is also expanding. They are restoring and renovating the Jenny Lind House in Historic Yellow Springs Village.

Now Yellow Springs is one of my very favorite places and has been since I was much younger. I used to come to Yellow Springs with my parents. My father loved the village and we used to come for the art show and sale and the antiques show they used to host (which I always thought was fabulous by the way.)

I took these next two photos of the Jenny Lind House last May 2019. I was in the village for the Herb Society Plant Sale. It’s so wonderful to see the house come back to life!

Anyway, enjoy the photos and celebrate those who chose to restore and renovate and find an adaptive reuse for old structures. We need more of that around here!

Make sure you check out Life’s Patina on their website and Facebook page. They often have terrific events. And the bonus is you also get to see a property that’s a slice of heaven in Chester County!

the jenny lind house in historic yellow springs needs love (and a new lease on life)

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The Jenny Lind House, former home of Yellow Springs Inn looking forlorn May, 2018

A few years ago I remarked on what I thought would be the demise of the Yellow Springs Inn. It resulted in a flurry of breast beating (which can still be found on their old/existing website.)

I was off by a couple/few years but above is the Jenny Lind House as of this week. I went out to the Yellow Springs Art Show (truly amazing this year by the way, and runs through May 13th), and was honestly sad to see the sad down trodden Jenny Lind House.  It was a far cry from this photo I took a few short years ago:

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What happened? I guess the restaurant left given the deed/document thing I found on Chester County’s real estate site (2017 Deed Transfer).

But that is not ALL happening there.  Whomever owns it now seems to have had a stop work order issued on them. I kid you not:

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Sorry, not the best photos. A lot of sun glare when photos were taken.  So who is REO Acquisitions, LLC and what are they up to? The letter sent out by West Pikeland in April was sent to these REO Acquisitions c/o FCI Lender Services of Anaheim, CA.

PT Barnum Poster off of Wikipedia Commons

So what the heck were they doing to Jenny Lind house???

Now according to Historic Yellow Springs “Mrs. Holman, the retiring owner of the Yellow Springs Spa property, built the Jenny Lind House in the early 1840’s as a boarding house – it has eight bedrooms!”

How it go the nickname Jenny Lind House is history has it that she stayed in Yellow Springs during the Philadelphia portion of her P. T. Barnum-sponsored concert tour in 1850.  (Yellow Springs Catering Website)

Historic Yellow Springs Inc.,   is on the National Register of Historic Places. They can’t just do anything random to the Jenny Lind House! And this place deserves preservation!!

So here are a bunch of my photos from Jenny Lind’s Yellow Springs Inn days:

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Here are some sad photos taken this week:

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So look, anyone interested in giving the old gal some help? I have absolutely NO idea who these REO Acquisitions people are mentioned in the legal letter plastered to the door. But my guess is whomever they are, they are across the country and this is just some thing they own the paper on, right?  So my guess is West Pikeland Township and Historic Yellow Springs and the residents of the village would love to see this building in use.  I know I would. It is a lovely restaurant space, so it could be once again. Or a cafe. Or a cafe and  Air B and B (it still has a slew of bedrooms, right??)

Now it can be done because the house next door was quite derelict until the Halys bought it, and now it is a totally charming rental house for vacations, etc (Wm Haly House see VRBO). This is how Haly house looked  in 2012 or 2013 when I took this photo (before they purchased the property):

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Compare with this CURRENT photo courtesy of W.M. Haly House Facebook page:

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So how about that??? It IS possible!! W.M. Haly House is proof positive that people do want to restore historic homes! It’s awesome!

So how about it Chester County? Know anyone who would be perfect for the Jenny Lind House?  Wouldn’t it be great to have a little cafe of something with Air B and B above? Or a complete renovation into a Bed and Breakfast Inn complete with dining that would hearken back to the days of when it was a boarding house?

Check out what Schuylkill River Greenways has to say about the village:

The history of Yellow Springs Village spans nearly 300 years. The Native Lenape first attributed the name, “Yellow Springs” because of the natural mineral springs that flow through the area into Pickering Creek.

In the 18th century, Yellow Springs was a fashionable spa village that attracted visitors who sought healing waters and social interaction. During the American Revolution, George Washington commissioned a hospital to be built in the village, the first military hospital in the nation’s history. Washington himself visited on numerous occasions. 

Following the war, the village returned to a spa town during the early 19th century.

From 1868 to 1912, Yellow Springs was home to the Chester Springs Soldiers’ Orphans School for children of Civil War Soldiers. From 1916 to 1952, the village served as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Country School. 

From 1952 until 1974 the village was the headquarters of Good News Productions, a film studio in Yellow Springs that created over 400 films including the sci-fi original The Blob. From 1974 on, Historic Yellow Springs, Inc. has preserved many of these original structures and educates visitors about our unique past. 

For greater depth into the village history, visit the Historic Yellow Springs/Chester Springs Studio website.  They have all sorts of cool stuff to check out.

If you are interested in Jenny Lind House, I would say a safe place to start your inquiries would be West Pikeland Township. Their phone number is (610) 590-5300.

Here is how to reach all of their Supervisors:

Charlie Humphreys, Chair
chumphreys@westpikeland.com

Pamela Conti, Vice Chair
pconti@westpikeland.com

Noreen Vigilante, Supervisor
nvigilante@westpikeland.com

Richard Bright, Jr., Supervisor
rbright@westpikeland.com
Ernie Holling, Supervisor
eholling@westpikeland.com

 

 

need to know HOW you can use gilmore’s gift certificates up?

Yellow Springs Inn

So many were *shocked* when Gilmore’s in West Chester closed.  I will note, however, that some of their real people reviews had been slipping.    And I never got how Peter Gilmore was quoted on his website as saying “I didn’t intend Gilmore’s to be a destination restaurant, I wanted it to be a comfortable family restaurant.”

I had positive dining experiences at Gilmore’s, but I will admit I did not dig how restrictive it was as far as the seatings and the plate sharing fee was obnoxious.  It was not, however, not family casual. Ever.

It is sad that they are closed, but many were left with unused gift certificates. (And I know a place to use those gift certificates and gift cards not yet posted anywhere else!)  West Chester Dish has a post about this and the fabulous Michael Klein of the Philadelphia Inquirer had this to say in his Insider column:

Have a Gilmore’s gift certificate?

……And now it seems as if anyone holding a gift certificate to Gilmore’s  restaurant is out of luck.

The restaurant closed after dinner July 14.

On July 16, owner Peter Gilmore told me that he decided to close the  restaurant only days before because he had grown tired and wanted to “go out on  top.”

On July 18, he notified customers of the closing in an email that concluded:  “If you have any inquiries, please send them in writing to: Gilmore’s  Restaurant, 133 East Gay Street, West Chester, PA  19380.”

On July 20, I spoke to him about gift certificates and he told me that John  Brandt-Lee, who owns Avalon in the borough, would honor them at 50 percent of  face value. But, I replied, if you’re going to give refunds, why would anyone  take up Brandt-Lee’s generous offer?

Gilmore said he would proceed on his attorney’s suggestions.

In the last 10 days, Gilmore has not returned subsequent calls and emails.  People have posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page to inquire about gift  certificates; there’s been no response.

Those with gift certificates are indeed owed money, but if history is any  guide, they’re better off using their card as an ice scraper this winter.

When a restaurateur truly cares about his customers, he announces a closing  well in advance  – much as Gilmore’s former longtime boss, Georges Perrier,  did. Give those with gift cards a chance to use them. Bask in the glow a  little.

 

Sadly it seems that perhaps Gilmore’s is yet another victim of the current economy, doesn’t it?  Even more sad is the playing dodge ball about gift certificates or gift cards. And Chef Gilmore remarked in his final interview with West Chester Dish :

“We’ve loved working in West Chester, it’s a great town, it’s been a great run. It’s time to make a change in lifestyle. For now, I’ll be sitting by the pool drinking a scotch and soda deciding what move I want. Who knows what will happen in the future,”

Considering the apparent gift card/gift certificate debacle, that comment is a definite ouchie now. Yikes.

However, fear not.  I know where you can use the Gilmore’s gift cards that will give you an awesome meal and memorable experience.

Give up?

YELLOW SPRINGS INN!!!

Yellow Springs Inn located at 1657 Art School Road, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania 19425  ( phone (610) 827-7477 )  is accepting the gift cards and gift certificates which are unused at 50% of their original face value.

A little birdie told me about this, so I did phone Chef – Owner Charlie Orlando to verify this personally.   Charlie verified that YES Yellow Springs Inn would like the former patrons of Gilmore’s in West Chester to know that if you have any gift certificates from Gilmore’s you would like to use and not waste, Yellow Springs Inn is happy to accept those gift certificates at 50% of their original value.

Yellow Springs Inn is open Wednesday through Saturday 5 pm to 9:30 p.m.  They have a Facebook page now too.  They also offer catering services.

Yellow Springs can do what Gilmore’s never could: they can be BOTH a destination and a comfortable family restaurant.  I would not suggest insulting Chef or staff by showing up in a ripped t-shirt and jean shorts, but you can come comfortably attired and enjoy a wonderful evening on the porch or in one of their dining rooms.  Yellow Springs Inn is BYOB.

If you enjoyed dining at Gilmore’s, you will love Yellow Springs Inn.  And truthfully, I think Charlie Orlando is a better chef.  And the historic village in which the Yellow Springs Inn sits is also amazing!

No disrespect to other restaurants offering to use Gilmore’s gift cards, but if I were you I would use those gift cards or gift certificates up at Yellow Springs Inn.

Tell Yellow Springs Inn you read about this on Chester County Ramblings.