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!

life’s patina fall barn sale is this weekend!!

This evening was an absolutely perfect night for one of the first fall events of the season! We attended the Fall Preview Party for Life’s Patina.

Meg Veno outdid herself as always! This evening’s charitable recipient was Cuddle My Kids , a local non-profit which provides in home no cost cancer support for families in and around Chester County. As a cancer survivor I deeply appreciate these smaller charities which work so hard to help families and give them a bit of a break.

Life’s Patina is packed to the gills with so many cool things! And we also had a chance to chat with Jeff Devlin of Schoolhouse Woodworking.

The fall barn sale is this weekend September 20th through September 22nd! 10 AM to 5 PM Friday and Saturday and 10 AM to 4 PM on Sunday. 1750 North Valley Road, Malvern, PA.

It’s a fun sale and the barn is also full of decorating tableaux for lack of a better description. Meg has an amazing eye, and I am always inspired!

everything old is new again…

I actually love Country Living Magazine. I have for years. And according to their September, 2019 issue I might be shockingly trendy.

Well except for the stock tanks. I don’t have a stock tank as a bath tub, nor do I want to and THAT made me giggle. Apparently stock tanks as bath tubs are a thing.

So that’s a little silly to me as I am a claw foot tub girl. No, I don’t currently have one but I did for a while growing up. Awesome tub to take a soak in!

Next up this month as one of their trends? Pie safes. But why buy an expensive reproduction from places like Plow and Hearth? I see them all over. Brandywine View Antiques, Smithfield Barn, Cricket’s Antiques and Garden Market, Creekside Antiques Downingtown by the Brandywine, Brandywine River Antiques Market in Chaddsford, and the Shoppes at Whitehorse Mill (just over the Chester County border in Lancaster County) just to name a few places!!

All of these places have Facebook pages and they post new merchandise all of the time! You don’t need pricey replicas when you can buy the real deal antiques which are always better made. You can also still find these pieces at country estate sales and auctions. Or special shows and sales like the seasonal genius of Life’s Patina.

The sad thing is so many people are geared towards new reproductions that they completely don’t realize the real deal is available and affordable. Sometimes these dealers will have wiggle room in their pricing especially if you bundle a few items but please, be respectful. I have seen some truly rude hondlers out there and well, these folks aren’t running a charity, they are trying to make a living.

Other things that are showing up in the pages of Country Living this month as a trend are vintage dog portraits. I see them all of the time at Brandywine View Antiques and Brandywine River Antiques Market in particular.

Another trend is vintage and antique occasional tables. They are everywhere and at all price points. You can also score some fine ones at auctions at Pook and Pook as well as Converse Auctions and Wiederseim Auctions. Don’t be afraid of auctions or auction houses. Yes, a lot of the auctions are online these days but most of the auction houses will also have a preview day where you can go look at an item that you are interested in before you bid.

With the side table trends I am going to put in a plug for Eastlake side tables. I love them, and I have owned a few over the course of my adulthood.

Eastlake furniture belongs to the Victorian era but isn’t as over the top as other furniture of that era. The side tables are my favorite of the style although I also love Eastlake settees. I have seen Eastlake recently at the Smithfield Barn and also the Smithfield Barn’s floor at the Shoppes at Whitehorse Mill.

Other trends as per Country Living are vintage salt and pepper sets and vintage glassware. The Smithfield Barn in Downingtown is definitely your source for those items! The owner I swear has super powers on these items and other fab vintage things like vintage and antique linens to use with them. I know because I have some amazing vintage linens drying on a towel rack from them right now!

I love my vintage dishes and glasses. My every day dishes are vintage Fiestaware and my everyday glasses are vintage bar ware. I love my vintage and I use it. Most of the time it’s extremely durable too!

Another trend the magazine is covering is a return to some better simplicity in furniture. Specifically Shaker style. From boxes to benches to tables and chairs and dressers.

Traditional Shaker antiques can be very expensive but their design influences can be seen all over. Look for vintage and antique country furniture pieces that are sturdy and well made with simple lines. You can find these pieces all over for a steal because well, people are still stuck on the trend if they don’t want “brown wood”.

Shaker furniture is a distinctive style of furniture developed by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as Shakers, a religious sect that had guiding principles of simplicity, utility and honesty. Shaker beliefs were reflected in the well-made furniture of simple designs. There is a great essay on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And as of 2017, according to Smithsonian Magazine there are only two Shakers left in the world.

Other trends that seem to be occurring that I don’t understand is buying reproduction grandfather clocks when so many go to auction every year and often do not get sold.

Of all the trends that seem to be cropping up everywhere I am heartened to see a return to loving wood furniture as in not everything I am seeing is covered with paint.

Painted furniture has a place, but the past few years it has been really upsetting to see the gorgeous pieces of wooden furniture and good wood like mahoganies and walnuts and fabulous maples being covered up with things like chalk paint. I have literally watched people destroy beautiful wood dining room tables by trying to paint them. I can see painting something that’s so beat up it’s just more cost effective, but to me there is nothing better than the soft sheen and warmth of wood’s natural beauty. And maintaining wood furniture is a little bit of elbow grease once in a while but it’s simple. My favorite thing to use is Howard’s Feed and Wax.

I love the thrill of the hunt of vintage and antiques. I have some things that I will always keep, and I have other things that I will love for a while and let go for something I like better. It makes it fun!

Fall markets are just around the corner. Keep an eye peeled for things like the sale September 7th and 8th at Brandywine View Antiques. Their annual barn market and 4th anniversary sale and celebration at their current location.

Happy Friday all!

kicking off the holiday season life’s patina style

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I love Christmas and was so excited when my friend Amy suggested we attend the Holiday Tea at Life’s Patina on Willowbrook Farm in Malvern.  The tea was today and it was an amazing event! (In all fairness, EVERY Life’s Patina event is amazing!)

Mind you, my day did not have an auspicious start as I locked myself out of the house accidentally this morning dealing with pets.  Not only did I lock myself out, but I was in my nightgown with wet hair.  I had to march myself across the road to my neighbor’s to call my husband to get back into the house.  (Have I mentioned I have awesome neighbors? I do! I am sure the sight of me in my nightgown has scarred them for life, but anyway.)

So after the trauma of locking myself out of our house in my nightgown, I managed to be ready in time to go to the tea.

I love the Life’s Patina events!  The proprietress, Meg Veno, is an amazing woman.  She has the biggest heart, is just so darn nice, and has an eye that gets me into trouble every time I attend a barn sale.  Seriously, the woman has an amazing design aesthetic and is super creative and finds the perfect things.  Her holiday events are among my favorites because, well, it’s no secret I love Christmas!

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This morning when we walked into the holiday preview tea, it was sensory overload.  The holidays were beautifully spilling out of every nook and cranny of the barn.  This was a lovely and exclusive event complete with a delicious luncheon for all of us who subscribed.  I especially liked the Quiche and the little smoked salmon sandwiches and the peach tea.

It was like a little bit of holiday magic in that barn today. People were happy. Holidays are festive times for friends and family, and this was a very nice reminder of times to come.

Another component to today was the charity Meg chose to receive a portion of the sales.  She pays it forward in that way with her events.

Today’s charity recipient was the Women’s Resource Center of Wayne, PA. This non-profit has the mission to help women and girls  successfully navigate life’s transitions and to inspire others to do the same.  By providing resources, tools and support for today, we create hope for tomorrow. The Women’s Resource Center serves Southeastern, PA including Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, and Delaware counties.

Founded in 1975, the Women’s Resource Center began when five women placed an ad in The Suburban and Wayne Times calling for a meeting on women’s issues. Forty-five women attended the initial meeting, indicating a strong demand for an organization that was dedicated to the special needs of women. The original group established three goals that remain in place to this day:

1) To provide information and referral services to women & families;
2) To offer supportive programming and workshops; and
3) To maintain a physical location from which to serve the greater Philadelphia community.

This is a very worthy non-profit and I was happy to do my part and purchase some really fun things for the holidays.  I will admit I bought some Christmas ornaments and the world’s funniest holiday cocktail napkins.

Also today was the unexpected surprise of running into old, familiar faces at the tea and shopping preview.  I saw someone I basically had not seen in over five years.  We were friends in another lifetime.  It was nice to catch-up and meet her new friends.

I was truthfully amused by all of the Main Liners and city dwellers who made it out “to the country” to attend this preview.  I hope they all saw and appreciated the fall splendor of Chester County today.

Willowbrook Farm is an absolutely magical property with majestic trees donned at present in fiery reds, oranges, and spectacular yellow.  They have a huge Ginko tree which is captivating this time of year.  You just do not see many Ginkos anymore and the only other ones of similar height and majesty are on the path leading to the Haverford College Nature Trail that runs behind the one side of Haverford Friends School.

You too can see the magic in store this season at Life’s Patina.  There are holiday events coming up! Christmas magic doesn’t even begin to describe what is coming up.

Holiday Barn Sale – New Dates (postponed because of flooded fields)

November 16 – November 18 FREE ADMISSION! 10 AM – 4 PM

German Christmas Market at Life’s Patina

December 8 – December 9 FREE ADMISSION but asking for donations to  MainLineFreunde and T&E Care  3 PM – 6 PM  (Follow German Christmas Market on The Main Line HERE on Facebook.)

Willowbrook Farm and Life’s Patina are located at 1750 N. Valley Rd
Malvern, 19355 BUT this is a private residence, NOT a store so you can’t just show up.  The fabulous dairy barn full of magic is only opened to the public for special events.  Feel free to follow them on Facebook .

Here is a sampling of the Christmas magic I found today at Life’s Patina which also included discovering Stony Hill Farm out of Pottstown:

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life’s patina summer barn sale

I love Life’s Patina at Willowbrook Farm in Malvern.

Their summer barn sale is going on and runs through Sunday June 3.

The hours for Saturday June 2 are 9 AM to 5 PM.

The hours for Sunday June 3 are 10 AM to 4 PM.

Willowbrook Farm
1750 N. Valley Rd
Malvern, 19355 United States

Phone:
610-952-2254

Website:
www.lifespatina.com

I found this little quote card there (see screenshot at bottom). It seemed fitting for the day today. Today is the 7th anniversary of my being breast cancer free.

Thanks for stopping by.

home of the sparrow event at life’s patina

 A few years ago I was the lucky one who got to photograph the property Life’s Patina is on in Malvern.  I photographed the property when it was on the house tour for Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust. 

Tonight I got to see the barn renovation totally completed! So awesome!

I am here right now for the special event benefitting Home of the Sparrow! There is a special sale all weekend, check it out!

You can find the information on Life’s Patina or Home of the Sparrow Facebook pages.