I am a big fan of Main Line Parent, Philadelphia Family , Family Focus Media. I love what they do, and actually for a few years I was a freelancer with them. I wrote a couple of articles for them, but mostly I was their calendar girl. That is to say for a few years I hunted down and loaded events into their events calendar. I never talked about it much but it was something that was a lot of fun to do. And the ladies who are Main Line Parent are amazing!
Yesterday one of their folks posted the screen shot above. That mural went up in Ardmore in 2012, after I had moved to Chester County, but had been in the planning stages of a group I belonged to for many years, The Save Ardmore Coalition.
The Save Ardmore Coalition has finally found a location for its long-planned community mural, and the search has brought the group back home.
Lower Merion Township commissioners last week gave the green light to the organization’s application to install a mosaic mural on a wall of the Suburban Office Equipment building at 49 E. Lancaster Ave.
The unanimous vote by the Building and Planning Committee was to be finalized at a board meeting Wednesday night….The Save Ardmore Coalition has been seeking a site for a community artwork in downtown Ardmore for more than two years. In June 2009, the organization received a $20,000 grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Community Revitalization Program to be used for a mural and other community projects.
A portion of the grant money was used last holiday season to put up advertisements at local train stations to encourage township residents to “Discover More in Ardmore” and shop local, said SAC President Sharon Eckstein.
The $15,000 mural project had taken longer to get off the ground, though, because of the difficulty in finding an appropriate location. Eckstein said the group had talked to a number of property owners before focusing on Ardmore’s historic Lancaster Avenue business district.
Main Line Media News: Mural dedication in downtown Ardmore
By Cheryl Allison email@example.com Nov 4, 2012
The Save Ardmore Coalition celebrated the completion of its Ardmore Mural Project at 49 Lancaster Ave.in Ardmore Sunday The new mosaic mural depicting a street scene has been taking shape this summer on the side of Suburban Office Equipment, across Lancaster Avenue from Rittenhouse Place.
Artist Jessica Gorlin Liddell was on hand to talk about her work. Special guests included state Sen. Daylin Leach, through whose office a grant was provided to support this work of public art; Suburban Office owners Scott Mahan and Peggy Savery; SAC Mural Coordinator Sharon Eckstein; and other SAC members.
A Penn Valley resident, Liddell specializes in creating architectural mosaic installations…..The Save Ardmore Coalition formed in early 2005 to fight against Lower Merion Township’s potential use of its eminent domain powers to take down several buildings, including the Suburban Office building, in a controversial Ardmore Transit Center and downtown development project.
While a later vote by township commissioners officially precluded the use of eminent domain for the redevelopment project, SAC, as the grant recognized, went on to focus efforts on community advancement by organizing community forums and supporting programs like First Friday Main Line.
The years have passed on by and those of us who made up The Save Ardmore Coalition have moved on with our lives, and some like me, literally moved out of the area. By the time the mural was dedicated in 2012 I was living in Chester County, and had not been part of Save Ardmore Coalition for a while. But the people I was in that group with will always be dear to me like family.
We accomplished a great deal. We actually won a whole bunch of awards locally, regionally, and even one nationally. We were apolitical and beholden to neither political party. And yes, one year to stop the craziness in Lower Merion Township we changed the faces of who governed us and flipped half of the board of commissioners, essentially. We walked into a room together once upon a time as all strangers with a common goal to want better for our community. We left those first rooms and meetings as friends.
The mural is kind of the last thing many of us did together. Once in a while some of us get together and a lot of us are in touch with one and other. But seeing that mural pop up in a photo reminded me of the good community can do.
Be kind to one and other today and never be afraid to stand together for the greater good.
I remember all of these houses. I used to walk my dogs past them when I lived on the Main Line. This is in Lower Merion Township (see page 29 if you click on hyperlink.) This plan has been around a few years as per a Main Line Media News article from November, 2018.
One of my readers from the Main Line sent me these photos.
Two of these homes were converted into apartments many, many years ago.
These three homes all were built between 1900-1920. These homes housed about 10 residents prior to this demolition from what I was told.
Once upon a time I knew some of the people who lived here. Hardwood floors, amazing woodwork, and architectural details that withstood the test of time. These homes, although rentals, still had gardens. Lovely, established gardens.
I still remember when I first saw inside one of the houses. I was in awe. AMAZING. The tenants were house proud.
But like other cool old houses I have been enamored of in the township I used to call home, they have been demolished.
Inspired by the stately and legendary architectural heritage of the iconic Main Line, 39 MONTGOMERY offers 21 private residences suited to the way people live today. Gracefully proportioned, the combination of limestone and brick façade harmoniously blends with both residential neighbors and commercial Suburban Square.
I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I just do not see any of that. I did see that description in the three places torn down. They were definitely gracefully proportioned. And well-maintained. Timeless. Elegant.
I have known quite a few people who lived on and around Glenn Road. I wonder what they think?
I remember hearing how the residents of these now torn down homes attended many meetings in Lower Merion Township. It made me so sad. Been there, done that.
Once upon a time when I lived not too far from where these homes stood, my then neighborhood also had a December demolition. I still haven’t forgotten those houses. They were in a “historic district”. December, 2008. Here is an image from that day:
I remember what it felt like that day in December long ago. It was so sad. Like watching a neighborhood get torn apart for someone else’s version / vision of “progress”.
This is what the Glenn Road house specifically looked like:
Maybe my thoughts on “progress” like this don’t matter. Riddle me this however: when does it matter what residents in municipalities facing all this infill development they really don’t want are feeling?
Some weeks I write a lot, other weeks not so much. As I sat at this traffic light this afternoon headed towards home I realized again how much I do NOT miss the Main Line. And I smiled again at the presumptuousness of those who refer to Malvern and places like Chester Springs as the “Main Line”. They don’t get it, it’s not the Main Line, and thank goodness.
When I was growing up the Main Line was a far more civilized place until the changes started to seem to appear in the late 1970s . It was then that I remember my mother remarking about people who had bought a neighbor’s house on Brentford Road in Haverford always lined up their expensive cars right out front like a car lot or showroom, instead of parking them down behind the stone wall near the garages.
But it was true, it was the little changes. At first you didn’t notice much. But as the old families moved out, and new people moved in and old homes started to get torn down or bumped up to what we would come to call McMansions, change was coming. Long time businesses closed, new businesses came in, some good some bad.
Movie theaters started to close. First I remember was the Suburban in Suburban Square. That was a grand old theater once upon a time. I can’t even find photos of it anymore. The next movie theater I remember closing was the Wynnewood theater. Then in more revent times the Ardmore Theater on Lancaster Avenue which has yet another horrible fate planned for it.
Then the department stores. I am not sure of the order but Bonwit Teller, B. Altman, Wanamaker’s, then ultimately Strawbridge & Clothier. For me Bonwit Teller and B. Altman were particular favorites. Followed by Wanamaker’s. Strawbridge’s in Ardmore was always hit or miss I thought.
Then old time restaurants and diners. Now I am not saying a lot of these places were culinary masterpieces, but they were the everyday “joints”. The Viking Inn and Smorgasbord in Ardmore, for example. It opened in 1930s and was the only Scandinavian restaurant around. I forget when it closed exactly, but it died a slow and horrible death. And all of the diners that used to be around. I remember some were even those silver metal diner buildings. Like the one which was in Rosemont once upon a time. Now there is a McDonald’s where it once was.
I remember as even a teenager, out here, where I live now in Chester County, seemed so very far away. Today, I can’t imagine being anyplace else.
I had medical appointments today and had to venture to the Main Line to go to Penn Medicine in Radnor. It’s amazing that we live in and around affluent areas because the roads are in such terrible shape. And the drivers. Cutting people off, angry honking, lights and stop signs are all apparently optional.
Every time I go to the Main Line now I feel like I can’t breathe. There is so much more density and traffic and I feel about a million years old when I pass by what was someone’s house I once knew. You drive by and you remember who used to live there and the house wasn’t a McMansion or a townhouse or apartment building. It was just a nice house.
When I was growing up after we moved to the Main Line I remember summers coming back from the beach. My parents’ early cars had no air-conditioning so I remember the searing end of summer city heat as we came over either the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman. When we reached the Gladwyne exit of the Schuylkill the temperature just dropped. All that verdant green. Not so much anymore because well development, development, development.
Even the august Merion Cricket Club is not safe from development and supersizing. Truly lovely when growing up, today, it’s a shell of what it was. Changes to the original dining rooms, elimination of the casual and teenager friendly Cricket Room and a series of chefs who aren’t remarkable except for how the food has declined in spite of the tarting up of dining rooms. Plans exist to turn Merion into a suburban country club. These plans would include some of my favorite houses around the club. I especially loved the pink stucco house at 134 Cheswold Lane. That was the house my parents house sat in the summer of 1973. The summer the Haverford Hotel was torn down .
I have written about this house and the Haverford hotel before. It was at this pink house on Cheswold Lane that my younger sister learned how to swim in the pool behind the house in the secret garden you could not see from the street. The garden had the first blueberry bushes I had ever seen.
I also remember spending Saturdays in Bryn Mawr with my friends. Going to Katydid and the bookstore next to it. The Greek diner down from the movie theater. Maybe buy candy at Parvins Pharmacy.
Katydid was originally in Bryn Mawr before moving to Wayne . They had these little mice in little dresses that were real fur. We used to collect them. I think some of them are still in my dollhouse from growing up that my sister has in storage somewhere.
It was nice being a kid then. Summer nights were for kick the can and other games we actually were able to play in the road without anyone hitting us. Certainly can’t do that on Main Line streets now.
When my friends and I were growing up, we always thought we’d grow up and live where our parents lived. HA! It was a nice thought, but between the home prices and ridiculous real estate taxes most of us either can’t or choose not to.
There are so many businesses that are gone. Restaurants. Bakeries. Book stores and who remembers The Owl at Bryn Mawr College? I loved, loved, loved that store. Second hand and antique and out of print books. The Owl bookstore was I think founded to support the college’s scholarship fund. And the older ladies who ran The Owl were amazing. That place was floor to ceiling books, and several floors of books. It was dusty and sometimes dim in the lighting department but you could get lost for hours looking at books. It was heavenly! (Especially on a rainy day.)
Driving around today I wondered if half of these people in their giant SUVs on their phones ever paused to breathe? Did they enjoy where they lived? Or was it all back and forth and maybe push someone out of line at the Starbucks drive thru?
Thanks for the memories old Main Line, but nouveau Main Line? I just don’t miss you. You don’t get yourself anymore. History and tradition and genteel living, all memories.
Thank you Chester County for the new memories. And being able to find spindle back rocking chairs from Maine in old barns.
I can only do this if you my readers participate. I have this idea of once December rolls around to feature our ghosts of Christmas past in Chester County and the upper Main Line. Not in a creepy way, but in a nice celebratory way. My idea is to create not just one post about this, but to be able to create several posts throughout the month of December leading up to Christmas.
I have not lived here in Chester County long enough to know about all the celebrations continue today or are purely from the past. Parades, festivals, things that speak of the season and community.
So if you have memories of Christmas past and photos you would like to share. Please contact this blog via the blog’s Facebook page. Please tell me about the photos you’re sending and how you would like them attributed. I can attribute them simply “reader submitted” or put an entire name and so on. If you are sending things in for celebrations that still continue today and it something that requires public participation and donations, tell me who it is they are supposed to contact and when the event will occur.
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:
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.
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.
So I am a period drama junkie. 18th and 19th century are particular favorites. And first half of 20th century. Poldark, Downton Abbey, anything Jane Austen, Upstairs Downstairs, Duchess of Duke Street, Lillie and so on.
I had remembered hearing Amazon had picked up Julian Fellowes next series Doctor Thorne, This is four part television drama adaptation of the Anthony Trollope novel.
Anthony Trollope was a prolific writer. I think he produced over 80 works in his lifetime. Most were novels, but he wrote a couple of plays and also wrote a few biographies. He was born in 1815 and died in 1882. He wrote novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters. Doctor Thorne is really the story of oprhan Mary Thorne, penniless and with undisclosed parentage, who grows up under the guardianship of her uncle Doctor Thorne. She spends much of her growing up in the company of the Gresham family at Greshamsbury Park estate.
As the years progress, the past starts to impinge and the financial woes of the Gresham family threaten to tear relationships apart. We are introduced to the characters, the daughters of the seemingly elite Gresham Family are planning a wedding. Then we are introduced to the class structure of Victorian England in all it’s glory.
Mr. Fellowes adapted “Doctor Thorne” (which was directed by Niall MacCormick) from an 1858 novel by Anthony Trollope, the third in his Barchester series. Trollope remains largely unknown in America, which Mr. Fellowes notes regretfully. But “Doctor Thorne” will feel familiar to fans of Trollope’s more famous near-contemporary, Jane Austen. It’s about a smart, unmarriageable young woman and the various scenarios that could eventually render her marriageable.
Maybe that is why I like Trollope as a writer, because he in Austenesque. But it is a lovely mini-series with amazing photography, terrific acting, and costumes and settings to day dream about. If you have Amazon Prime you can watch it for free, and I also bet it is available on DVD.
Doctor Thorne got me thinking about the Main Line. I bet if Anthony Trollope were alive today and live in the Philadelphia area, he would have some fun with the “Main Line”.
After all, we have the Main Line of yesterday, and the more homogenized suburb meets urban sprawl it has become.
The Main Line historically was founded along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Main Line”, it from downtown Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue, ending in Paoli. (Not Malvern. The Main Line ended at Paoli. Although if you remember the old mnemonic “Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies” there is that debate. But the Main Line never included Malvern for example – which is just fine in my humble opinion.) The history of the area which dates back to yes, the late 1600s, became more famous with the birth of the railroad line that bought privileged Philadelphia families. I ought to know, I am related to one of the servents, interestingly enough.
My great grandmother on my mother’s side, Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt family in Haverford. As a matter of fact, my late maternal grandfather John Francis Xavier Gallen and one of his brothers (Bill I think) learned how to ride a bicycle on Grays Lane from pieces they put together to form a bike that they found in Cassatt family stables or a barn or something.)
Born in 1839 in Pittsburgh, Cassatt was a leading civil engineer and railroad executive of his time. The son of a wealthy banker, he received much of his education in Europe prior to graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Known for being hardworking, arrogant, and somewhat reserved, Cassatt embodied the qualities of the Industrial Age, notably those of dignity, strength, and discipline. He was rather aristocratic in appearance and was a member of every prominent club, including the Farmer’s Club, a social organization of some of Philadelphia’s wealthiest men who met at one another’s estates to discuss livestock breeding and horticultural practices. An avid sportsman who was particularly fond of thoroughbred horses, Cassatt was the proprietor of a 600-acre farm in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. In addition to owning an art gallery, the man of ample resources enjoyed cricket, hunting, yachting, and coaching. Cassatt was one of the original officers of the Merion Cricket Club, located next to Haverford station on Montgomery Avenue. His sister was the famous painter, Mary Cassatt, and his wife was the niece of former president James Buchanan. Although Cassatt’s accomplishments are numerous, he is particularly known for having improved the operating conditions of the railroad, as well as having introduced the air brake and instigated the construction of Pennsylvania Station, one of the two principal rail terminals in New York. Having risen through the various ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Cassatt was summoned from retirement to become the company’s seventh president. He died in office at the age of sixty-seven.
Built in 1872, Cassatt’s Haverford estate was called Cheswold. Hotchkin describes the house as being situated on a “large, verdant, undulating lawn” (141). Although it has since been demolished, the structure was constructed on forty acres of land acquired from Edmund Evans, a prominent Philadlphian who later became a close friend of Cassatt. The country residence was originally intended as a summer retreat for Cassatt and his family, but a fire destroyed the dwelling in 1935. Designed in a late Victorian-Gothic style, the house contained approximately thirty rooms. In her biography on Cassatt, Patricia Davis includes some description of the interior of the dwelling. She states the vast entrance hall was accented by walnut paneling and stained glass windows (43). Each of the seven bedrooms contained a marble fireplace, and the study was enhanced by a copper chandelier, in addition to wall and ceiling paneling in mahogany (43). There was a stable attached to the house, where Cassatt kept his horses, but the gatehouse is the only trace of the residence which remains today. Although certain historians have attributed the building’s design to Frank Furness and Allen Evans, recent research has disputed this claim. It is believed, however, that Furness was responsible for the alteration of Cassatt’s Philadelphia residence, which he purchased in the late 1880s.
Now the farm referred to is a good portion of the land bulldozed to create the development we know as Chesterbrook. Then it was known as Chesterbrook Farm.
The families and stories of the original Main Line inspired novels and movies (The Young Philadelphians, The Philadelphia Story, High Society, Kitty Foyle for example.)
Philadelphia Society was at one time no joke. Old Philadelphia families and the Social Register. What is the Social Register? Why a directory of names and addresses of prominent American families who are claimed to be from the social elite. Inclusion in the Social Register has historically been limited to members of polite society, members of the American upper class and The Establishment, and/or those of “old money” or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) families, within the Social Register cities. When I was a kid, my favorite part of the Social Register was the special summer volume that had the summer addresses – Maine, the Hamptons, Watch Hill, etc.
Oh no, I am not from a Social Register family. I am the pure product of Pennsylvania peasant stock and fine with that. But I went to private school, so I was around members of these storied families every day. Because I was at Shipley, doors opened. Living on the Main Line in the “right neighborhoods”, also opened doors. I did not understand it all then, truthfully I was somewhat oblivious. These were just the people I grew up around. Some were from these families and lived in huge and often drafty old houses and others were from more regular homes.
I will tell you quite honestly that it was moving to the Main Line that made me aware of racial and religious divides.
Back to the Social Register. And an interesting little true story. Once upon a time when I was in my early 20s I had a roommate whose family for the most part were Social Register. Only to her dismay, her rather liberal mama in a slightly hippy dippy moment chose to exit the Social Register. This old roomie, who would like to forget the long away and far away time of going to Downingtown High School spent a lot of time drafting letters for re-admission to the Social Register and throwing them away. Her pretensions were somewhat sad as well as amusing. I do not know if they ever let her back in and what it ultimately got her.
She still lives in a slightly fringe Main Line neighborhood undoubtedly to say she lives on the Main Line. She grew up in a beautiful part of Chester County. I do not, to this day, understand her need to run from that. I guess it did not meld well with the image she was crafting for herself.
When I was growing up you had these rites of passage. Dancing class. Things like Friday Evenings, Paoli Parties, JDA and SDA. There was one at Merion Cricket too I think, but I can’t remember the name – I seem to remember it was on Tuesdays. It was quite the mama coup to get your kids into these things. We went kicking and screaming in formal attire. Personally I developed an aversion to long formal plaid taffeta skirts and a woman named Mrs. Farber.
Mrs. Brent Harrison Farber. She was a dragon lady in Gold Lamé structured enough to be a suit of armor. And she had helmet hair that did.not.move. How we hated that woman. My childhood friend David can tell you of the fun we had through all of the years of Junior Dancing Assemblies and Senior Dancing Assemblies (JDA and SDA) stuffing stale pretzel bits through the grates of the Merion Tribute House where these things were held. I swear today you can still smell the pretzel bits in your imagination if you walk into the place.
One time Mrs. Farber dragged me into the kitchen of Merion Tribute on a Friday night to read me the riot act (“I will call your MOTHER young lady!’) She had arbitrarily decided on a dancing partner for me. He was at least six inches shorter than I at the time (I am only 5′ 6″ now so you can only imagine) and he was seriously miserable.
I did these things essentially because my mother wanted me to. Sometimes I enjoyed the things and sometimes I did not. A lot of the time I did not, if I am honest. I did not swim with the big fish in the true golden ponds of affluence. We lived in one of the “right neighborhoods” in the North Side of Haverford, but to the manor born I am not. So while for a lot of my friends all this pre-training for the land of Debutante Balls this stuff was expected and second nature, to me it was expected, yes, but I would question it in my head.
So when we as young ladies graduated from our Main Line Private Schools we did so in white dresses. I guess technically my graduation from Shipley was my first “white party”, wasn’t it. Then next was college and debutante balls.
I did not bow. Thank god. Bowing meant you were a full fledged debutante. Back way way way back girls making their debut into society meant they were ready to be married off. In our day it meant staying at the then Belluvue-Stratford and raising hell afterwards. One year a friend’s brother broke his ankle or something using the giant ashtrays that used to be by the elevator doors on the various room floors as hurdles.
I was a member of the cotillion. The sort of ladies in waiting for the actual debutantes. We dressed all in white, and had elbow length white kid gloves. Tom Crater from Nan Duskin personally helped my mother choose my dresses that year. I forget who the white one was designed by, but I had another dress from that time frame I loved that was Victor Costa. Back in the day, that man , Tom Crater, was the first and last word in Philadelphia fashion.
Leading up the Charity Ball there were events where we all met one and other. Something in the summer, I think at Ardrossan back then or some place in Chestnut Hill and then well, pre-ball rehearsals to teach us the cotillion dance. And Bobby Scott (Robert Montgomery Scott) called our names out as we were all introduced – cotillion members and debutantes alike.
Now I was not dating anyone at the time of my December 1981 cotillion appearance. That horrified my mother, as a matter of fact every time I was not dating someone and even when it was I often horrified her, but I digress. I chose as my cotillion partner a guy who I was friends with in college who was on the Young Men’s Committee.
No no nosaid my mother, so she chose me an escort. A guy older than myself but shorter. A member of the Mask and Wig at Penn. Nice guy, showed up with the requisite cotillion bouquet from Robertson’s but we had absolutely nothing in common, and nothing to talk about. Long story short is he showed up in the following year’s program book (1982) in a photo sitting by himself on a bench outside the ballroom of the Bellevue reading the 1981 program book. My mother was pissed off about that for easily 15 years. (“You. Embarassed. Me“)
So in that realm there were other far more exclusive debutante affairs, namely The Assemblies. The Assemblies started around 1848 and well you literally had to be born into certain families to even attend. I never went to The Assemblies ever because although I think they may have lightened up today, back in 1981 you couldn’t even attend the ball as a guest if you were not from the “list” of select families. (Read about the Assemblies circa 1986 here.) I was literally not eligible to attend. Which was fine, except I always heard it was a heck of a lot of fun including all their 200 year old rituals. It is one of the oldest social gatherings in this country.
If you want to read a tongue in cheek cliff notes outline of some of the society events and what not that made Philadelphia great, read the very tongue in cheek 2008 article from Philadelphia Magazine titled
So now that we were young ladies, we were expected as we grew older to do proper Philadelphia volunteer work. I was co-chair of the Young Friends of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I worked a few years on Opening Night (including co-chairing the young friends event during an Orchestra Strike year), and was briefly on the Main Line Delaware Committee.
Hence my disdain of Orchestra and Orchestra related events today. When you see how the Good Ship Lollipop is run and how the volunteers are treated, and how some of the volunteers themselves behave, you discover it’s a club you do not necessarily need ever again.
I briefly toyed with other events like Historic Landmarks Young Friends or something like that (I liked going to parties at the Physick House and Todd House). At the time that particular committee was run like a secret society meets mafia by a committee of special ladies who were nice to you as long as you were useful. The trademark of the head bitchy blonde at the time was she promised you a spot on the committee if you helped them out on their events first. Long story short is she totally used friends of mine and myself for silent auction items and then had the organization’s by-laws changed so she didn’t have to put us on the committee.
Hand to God, it happened. We were dumbfounded. There were quite a few of us who got amazing silent auction items for their event, go the wine donated and so on and so forth. And at the end of the day, she used us. And as chief mean girl, she got to do this and no one publicly said a word. Behind the scenes, polite murmurings of “how awful”, and “we are so sorry”.
We did a LOT of events back in the day. Ballet, Orchestra, Art Museum, Crafts Show and so on. Fair committees, garden party committees, antique show committees. We were on some committees together, and just attended events of other committees friends were on.
I pretty much stopped all of it after 9/11. That was the point that I was comfortable admitting I was done with a lot of those things that might have been for my mother, but were not truly for me long term. It all also seemed so frivolous and unimportant in the scheme of national current events at the time. That and the epiphany of the fact that the people on those committees would always need someone like me, more than I would ever need them.
I still did some things that I loved like volunteering for the Harriton Plantation Fair (the 26th fair is Saturday September 24th in Bryn Mawr and it is still lovely!) but dumped a lot of the rest of it. I was much happier and my checkbook was happy too. All those black tie and cocktail dresses were getting more and more expensive.
Along with the things you were supposed to “do” came the society pages and the society editors. I have touched on this before, in other posts. Until she died in 1986, for the 30 plus years prior, Ruth Seltzer was the first and last word as far as society editors. She wrote a column. It wasn’t all photos with captions, it was maybe a photo or two, but she wrote actual articles – a true column. She wrote about the charity and who was on the committee and what they wore and the guests. She would even tell you how the food was and what was served. It was a really big deal to make it into her column.
When Mrs. Seltzer died, the society editor of the Main Line Times, some say Carol Springer thought she would ascend to the seat of power in the world of society editors. She did not and grew increasingly bitter and was often unpleasant to deal with. She played the game of exclusives. If she was to cover your event, it was to be “exclusive”. She also would only take your photo if you were from the Main Line. So that meant way back when luminaries like Eugene Ormandy or Riccardo Muti would not be in society photos for the Main Line Times.
She died in 2011, so now I can tell an amusing story. Gaming the society editors when we were in our 20s and early 30s was like a sport. She was the one we gamed the most because the others were pretty nice at the time. In those days, the society editor asked you to be in a photo, you did not ask them. So Carol would invite us to gather for a photo (especially if she regularly photographed our parents) and we would grab our friends and the ones from Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Chester County, or wherever would magically be from the Main Line….since she would not photograph them otherwise.
We did this at event after event. After a while it was hard to have a straight face because some of our friends one week would say they lived in Wayne, and Wynnewood the following week, and Gladwyne after that. Only with her. A friend of mine and I also had a comical competition going on with a guy we knew at the time back then – to see which group of friends could end up in the society pages more than the other. That was a lot of fun because you were not supposed to pose for one editor after posing for another paper’s editor.
Carol would not speak to my mother or I for close to a decade because we appeared in the first society page Nancy Gould did for the new newspaper Main Line Life. It was very funny. She had this whole Queen Victoria we are not amused thing going on. And OMG she would make a face at you.
Now before the last society editor ascended to the role at the now defunct Suburban and Wayne Times there was a truly lovely lady named Helen Duffy who did it. She was so nice and she wrote columns as well as did photos. She died in 1998. I do not know anyone who remembers her less than fondly. She was just nice.
Today Society Editors are a dying breed. Sort of like actual society. The newspapers are kind of sort of seemingly doing away with space once reserved for the Society Pages – in the Main Line papers they used to have their own entire separate section weekly. Today the society photos are mostly in the magazines. I do not recognize most of the folks in the photos. There is one former society editor who has their own website and who covers things and sells photos, but I do not know if she can really be considered a society editor still since she is not attached to any media publication. She was pleasant years ago, and today is rather miserable. Pity, that. She was fun to chat with back in the day.
Now let’s talk about who considers themselves society these days. A mere decade ago they would be learning how to spell Gladwyne and wouldn’t be in society photos. But today people tell the society editors to take their photos instead of being invited.
I now look at coverage of events with horror. Not at who had what face life, boob job, or shot of Botox when but often at the self perceived sex symbols of it all. It’s like the TV show “What Not To Wear” lives on, with a new chapter entitled “women who should never, ever wear Lilly Pulitzer.”
Just because you can afford now to buy the dress, it doesn’t mean you should wear it, after all. I for example, am long past my Lilly wearing days and when I was my friends and I wore mostly vintage Lilly and Vested Gentress. Vested Gentress was unique to the Main Line and I thought the fabric patterns were whimsical and fun. (Read about the Vested Gentress in this 2014 blog post someone wrote) Now Vested Gentress lives on in the vintage worlds of Ebay and Etsy and I still love looking at the dresses and their patterns which still make me smile.
I have kind of gotten lost with my trip down memory lane. I guess where I was going when I started all of this comparing to Trollope or Austen was that there used to be rules that people followed. Now it is like the rules do not really exist or are liberally interpreted (queue events like Devon Horse Show and the Academy Ball.)
It used to be a big deal to garner an invitation to certain events. Now it is pretty much as long as your credit card can take the whack, anyone can go. People cluster in society photos without a clue as to what appropriate dress actually is. Then there are these organizations that host events. Membership fees required, like the ones some women join because they say they support and promote women. Do they? Or are they just an excuse to cocktail occasionally at lunchtime and pose for selfies? And who are these women? Are they captains of industry or just housewives with home based direct marketing types of businesses? Are these groups for women who didn’t join sororities or something?
Then there are the fringes of what once was society hanging on and holding court. They lecture the unsuspecting on manners and decorum. And who are they again? Emily Post?
That is why I think Anthony Trollope if he was writing today would be amused. It is almost like when he was writing and Victorian society in England was being challenged by the newer families who were industrialists and not so old families. You had the predictable characters much as you do today. You had types, much as you do today. You even had women who looked ridiculous in certain hats and outfits.
Should we file under the more things change, the more things stay the same? Sort of except I miss the truly beautiful ball gowns.
Way back when before the time of being a being a grown up and raising families we had a heck of a lot of fun at events. But I still think then it meant more than you were able to buy a ticket. And I think that is the way it should be in my view of the world.
Besides when you were in your teens and twenties it was really a lot of fun to annoy your mother. Not enough to make the who’s who of DUIs in the police briefs, just enough to tweak her.
Thanks for stopping by. Watch Doctor Thorne on Amazon Prime. You’ll like it.
Yes, gardening magazines are always part of my summer reading and fall reading and my winter reading and my spring reading. But I’m not writing a post to tell you that you should be reading Fine Gardening Magazine, even if I do think it is the best gardening magazine out there today.
I had heard buzz about it, and a lot of people have been reading it that I know from Shipley because it was written by a Shipley graduate and basically the school at the center of the book is a fictional private school very much like Shipley. Reese Witherspoon has also optioned the movie rights. (She had Main Line experience when she came to Philadelphia to film a movie a few years ago and if I recall correctly she rented a house somewhere around Gladwyne and Haverford during filming, but I digress.)
If you grew up on the Main Line and/or went to one of the private schools you should really read this book. It’s fascinating, darkly accurate and darn fun to read.
It’s crime fiction but it’s not just that. It also is utterly spot on as to what life in a Main Line private school could be and was like— complete with the different tiers of kids and school social status.
Truthfully, for a debut novel it’s pretty powerful and yes can be quite dark. The depiction of the lunch room is also spot on.
The funny thing is that although I’ve heard a lot of Shipley graduates talking about this book I don’t remember seeing anything that the school put out. Maybe I missed it.
Main Line Today wrote about the book and I read the article after I finished the book. I always felt that the inspiration for the other fictional school in the novel was actually Villa Maria and I think I was right. Of course this makes me wonder that one of the many brief descriptions of teachers at the school is actually a teacher I remember and not particularly fondly.
The descriptions of the area, down to pizza places are spot on. But I would expect no less of someone who grew up in the area. But what is most fascinating to me is how accurate and unabashed the author is about writing about growing up and going to school on the Main Line. And the types of parents she writes about, we all lived through.
One of the sub- topics in her book, the reaction to new non-WASP kids at a school, resonated with me because I have a vowel on the end of my name. I also came to Shipley in the Upper School and wasn’t a lifer. Yes, I had some friends there going into the school as a new student, but I still remember the new girl feeling and the pit in the bottom of my stomach which accompanied it.
The author also depicts the whole working in your twenties and the hoopla around weddings and the crossroads some found themselves in.
The book is a work of fiction but it is one of those books that will resonate with a lot of different people.
I will admit I have a thing about books and movies set in this area. That is what drew me to the book initially. What kept me is the main character. Sort of an anti-heroine but oddly real for a fictional character. I liked her and I loved the novel. Check the book out!