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.