rambling down memory lane….

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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.viking

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.

134 Cheswold Ln, Haverford, PA 19041Even 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.

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transition

So here I am, making the transition to one of the places I always wanted to live: Chester County.  Now it’s all about git r’ done.

I started in Society Hill, transitioned to the Main Line, but let’s face it, the Main Line she ain’t what she used to be.  I am discovering more and more the kinds of people I used to prefer on the Main Line have actually moved to Chester County.

In Chester County, you have room to breathe, and you can actually see things like open space, farms, horses…and oh yes lots and lots and lots of deer.

I am not so jazzed about all the deer, truthfully. But the rate of development is taking away their habitat and their natural predators.  And every time a deer hunt is proposed to cull the herd the caterwauling and protests I read about are just silly.

One thing I worry about in Chester County is that the many municipalities out here becoming afflicted with the non-listening-we-know-best government disease.  This disease is ruining parts of the Main Line, Lower Merion in particular.

You see when local government starts to believe its own hype, it all goes into the crapper.  The government becomes so full of itself, it completely starts to forget what attracted people to an area in the first place.  A lot of this is caused by unnecessary development.

Unnecessary development starts out like a gleam in a municipalty’s eye.  Ahhh the savoring of future ratables.  But what municipalities seem to forget is you can’t just build it and assume they will come.

I see a lot of what can only be described as wanton careless development in Chester County.  I am fuzzy on where all the boundaries from community to community lie, but truthfully it’s a little startling to see quite so many plastic houses being planted all hodge podge.  And a lot of them are planted on top of busy, noisy highways.  I don’t get the whole leave the hectic pace of a more urban lifestyle to hear urban noises in quasi-rural areas. And Chester County definitely needs no more malls.  They are replete with strip shopping centers and malls.

Now recently there was a failed eminent domain for private gain attempt in Chester County.  At Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds, which is West Vincent Township.  When I first heard about it, I was appalled.  Here we go again – the last time I heard about something that turned my stomach quite so much is when Coatesville tried to seize Dick and Nancy Saha’s farm.  I got to know the Sahas a few years back, and they are the loveliest people.  Kind and neighborly.  They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect their land.

At the crux of the West Vincent debacle seems to be a lot of political shenanigans and of course, a Disneyland-esque Redevelopment Plan.  The funny thing is, as is the case with many of these plans is I can’t figure out who asked for it. Or why they think they need it.

One development which concerns me greatly was the Toll Brothers one approved by Willistown Supervisors approved on Paoli Pike in 2011.  Applebarf, err Applebrook Meadows. This development is right up against Willistown’s border with East Goshen.  Close to one of the most awesome park spaces I have seen (East Goshen’s park and walking trails are lovely.)

Lots of plastic houses in the new make me barf affected style of “carriage homes”.  Yeah really?  Do they even know the genesis of the carriage house and yet they re replacing horses with….you got it, plastic houses.  I never saw much coverage on Willistown’s mistake except in the Malvern Patch.  Malvern Patch also has reported on the planned super-sizing of Malvern.

In cute Malvern, a developer named Eli Kahn has plans and apparently governmental blessings to super-size Malvern.   Look at the renderings for this plan – does that even look like it belongs in Chester County?  To me, it will just make Chester County experience some of the over-developed ugliness of North Jersey.  This developer also has his sights set on West Chester according to Malvern Patch .

Chester County if it is not careful will become like the congested, over developed Main Line.  It’s beauty is in what it is, not some plastic vision of people who just are going to make their investments pay for them and move on.

How do people in Chester County in whatever municipality want their county to look like?  Do they envision lots of plastic houses and plastic (turf) fields to go with it?   I think people overall want to preserve the integrity of the county, so maybe a lot of these residents from various small and large municipalities need to get together and work with one and other.  One of the largest problems I see in Chester County is the hodge podge of zoning.  Commercial and residential all higgeldly piggeldly.  Why layer on more development when the obvious solution is to deal with what they have?  Look at all the little crossroads towns that need a little love.  They don’t need a strip mall or plastic houses down the road a piece, they need restoration.

Chester County is a gem and I am so loving exploring it.  I would just hate if Chester County  ended up looking as bad and over-developed as parts of Bucks and Montgomery Counties in particular.

I am but an auslander at this point hoping that Chester County learns again to preserve the land and a way of life before it’s overly “improved”.  Appreciate and preserve the charm of crossroads communities and nature that draws people here in the first place.  After all, there is nothing natural about plastic.