request from radnor: who was candy hill? (her plaque is deteriorating along with everything else at the willows)

14329944_1442553252427898_8869019755046473407_nThe photos were sent to me with the following message:

Radnor Twp has let The Willows Assets deteriorate to a point of no return.
Anyone know what the plaque represents below?

Who was Candy Hill?

The Willows was a mighty fine property. A house, never a mansion.  The architect was my dear friend Sara’s grandfather Charles Barton Keen (Keen is being discussed this month during a couple of Chester County Historical Society Events as a matter of fact.)

The Willows started out life in 1910 for John Sinnott Jr., the estate was originally called “Rose Garland.”

The Zantzinger family began ownership in the 1930s, and renamed the estate “Maral Brook.”   Alfred Zantzinger (1907-1972) married Mary Geist in 1937 and what we know as the Willows today became their home. Their son Alfred (“Gei”) was an ethnomusicologist and independent filmmaker who lived in Devault and is still remembered on the Charlestown Township website to this day.  One of Alfred the younger’s sons is a high school friend of one of my closest friends – at one time he had lent me marvelous old family photos of the Willows, but I lost them on an old computer unfortunately.

14368887_1442553162427907_7053680060494812420_nRadnor Township purchased the property ca. 1972-73, and it has been a public park and event space ever since. Now truthfully The Willows was acquired via eminent domain (See “Willows Ordinance“.)

But I digress.

No one can get their act together about the Willows in a way that makes sense.  Apparently it will be discussed at some point this fall again in Radnor, but in the meantime who is this lady the plaque was dedicated to?

Seems so sad.

Thanks to my friend Tim for the use of his photos.

Shame on you Radnor for not taking better care of a property you are stewards of. And if in the end the house that is not a mansion is demolished, care MUST be taken with this plaque that it is not lost forever.  Whomever she was she meant something to people.

Remember the state of things like this in Radnor when you go to the polls in November since one of their commissioners is under the delusion she can be an effective state representative in PA 165 – Elaine Paul Schaefer – affectionately know as Elaine Paul Sing Song Voice to some. She loves the cows at Ardrossan, but has been ineffective problem solving across the road at the Willows.  Ask her and the other present and former Radnor Conservancy members about the state of the Willows Cottage, ok?  I hear it can be summed up with one word: mold and is that true? And if so why? They got gobs of money a few short years ago to put that cottage right, correct?

Thanks for stopping by.

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should municipalities be allowed to sell off parts of public parks?

12472521_1288480304498962_6317939821284350831_nWorth mentioning – there is an email circulating in Radnor Township in Delaware County concerning an old house and a Township Park owned by the taxpayers of Radnor. The property is called the Willows.

In this email the sender addresses a neighboring development and the residents looking for their support – the development is called Inveraray.

Inveraray is a bit pretentious, check out their website. They scream landed gentry but are they really? It’s quite the stucco land of Stepford actually:

inv1

Inv 2

Anyway this person says that they want to buy the house and a couple acres around it, actually close to three and move there. I am not naming this person by name, their name is somewhat immaterial. The important thing is not the WHO but the WHY. They claim they are looking for a larger house in Radnor Township:

For the last several months I have looked for an opportunity to move into a larger residence with my family…. where I could again reinvest in an older property and turn it around to current premium standards we all love and admire.

 

This past week I submitted two proposals to purchase or lease for long term the Willows residence plus 2.25 + or- acres surrounding the residence for my family.

 

My plan proposes to reinvest in the manor house well more than $1.0 million dollars to modern livable standards.

 

It is my hope that this would be a win-win solution that would not cost the tax payers nor would it cost your beautiful neighborhood.

 

After all we, long term Radnor Residents paid for the 47 acres to stop development but certainly did not purchase the estate because a family lived in the main house.

I have had some astounding emails shifted my direction over the years but this one takes the cake. It’s like “Hi fellow rich people I want to move into your sandbox, won’t you kindly help me and I will have you over for tea?”

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The house is part of a public park. How could Radnor Township legally sell something that belongs to the taxpayers the could affect the rest of the park usage?

If this person wants to live like nouveau landed gentry, that’s terrific. Let them go buy a building lot over at Ardrossan. There are lovely lots for sale, correct?

And when you research how the Willows was acquired by Radnor (see Willows Ordinance ) you see it was done via condemnation, or eminent domain. In this case it was public purpose. They paid what? Like a million dollars for the land and house in 1973?  Was that even worth that back then? And it was all for a PUBLIC PARK.  So if that is how the land and house were acquired and flash forward to 2016 and they sell off the house and acreage around it, in the visual middle of the park to a private person can’t it be contemplated that Radnor Township is turning eminent domain for public purpose to eminent domain for private gain?

How can that even be considered as a solution???

10366001_1288480357832290_6348205829566592359_nThe Willows has been a problem for Radnor Township probably mostly due to past mismanagement of the property, and a lack of consistent maintenance, correct?  They refer to the house as a “mansion” and it was never a mansion it was just a house. And it is NOT a huge house with landmark status or special historic preservation status – it’s not as if it is on the NTHP list.

I actually know quite a bit about the house because a friend of mine went to high school with a grandson of the last owners of the house and I know a woman who is the granddaughter of the architect. The granddaughter of the architect (Charles Barton Keen) suggested at the beginning of 2016 that the house be razed and turned into a folly. (Read this letter.)

This isn’t happening in Chester County, no, but I am somewhat astounded at the premise.10402709_1288480391165620_9078402028615408367_n

A park that is a public park should remain a public park. And if a tenant can’t be found in the can afford to do the necessary upgrades to the house which I think would probably include updating the electrical wiring to more than knob and tube and making sure there was no lead paint or asbestos on site and Radnor Township can’t afford it why keep the house standing? Mind you I never say that about old houses but this is one of those situations where I just shake my head.

Yes it’s an old house but it’s not even spectacular when compared to other old houses in the area that are still standing. It has no real historical worthiness. It is not one of the important works of Charles Barton Keen. It’s just a house.  And I have always been curious as to the financial circumstances surrounding Radnor Township purchasing this in the first place. I don’t think anyone has ever seen a report of that.

If this house was at the edge of the park, the public park, I probably wouldn’t write this post. But this house is in the middle of a very large park and that sets a dangerous precedence for public parks anywhere.

Of course the issues with the house at the Willows also points to a larger problem and inconsistencies in historic preservation at local levels in municipalities through out Pennsylvania.

I love old houses. I like but not love the Willows as far as the house goes. But I love the park in which it sits and other things like the Skunk Hollow Community Garden. Turning The Willows into a giant donut by carving out the center so a private party owns it and then could even flip the property is not a solution, it’s a big problem waiting to happen on so many levels.  Putting a nursery school in the Willows is also a problem. And why is that nursery school really leaving St.David’s Church after all these years and who else were they speaking with who may have said no thank you?

The perfect solution was when a caterer wanted to rent the Willows and use it as a dedicated destination site. That was perfect because well, weddings were held there for years. But that fell through because of funding issues, didn’t it?  And that brings this full circle to the fact the Willows in past administrations of Radnor Township was not truly maintained. I mean who knew until recently about the electrical wiring still being so old? That is a fire hazard, correct? And what about the other issues? Is their lead paint and are their lead lined pipes for example? Has anyone ever heard about that definitively?

12742356_1288480367832289_375092838788559525_nThis isn’t an 18th or 19th century mansion. It’s a house. It was a house built in the early 20th century in the California style by a father for his daughter when she married. The Main Line has lots of those wedding gift houses and another one that actually was even more lovely and left to rot before it was razed was the former Clothier house on Buck Lane in Haverford across from the Haverford School Football field.  The land was empty for a long time but  new construction planned for it. Not sure if anything ever got built.

The Willows house has been a long time folly for Radnor Township, so maybe now is the time to actually consider it becoming one? Because if Radnor commissioners fall down the slippery slope of selling off land and a house taken for the public in 1973 as public propose to a private party that is a slippery slope to a great deal of unpleasantness. And my greater concern is it sets a dangerous precedence in Pennsylvania.

At the end of the day, sign me very glad I can’t see this hot mess from my window.

Here is the Main Line Media News Article:

Resident offers to buy mansion at The Willows for private home

Leslie Morgan of Wayne, a commercial real estate developer, has offered to buy the house plus two surrounding acres or lease it and make it her family residence. Morgan did not disclose the amounts she offered the township but said she would make her financial information available to the township solicitor or finance director.

“I would say to the taxpayers and residents of Radnor that it would be a shame for the Willows to be torn down or for the park to be overtaken by over 160 non- school age children due to a lease termination of their private business (the nursery school).”

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beautiful.

Beautiful.   No other word can describe the Great Blue Heron who lives at the Willows in Radnor Township.  I call it Big Blue.

The photo above was taken a few days ago by my pal Greg Prichard.  The photo below was taken by me in the same vicinity two years ago at the same time of year.

If there is any doubt why we need to preserve our environment and open space, just look at this magnificant bird.  You don’t see creatures like this in office parks, strip malls, and New Urbanism Fairy Tales of Transit Oriented Development.

Just saying.

a community garden grows

This post isn’t about Chester County.  It’s actually about something going on in Radnor Township. 

It’s about a community garden.

And that’s a good thing.

A few years ago, a group called Greener Partners showed up and asked Radnor if they could farm some public land at the Willows at Skunk Hollow.  At the time, I thought this was a mistake, because they were farming the land for their pricey subscription CSA – their shares were around $700 – $800 per family if memory serves.

I had tried them on for size with friends one of the first years they existed and the share was $500 for the season. And we spent most of the season NOT getting the produce that was on our produce list.   I mean I like Bok Choy and all, but when I got a list saying I was getting specific veggies and I would get 3 giant heads of Bok Choy instead, it got old fast.

Skunk Hollow at the Willows Summer 2010 (Greener Partners on site)

Greener Partners, was able to use 2 acres of land at the Willows and to use the Willows Cottage in essence for free or darn close to it. It went under the guise of Saving The Willows Cottage, but for free use of township, therefore public taxpayer owned land for in essence a private enterprise kind of smelled.  I thought it should be at least in part a community garden where people could have shares.  Instead it was an odd kind of arrangement, complete with housing their farmer close by.  Yes, their farmer.  And all the farmer did was complain.  Was the farmer really a slacker?  Not sure, but under his farmitude, the Skunk Hollow Farm was a weed pit (see photo I took in 2010 at right – those weren’t veggies, those were weeds.)

Around this time (or maybe slightly earlier) Greener Partners was also out in Willistown – again on in essence non-profit land.  Don’t know whatever happened there. In 2011 CSA shares at Greener Partners were $750.  Pricing is similar for 2012.  They seem to be out of Chester County and seen to have crept over to the other side of Montgomery County around Collegeville and they are still around Media.    Save your money with these people.  I believe in organic farming and CSAs and farm markets, but not these people.  Greener Partners was founded by a guy named Jason Ingle, whom I believe is also a former venture capitalist. He was part of that Radnor Hunt area dust-up a few years ago with M. Night Shyamalan and his fencing.  I at least agreed with that.

So why am I telling you about these days gone by?  To set the stage.  Last summer, Skunk Hollow at the Willows was a shambles.  Weeds and thistle and all sorts of stuff had invaded the 2 acres left at this point utterly untended save a few pathetic tomato plants.  It was amazing the disarray.  I mean even if Greener Partners was leaving, they should have in my opinion left the land at least tidy.  If you are even a temporary steward of public land, treat it with respect, right?

So one of my friends, Sara Pilling, a wonderful lady and talented gardener had an idea.  So she planned and measured and drew up plans….for a community garden in Radnor on the site of Skunk Hollow Farm at the Willows.  I used to hear about the plans for the garden when she took turns with my other friends driving me to radiation treatments for breast cancer.

So to speed the story up, Sara got approved for the garden (see YouTube below from Radnor Patch )

Shares of the garden new for 2012 went fast.  So now Sara and many other volunteers and future community gardeners are hard at work.  They have cleared the weeds and been working diligently.  What a bunch of volunteers have already accomplished versus what Greener Partner’s farmer and Greener Partners was supposed to have done at the Willows is amazing. And there is a new sense of community being fostered along with this garden.

(Sara also founded Common Ground community garden in Garrett Hill at Radnor United Methodist Church.)

Sara is a very modest person, a true Quaker and hates when she gets public props.  But I am going to do it anyway.  I have learned a lot from my friend and I am proud of her and the volunteers who have now brought two community gardens to Radnor Township.  (Read all about it in Main Line Media News today too.)  

I think this is something other municipalities should pay attention to and create within their own borders.  Especially out here in Chester County.  I have seen some small community looking gardens here and there, but I think this is something municipalities should encourage and should also sponsor these gardens.  Not pay for them, but to allow the space if there is an interest.  It is a good thing economically, and surplus can go to local food banks.

Of course one other thing that community gardens accomplish is that they literally build community.  That in and of itself, considering the world in which we live, is priceless.

Besides, digging in the dirt is just good for the soul.   I did some of that today myself.