Yes, we did, as the very long title of the post says.
On a steamy hot Sunday morning, July 19, we traveled on foot through these suburban Philadelphia locations. The trip fits in with a couple of other walks we’ve recently done:
As I’ve mentioned, I went to college in this area and I’m very familiar with the terrain, though it’s been a long while since I lived here. It’s been interesting to move slowly through the towns on foot, taking time to examine details.
Today’s walk continued along Lancaster Avenue, Route 30. We parked the car at the (closed due to the pandemic) Radnor Hotel and started off going west.
We made our way through St. David’s, which, honestly, doesn’t have much of a personality. To me it is and always has been a string of apartment buildings set close up to the road. Nothing more to say about it, then.
Wayne is a larger presence, with a shopping district centered on the intersection of Lancaster Avenue and Wayne Avenue. I confess to not being as familiar with this area as the places to the east – in college, this section was out of walking range for us, and in my early years living in apartments, this area was a little out of my daily round. But I still have some memories. Let’s take a look.
The buildings line the street, a variety of shops and offices. I liked the look of this one.
Now, take a look at it again. It’s probably owned by two different owners. How do I know? The clues I pick up on are, first of all, the differing updates to the windows and doors on the first floor. But the detail that interested me is the out-of-kilter profile of the gable. At some point, the left side roof was replaced and the detailing removed or destroyed. The right side retains its original look. The overall effect is to make the building look a bit off balance, like a person listing to the side?
Figuring out histories is what’s so much fun about these walks through the built landscape. And once again it’s the details that matter.
OK, let’s keep going. In the center of town is the Wayne Presbyterian Church, a large and well-kept place that would not fit itself into my photos no matter how I tried.
I contented myself with leaving some tiles on the wall beside the sidewalk, while my patient husband waited for me to stop taking photos and get moving again.
Another local sight is the Anthony Wayne movie theater. It’s now divided into 5 screens – If you are interested in reading more about this theater, look here. Like many other venerable movie theaters in our area, it’s in trouble financially. The current situation is making its future even more insecure. I am sad to hear it.
Like other shopping areas along Lancaster Avenue, there is a mix of small shops. Among other things we saw a children’s clothing shop, a women’s clothing shop, and a men’s shoe store.
We took a turn at Wayne Avenue heading toward the train line (which is a block or so off Lancaster). The township has sponsored an outdoor eating area for local restaurants.
Pay special attention to the left side of the sign. I like that attitude. They are saying, We aren’t going anywhere. Life in the 19087 (local zip code) is special. This place, our home, is special.
In these times, community feeling is very important.
OK. We walked along by the train tracks for a bit. Here is the station.
Like the other shopping areas along Route 30, there is some sense of struggle. There are vacancies, both due to the pandemic and from before, and many underutilized locations. I remember a thriving and busy area from when I lived here, but people shop differently now. A new phase in the history of this stretch of road, from Ardmore all the way to Wayne and beyond, is coming along, but I don’t know what it is.
Anyway, at this point we turned around and headed back to the car. The overall walk was about 4 miles, not bad on such a hot day.
I have enjoyed these walks we’ve taken along Lancaster Avenue in the past weeks – I’ve felt a sense of comfort in reflecting on the fact that, though so much has changed, I am still able to see my memories in tangible form in so many places.
I’m wondering what will happen to the storefronts here too. The high rents have already driven a lot of businesses out. Who knows what will be left next year?
The street I have been profiling, Lancaster Ave., is in the oldest exclusive and wealthy area and has been declining for decades – malls, parking, people having more awareness of other places to buy, the internet…and in my opinion the area itself is starting to be less sought after, and the houses becoming dated (not in the good way of the solid 100 year old house but the faded way of the 1960 split level, no matter what kind of property it’s on). None of this supports the business districts getting a new life. Add the lessened demand for office space (already happening pre-pandemic) and I am not sure what will take these locations or who will want to use them. Or how. The pandemic just accelerated the situation. I am saddened by the changes only because I don’t see the new chapter coming, not because things have changed. And I am fearful, too, once again, for the loss of jobs and neighborhood.
Perhaps these suburban communities will become more amenable to apartments being built on these spaces. I remember well the old “property values” arguments against them but people should live in houses not investments. The real investment would be sharing their communities with a wider variety of humans.
In this particular area there are already many apartments, from garden style to multi-floors, and most of these have been around for decades – real estate is so valuable that it made sense to build them, back in the past. Even along this section of road the stores have apartments above them. But in today’s world, I am not sure it would go that way in this location – the commercial district is a thin strip along Lancaster Ave without enough room for big projects (that and the huge cost of acquiring property from multiple owners, as each building is separately owned) probably means some other thing will have to happen here (what, I don’t know). However, in many areas around, such as my own section, that is what is being built, especially in commercial corridors where this old small kind of building is being torn down and apartments put up, which is a departure (in the past, it would have just been updated commercial space rather than switching to residential) Because once again, shopping habits are driving the change in how land in these situations is being used. I also see more townhouses being built in these situations. But this is mostly happening where what was already there was of such low value that the developer could tear down and rebuild in a different way, not possible if land values are too high to allow someone to make a change. I suspect in this particular area values will stagnate and finally something will change, but it will be a while, and since there are plenty of apartments there already, and it’s not the kind of place young people are moving to (the Main Line has a reputation for stodgy wealth), don’t know what will set it off. It’s an interesting subject to me. Especially these days.
That’s an interesting point-where do people want to live? Although in the city, people are fleeing to the suburbs in droves because of the virus. The suburbs around NYC might be more suited to that kind of development. For now, if they can’t afford to buy a house, young people seem to be moving back home with their parents.
The big thing about housing I think is making it affordable. Not giant housing projects which clearly don’t work. But maybe small complexes or putting affordable apartments into every building. The problem with that is waiting lists and lotteries. Neighborhoods that are financially integrated are better for everyone. But how to achieve this? Well then we get to jobs that pay a living wage and you’re down the rabbit hole again.
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