Dick Stricker

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Dick Stricker, who passed away yesterday at age 84, was one of Lansdale’s most colorful personalities. I came to know Dick after I became mayor seven years ago. He was the most frequent visitor in the mayor’s office, and he also stayed the longest. If someone was waiting outside, he would glance at them and continue talking. Dick had never been married (someone told me he was jilted at the altar) and therefore didn’t have any children. I guess one could say that Lansdale was his family. He owned numerous properties in town with two being some of the largest and most historical houses in Lansdale located on the corners of Columbia and Susquehanna Avenues (where he lived) and another located on Vine and Green Streets.

One humid August day in 2013, I stopped in to see him and show him a plaster art nouveau bust that I had taken out of the old Jenkins Theater before it was torn down. I rang the bell and to the door, slowly came Dick in his white sleeveless t-shirt and boxer shorts. He was happy to see the piece of art nouveau, Lansdale history, but what he really wanted was to show me his house. This is where things get a little peculiar.

Dick was an active member of the historical society and a founding member of the Board that preserved the Lansdale Cemetery. He owned houses that must have been fabulous in their heyday. He invited me into his house and gave me the tour. With a broom, he popped up one of the tiles of the drop down ceiling. “Look at that beautiful molding there! Look at these parquet floors!” as he pulled away the green shag rug. This once majestic house now was seven apartments. “Come with me, I want to show you something”. Up a flight of stairs no more than three feet wide to a landing then up some more stairs.  “Can you imagine that there once was a horseshoe double staircase here with a mahogany banister?” He eyes lit up as he described the grand architectural aspects of the house. ‘What happened to them?” I asked. “I tore them out”, he answered with no hint of irony. I couldn’t believe my ears; here was a member of the historical society talking about how he had dismantled this mansion to make room for apartments.

Now, before we judge Dick too harshly for his actions, this was a fairly common practice in the sixties, seventies and even eighties before architectural, historical consciousness set in. And as I understand it, Dick was a very kind and understanding landlord, and even though the apartments may have been dated, they were very clean and well maintained. As a single man, to have a gigantic house was not his style; he was practical and made money off of the buildings and provided housing for others. Very utilitarian and very characteristic of Lansdale.

Of course, Dick had his quirks. His constantly shrugging of his shoulders, his bulbous nose and his nasally pitched voice not quite fitting the largess of his body. There was his dark, ruddy skin color with deep creases in his forehead that he was inordinately proud of. The creases I believe were the result of some medical treatment that I can’t quite remember. And of course, his beloved Cadillac that he sailed around Lansdale in. He was also a  member of Lansdale Borough Council in the late seventies giving him carte blanche to criticize whatever was going on politically at the moment which he never hesitated to do. He was most happy with the Vine Street Expressway that was completed in September of 2014. According to him, with a newspaper article to back him up, he planned this project in 1977. He could die happy now.

A few years ago after I had painted Mayor Mike’s portrait, Dick came to me very soon after and asked when I could paint his portrait. I was a bit taken aback by his forwardness. “When could you start?” he asked. “You see, I’m not going to be here much longer,” he continued. Please keep in mind that this was the spring of 2013. I obliged him and invited him over to take some photos, which he then questioned as being good enough to make the portrait from. A few days went by and Dick called to see if I was working on the painting. I hadn’t even begun. I told him that I would call in a few weeks once it was close to ready. Once I had a portrait that was 90% finished I called him and he came over (within five minutes) to see the result. Walking around it and muttering a few “uh huhs” he asked if his hair was that grey. “I can darken it if you want,” I replied. “No, no. That’s ok. I’ll come back when you’re done.” He didn’t leave until he took a tour of my house this time and pointed out that I had very rare, irregular sized radiators.

Two weeks later he came back for the finished product. Inspecting the portrait, he declared, “I think you should darken those creases in my head a little. And that space between my teeth; is it that wide?” With the portrait on an easel on my front porch, I took out the brush, mixed up a little paint and made a few corrections. “That’s better!” Now came the instructions for his portrait after his death.

As I mentioned, Dick was a member of the Cemetery Board that cleaned up the cemetery in the sixties and seventies, therefore it may be no surprise that he was preoccupied with his death. Upon finishing his portrait, he gave me very specific directives as to where it should hang during his funeral at Huff & Lakjer, during his internment into the mausoleum (where according to him, his drawer is the best spot to observe those coming in and out of the mausoleum) and then finally, where it will hang in the historical society.

Dick Stricker was a kind old man, very typical of Lansdale with all its idiosyncrasies that make a life and a place interesting. Anyone who met Dick is most certain to have a story; I understand that there is a celebration in the works to honor his memory, which I hope will be a doozy. Please post your stories to this blog or send them to Dick Shearer at the Lansdale Historical Society at 137 Jenkins Avenue, Lansdale, Pennsylvania 19446.


Madison Parking Lot


Last night Equus presented their revised plans to the Lansdale Parking Authority regarding the apartments in the Madison Parking lot. The original idea for the Madison Parking Lot was that in exchange for a parking garage, Lansdale Borough would give a developer seven acres of land downtown for the construction of apartments. This would help make Lansdale a “semi-urban” destination which would in turn stimulate more foot traffic along Main Street and thus create a demand for restaurants and other shops. Equus presented their plans to the Borough with much fanfare in December 2011. Here are links to the slideshow and article from the Reporter at that time in 2011:



Since then, Equus’ plans have changed. SEPTA has committed to adding approximately 300 parking spaces (bringing their number of Parking Spaces up to about 900) in their lot which– according to Equus and certain Borough officials at the time– obviated their need to build a garage themselves. In addition, the scale of the project has been reduced from its original plan in 2011. First, Equus did away with their plans for the condos and then they decided to phase the project with the first phase being 175 apartments with reduced retail space and the second phase being the additional 50 apartments and maybe a garage. In November 2013, Equus was asked in Council whether or not the second phase was guaranteed; summarized, their guarded response was, “We’ll wait and see what the market dictates.” And now, as of last night, their plan includes 160 apartments, public piazza, Liberty Bell Trail and 100 public parking spaces. Here is a link to an article from the Reporter documenting last night’s presentation to the Parking Authority.

Now, let’s put all this in perspective: the original project outlined in 2011 included a parking garage, 30 condos, extensive retail space, a piazza and 250 “high-end” apartments. Now the project is 160 apartments with no condos, no garage and 15-20K retail space. Equus even recently went to the North Penn School District asking for tax abatement for ten years which was unanimously rejected. And prior to even that, Governor Corbett awarded the project $2.5 million for public improvements. So in a nutshell:

  • The Borough has (almost but not quite) turned over seven acres of Borough property in the heart of downtown for $1.
  • SEPTA is building the parking garage.
  • They will potentially receive $2.5 million for public improvements from the State.
  • The current project is a far cry from what was originally proposed.

My thought for the Madison Lot is that we rethink the idea of apartments downtown altogether. The argument that an additional 160-200 people downtown will turn Lansdale into a destination doesn’t hold water. Many people don’t realize that the SEPTA parking lot holds 488 cars. Where are all those people? Why aren’t they stopping in town? 200 additional people is a small percentage of the total amount of people downtown. Lansdale needs more restaurants period.

And the next problem, which is going to be a big one, is parking. According to Equus’ latest proposal, there will be 100 public parking spaces. Currently, there are about 200 in the Madison Lot. They were supposed to be adding parking, not taking it away. As an example, when Molly Maguire’s was open, they had thirty-five employees on a Saturday night not to mention their patrons coming to the restaurant. The plan for the property next door– the former Impact Store location– is to have multiple food booths bringing in more people and therefore a need for more parking. Then there is 311 West Main Street, which we hope will be a destination, and that will need parking. Whoever inhabits the former Tabora Cafe will also need parking. And as we heard last night from the owners of Wilson’s Hardware, they need parking. If even half of Main Street develops, where are all their patrons and employees  going to park?

I know there has been a lot of time and effort that was put into this Madison Lot Project,  but instead of apartments and retail, let’s repave the lot including the grassy areas to the left of Wood Street (facing north) which should add an additional 150 spaces. See the map here:


Incorporated into this will be trees lining the train tracks and trees in some of the medians separating some of the rows of parking. Let’s take advantage of the railroad instead of building a ten foot wall to block them as the apartment complex calls for. Lansdale is a train town, and we should take advantage of that. And instead of a skate park (which isn’t going to happen anyway), let’s install a train-themed pocket park with children’s rides encouraging families to the area. One person suggested a pop-up screen for a drive-in movie theater. In summary, let’s make it the most beautiful, well-lit parking lot in the region. And thinking longer term, imagine Lansdale as the hub for something like the Colbrookedale Railroad:



I have asked myself and others this question: If Main Street was full of businesses, would we be entertaining the need for 160 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail downtown? When I look to Ambler, Phoenixville and Doylestown, their successful rebirths did not include massive projects such as an apartment building in the center of their town. (In addition, Ambler, Phoenixville and Doylestown would love to have the parking that we have right behind their Main Streets.) Their rebirths began one business at a time not with a massive project (again, top down instead of bottom-up) such as ours.

I think of Main Street as our “mall”. And what do malls have in common? Easy accessible parking. With an attractive, well-lit parking lot perhaps, shoppers would be more likely to visit Lansdale. Recently, as I questioned local businesses about the number of customers they had in a week, I was given an earful about the problem of parking. I fear that with an apartment building in the Madison Parking Lot and a parking garage on the other side of the tracks, potential visitors to Lansdale will simply bypass our town and the trouble associated with finding a space and opt for the Montgomery Mall or the next town such as Skippack, Ambler or Doylestown.

(And at least if my proposal is scrapped, please put this project out to bid again. Equus’ latest proposal is very different from their original plan. Here is an example of another developer that will be doing something very attractive in Chalfont. Please see below:)

Businesses downtown need customers. This is obvious. The larger question is how do we get them into town to stay and to return. Is an apartment complex the best way to do this? Or is an easily accessible and attractive parking lot the best way to attract customers? The trouble here is no one knows. Importantly, what we do know is that the Madison Parking Lot has gained importance as of late with the Farmers’ Market volunteers and vendors extremely satisfied with their new location in the Madison Lot, a sixth and very successful Beer Festival on the north end of the Madison Lot, nineteen Lansdale Bike Nights and numerous other car show stagings in the Madison Lot. All these events that bring people into Lansdale will have to find other locations for their events. We shouldn’t dismiss that for “development”. But I will remind Lansdale’s residents that once an apartment complex is built in the center of town, it is here to stay.

An Old Connection to Lansdale

Sam Kriebel is 93 years old, and he lives in the house where he was born; in fact, the house has been in his family for nine generations. It was built in 1783 by his ancestor Christopher Wiegner. As the crow flies, 45 Fretz Road in Lower Salford Township is about twelve miles from Lansdale. I have known Sam for about four or five years now, and I finally paid him a visit this past weekend. He knows that I am the mayor of Lansdale and therefore, interested in its history, so he mentioned that I should come take a look at some of his farm equipment manufactured in Lansdale at the turn of the last century by the Heebner Agricultural Works. The Heebner factory was located just north of the railroad tracks on Broad Street where Vespia’s Tire Center is now right across from Montellas Pub. This farm equipment was designed and built to convert horse power– actual horses walking on treadmills– into implements that would drive combines and threshers and the like. These farm machines made right here in Lansdale were shipped all over the world to places as far away as Czarist Russia. Unfortunately, the Heebner Family failed to recognize the significance of the internal combustion engine and before long the Heebner and Sons company was out of business. Here is a link to more information about the Heebner Agricultural Works written by Lansdale Historical Society President, Dick Shearer: http://lansdalehistory.org/articles/Booklet%20Town%20Is%20Born.pdf

Here are a few photos that I took while visiting Sam Kriebel at his farm (he doesn’t look a day over eighty).

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Here’s a five horse power motor (it looks more like the definition of a contraption to me) that drives belts that would then be attached to pulleys to drive the pumps that would bring water to the cows in the barn, another belt would drive a mill stone that would grind wheat and yet another would drive a conveyor belt for something else. This five horse power engine– while manufactured in Ohio– was installed by Lansdale’s Heebner at this very spot in 1902 according to Sam. It cost $390 in 1902. Looking down at the five horse power contraption, he joked that today there are weedwacker motors that produce five horsepower. Sam Kriebel 015

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In the barn just on the other side of this powerhouse, were a corn cutter and a thresher made in Lansdale. What I find so interesting and nostalgic about this scene is that here is a living link to Lansdale’s past. No one lives forever so when Sam has departed this earth, this equipment will simply be that– metal and wood with some historical and monetary value, but no longer any sentimental value.

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Note the beautiful– yet entirely unnecessary– Pennsylvania Dutch ornamental painting on the side of the thresher. I can only imagine Sam’s grandfather, after a long, hot day in the Pennsylvania, summer sun finishing up with his work and looking down at this painting and thinking with pride about his sophisticated, modern equipment from the “big” town of Lansdale.

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Much like his grandson at ninety-three looking at the Heebner and Sons “portable” corn grinder/separator in April 2015.


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The State of Affairs in Lansdale

01212012 024On Wednesday night, Lansdale Borough Council voted 5-4 to terminate Timi Kirchner as Borough Manager. It is unfortunate when anyone loses their job especially in such a public forum as a Council meeting, but as public officials and political appointees this is the downside of what we signed up for. Without a doubt, Ms. Kirchner has served the Borough well in various capacities. Among some of her achievements, she has improved the morale of Staff, instituted managerial hierarchy and she has outlined goals and evaluated their completion as was witnessed in her slideshow presentation last night.

However, as I have outlined in this blog on numerous occasions there have been some questionable policy decisions overseen by Ms. Kirchner. Denton Burnell was correct last night when he stated that, “it was Council who authorized the spending” on such projects such as 311 Arts and the Borough Hall. But as an advisor to Council, I think that not advocating for additional architectural bids was imprudent. I have argued this in the past and to this day, I have not received a rational answer as to why the project was not put out to bid. Could the Borough have saved $2 or $3 or perhaps $4 million? We’ll never know. Furthermore, for the past sixteen months, Lansdale has been operating out of four trailers that cost the Borough a little over $100,000. There has been no interruption of services to our community, in fact, in March 2014 the Administration recognized Staff for their excellence in getting Lansdale through a difficult winter. This occurred while operating out of four trailers.

We paid $500,000 on nearly completed architectural plans for 311 West Main Street before Laura Burnham and Shirley Trauger presented their final assessment of their study. Was this prudent spending and planning? No.

Another misstep for Ms. Kirchner was the constant demonization of previous Councils and Borough Manager, Lee Mangan. While Mr. Mangan may not have been perfect, a lot of development occurred in Lansdale from 2000 to 2008 including the Turbo Lofts and West Main Gateway shopping center with Starbucks, the Pavilion Shopping Center, Station Square, Stony Creek Park and the West Main Streetscape grant. All very nice additions to Lansdale. Never was a conciliatory tone taken or an olive branch offered to those who previously served the Borough. No one is perfect and we should remember that.

Finally, the question to pose Lansdale residents is this: “What is the role of local government?” I think everyone would agree that public safety is first and foremost, followed by uninterrupted electricity, functioning sewer treatment, smooth roads, i.e., a sound infrastructure at minimal cost. As these requirements are satisfied, then quality of life issues such as libraries, parks and other “soul” enriching elements may or may not follow suit.

We saw what happened when trying to instill the arts in town through the purchase and renovation of 311 West Main Street; the Borough lost $3 million never to return. Will the average Lansdale residents’ lives be improved substantially with a $13-14 million Borough Hall? Imagine if we saved even as little as $3 or $4 million by going through a proper architectural bidding process; $1.5 million could have gone to a renovation of the Kugal Ball/Railroad Plaza, $500,000 to the Lansdale Historical Society, $300,000 for improved playground facilities at Whites Road Park, $200,000 for the Library; or simply passed the savings on the the Lansdale resident; the list goes on and on. The reason I mention these possibilities is that money spent on the examples above would have affected and improved the lives of more Lansdale residents than the money spent on Borough Hall.

Here are a few thoughts to ponder: if the Borough is operating efficiently and effectively, why does anyone need to go to the Administrative Borough Hall? The average attendance to Borough Council meetings is thirteen residents. Does anyone believe that number will increase with a new Borough Hall? Where would you rather be on a warm summer Wednesday evening? Sitting in a new Borough Hall listening to a debate over rate increases or sitting in a beautifully reconfigured Railroad Plaza? Will a new Borough Hall bring in new businesses? Or will lower taxes bring in new businesses? Interesting questions to think about our government moving forward.

I truly appreciate what Timi Kirchner has done in Lansdale, and I wish her every success in the future.

Mariano’s Tavern

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While not in Lansdale, Mariano’s Tavern is just across the border in Hatfield. Tonight, the last day of 2014, will be their last in business after 48 years. Kathleen and Faust Mariano will be calling it a day since taking it over in 1991 from their cousin, Skeets Mariano, who started it with Faust’s aunt and uncle in 1967. Visiting there today, I heard Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” at about 4:15PM. It seemed especially fitting with the longing of the saxophones during the intro, then the optimism of the middle and then the sadness of the saxophones again at the end– almost a paean to the years of Mariano’s in the North Penn area. Mariano’s was the opposite of pretention: a solid place to get a hoagie or veal parmesan, an Eagles or a Flyers game or karaoke.Marianos Tavern 12312014 010

The walls were wood paneling and the bar was Formica. Mariano’s was one of a dying breed of neighborhood bars and restaurants owned by families. And of course, there was the family of Kathleen and Faust Mariano to greet you. I am 44 years old now, but when I was 17 and driving, I took my dates there. Tom Slater and I double dated with Catherine Delvishio and Jen Rutter at Mariano’s once in this very spot in the back in 1988.Marianos Tavern 12312014 011

My father was a regular at Mariano’s, and he and I had many a meal there. I would have a cheesesteak and my father, a tuna fish salad with extra hot peppers and an Absolut vodka Martini up with a twist, rocks on the side.Marianos Tavern 12312014 012

Again, while I am not writing about a business located in the Borough of Lansdale, their owners, Kathleen and Faust Mariano, live in the Borough and more than a few of their patrons have been Lansdale residents. I thought it fitting to pay homage to them and their Tavern in this blog as they close their doors this last day of 2014: to a “just across the border from Lansdale” institution that was a solid gathering place for so many years– one that this author remembers well and will miss as a reminder of his youth and family since passed.

Thank you for a good run! Best wishes for your future!

Andy Szekely

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The Future of 311 West Main Street

I posted on Facebook on Thursday that I would provide my solution to the “riddle of 311 West Main Street” in response to Bill Henning’s following comment:

Politics at it’s worst. Something as big and important as this should definitely have been on the agenda. Not doing so is SO irresponsible of our council people and mayor.

I suppose now it’ll sit vacant for years until it becomes just another eyesoreand lost Lansdale historical building, eventually the state will be looking for their 1.5m returned and yet another lost opportunity to bring people & new quality businesses in town.

For the sake of this town that I love so much, I hope I am proved wrong but currently I fail to see ANYTHING proposed to bring some heart & soul back into our downtown like the 311 arts would be able to do if all our leaders stood behind it and worked for the common goal rather than constantly put it down and be an impenetrable obstacle.

Unfortunately, it was the government that kept the building vacant for the past five years while it analyzed it to death at the cost of the tax payers– over $1 million since it was shuttered in 2010. Three consultants– AMS, Laura Burnham and Schultz & Williams– said different things while those interested in seeing the arts take off in Lansdale waited for government to be the answer. More time and the government will figure it out. Well, we saw how that worked.

Now onto the solution. In the three days since Wednesday night’s Council meeting, no less than four interested parties have come forth with four different ideas for 311 West Main Street. Now keep in mind this is preliminary, but each of these potential uses for the building will bring people into Borough and this is just the beginning. Imagine what other proposals will come in the weeks to come and what choices the Borough will have to foster growth on Main Street.

Furthermore, if the 311 Arts Board is seriously committed to the arts in Lansdale and securing the building for its venue, now is the time to put together a business plan and raise the money to buy 311 West Main Street. It will certainly be a few months before it actually goes up for sale giving the 311 Arts Board time to organize and fund raise. And the building most certainly won’t sell for the $5,000,000 the Borough put into it, so there you have the public money put into the project. Now, it’s time for the private money to come to the table.

There are residents that I will never please, and I have already been condemned by those who say that what I and others Council members did was underhanded. However, as an elected official I have to make difficult decisions and voting on ‘yes’ on the motion to sell 311 West Main Street is one decision about which I have no regrets.



The Next Step for the Arts in Lansdale

After Wednesday’s Lansdale Borough Council meeting, I believe the writing is on the wall for 311 West Main Street: after much discussion both in the Administration and Finance Committee and in Council Chambers the direction is now to separate the building located at 311 West Main Street from the arts. In other words, commitment to the arts does not necessarily mean commitment to the building. Finally, at least a little common sense.

However, now the current thrust of the administration is to extend Ms. Burnham’s contract (she is the current business manager advising the Borough on the arts for the past year and a half, and the amount of her next contract is undetermined) to manage the arts for us in Lansdale. The issue that I have with this blanket, open-ended desire to support the arts is where does the spending end and what metrics will be use to assess the effectiveness of this spending on the arts?

We currently have a few worthy arts organizations in town including the North Penn Arts Alliance and Theater and Kids and the Montgomery County Concert Band which have been in the area for an average of 20 years each. The question I have is how do we support these organizations? Does throwing more money at another bureaucratic entity help them or if we’re dolling out cash, why don’t we just write each of them a check? A question to consider is whether Laura Burnham and the newly created 311 Arts Board know how to better promote the arts than the organizations themselves?

In order for the commitment to the arts to be genuine, there needs to be a grassroots effort to raise the money. As Carl Saldutti mentioned in his speech to Council on Wednesday night, a venue for the arts in Lansdale may take years to achieve in Lansdale. The pressure is off to save 311 West Main Street. This episode of the arts is over in Lansdale.

If people in Lansdale want the arts, go to see a production of Theater and Kids, attend the North Penn Arts Alliance Winter Show at North Penn Art or their Spring Art Show at Elm Terrace Gardens. Check out Mike Mohamet Jazz at Round Guys Brewery every Wednesday night or the incredible Irish Sessions at Molly Maguires every second Sunday (they used to play every Sunday, but the sessions were poorly attended so they cut back to once a month). Go to the Tuba Christmas Concert.

Or better yet, support these already existing arts organizations by becoming a Board member or by contributing to them financially. I think they would appreciate this more than yet another Borough sponsored board meeting dedicated to “supporting the arts in Lansdale.” Go straight to the source of the art and make a real difference in the life of an artist or their organization. Do we really need government to do that for us?

Here are the websites for ways to support local art: