Monthly Archives: February 2012

Lansdale’s Front Porches

On an unseasonably warm day a few weeks ago, I was standing on the front porch of Rory and Suzy Detweiler’s home at 403 York Avenue, and as I looked west from their front porch I was struck by the tunnel of front porches that lay before me. I counted six in a row and then a few more beyond that in the twins that continued down the street like picture frames getting smaller and smaller.  In the days before air conditioning and ceiling fans, the front porch was often the coolest room in the house in the summer; it was the Facebook of the time. Looking down the row of porches on York Avenue, I can imagine the conversations and the intrigues going on during the waining summer hours before the advent of television and computers (these homes were built in the twenties). Gossip that would include who had one too many the other night, how much did so and so pay for that house on Columbia Avenue and that contagious laughter and carousing that must have been heard echoing off the porch ceilings and decks.

Most modern housing developments from the sixties, seventies and later have a rudimentary porch that is practically non-functional– enough space for a lawn chair and a door matt but not much else. And even if there was a conversation on the front porch of one of these homes there would be no possible way for a neighbor to hear the details, but that was the design and the allure of the colonial, cookie-cutter homes set on  three quarters to an acre of land that drew our parents, the baby boomers, out of South and Northeast Philadelphia. Rebellion against our parents is natural and nostalgia typically skips a generation or two. That is why those stories of grandma eating ice cream on the front porch of her parents’ row home in South Philadelphia on a sweltering summer night while kids played stickball in the street seem so quintessentially American. Lansdale still has the remnants of that era in and on its front porches throughout its avenues and streets. Pull up a chair, grab a beer and stay a while. No need for Facebook here.

Lansdale Characters: Dr. Frank Boston

Relating to my last post regarding a clock in town to honor the late Mayor Mike DiNunzio’s legacy, some people suggested a statue be erected to honor him instead. Most cities have statues of famous people or events: Philadelphia has quite a number of statues including William Penn, George Washington and Joan of Arc; Norristown has a statue dedicated to 9/11, which shows a set of hands holding a piece of wreckage from the World Trade Center; Doylestown has one of a World War I soldier giving aid to another wounded soldier; Pottstown has a Grand Army of the Republic Statue and yes, Lansdale has a statue of sorts. Lansdale’s statue or more accurately a bronze relief, is of Dr. Frank Boston. Dr. Boston was the physician who founded the hospital that would eventually become North Penn Hospital, then Central Montgomery Medical Center and now, Abington Hospital at Lansdale. He also helped to establish Lansdale’s First Aid Corps which would later become the Volunteer Medical Service Corps that we know today.

A bronze relief statue of Dr. Frank Boston was erected at the northeast corner of Broad and Seventh Streets facing Elm Terrace Gardens which used to be North Penn Hospital. Why was the statue placed across the street facing the hospital instead of in the hospital or on the hospital grounds when Dr. Boston was so integral in its establishment? This a question with an interesting answer.

Dr. Boston was a World War I veteran who came to Lansdale from Philadelphia in the ’30s to practice medicine and surgery. Generally regarded as an exemplary surgeon, a compassionate doctor who frequently treated the needy without compensation and a civic leader, he was nontheless shunned by the Board of Directors of the hospital at the time. Of the suspected reasons for this are the often inflated egos associated with doctors on hospital boards, rumors of philandering on Dr. Boston’s behalf, the fact that he was an ‘outsider’ from Philadelphia in a predominately Pennsylvania Mennonite town– and perhaps, because he was not quite white. He was light-skinned with green eyes, but he had African-American facial features and hair.

Dr. Boston was diagnosed with cancer in 1958 and passed away in 1960 before his memorial was built and dedicated by his ardent supporters and patients. This is the story of Lansdale’s only statue. No Rocky, no military heros, just a bronze relief of a country doctor from the other side of the tracks at the edge of town looking across the street at the hospital he helped establish.

A clock in the center of town

As a result of a little brainstorming, an idea to honor Mayor Mike DiNunzio’s legacy in Lansdale has surfaced: an old town clock located in the grassy area across from the Kugel Ball. Attached is a very preliminary (it could be moved closer to Main Street, closer to the train tracks, etc) rendering of how the clock might look. Some additional landscaping, a few benches and maybe a streetlight or two would add a bit more ambiance to this rendition or hopefully, a realized version. There are a number of reasons why this could be a worthwhile project:

  • Mayor Mike was quite a collector and restorer of clocks.
  • This area is one of the gateways to the downtown and it could certainly be updated.
  • This area has been the site of the area’s service organizations: the Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis and the Lansdale Business Association. Mayor Mike was an active member of Rotary and a lifelong Lansdale businessman and a good friend of the Lions and Kiwanis.
  • A clock is a nice welcome to those coming to Lansdale. What a way to welcome a visitor by saying, “Meet me at the clock!”

The thrust of this project should come from the community and therefore, a public campaign should support this effort. The pricetag of the clock is roughly $25,000. The funds would be raised through donations for personalized bricks for the base and larger donations would be memorialized in raised bronze lettering on the clock itself. Given Mayor Mike’s longevity and the number of lives he touched, I think this goal is realistic (with the past success of Founders’ Day and Lansdale’s Craft Beer Festival, I don’t think fundraising will be a problem). In addition to cleaning up an area of Lansdale that needs a facelift and honoring a longtime public servant to the Borough, I believe that this project would unite the business community (the LBA has struggled with this site for years) as well as the community at large. I invite your comments and also invite you to check out other clocks in the area: Phoenixville, Sellersville, Perkasie, Souderton, Doylestown, New Hope, Quakertown, Harleysville, Audubon, NJ, Stone Harbor, NJ and Milltown, NJ to name a few. Check out this site for more examples of clocks in our area: http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeqo3ms/verdin-nj-pa1/id1.html. I look forward to your input.

P.S. Here is the current view without the clock.

Lansdale’s Social Clubs, Part 1

 I had the opportunity of visiting the German-American Club last weekend. Tucked away on Pierce Street off Walnut, it is a fairly non-descript, white building with bold, black letters that read, “German-American Club”. I had always been curious about the club and its origins and how it came to be know as the German-American Club. Did they have oompah bands? Would they like to participate in the Oktoberfest? Did they speak German there? Was it even still in existence? As I asked around, I learned that the club was, indeed, still in existence.  I have only been to a few social clubs and have found the mystic of their membership intriguing. I made a point to go last Saturday and I was warmly welcomed– eventually.

I rang the buzzer and Karen, the barmaid and President of the Club, looked suspiciously through the window, hit her buzzer to let me in and then asked, “What can I do for you?” “My name is Andy Szekely; I’m the mayor and I’m working on a writing project that looks at the social clubs in town.” “The mayor of Lansdale is dead, ” someone proclaimed (although I have been the mayor for three and a half years, the previous mayor served for 26 years and passed away recently). “No, he’s not” K.C. stated, “I saw this him last week do a wedding at the Cannoneers’ Club. He’s legit.” I could see that this affirmation didn’t ease their apprehension. Was I sent by the police? Had someone complained about the club to the mayor? Ordering a Coors light was my olive branch to Karen. I then sat down next to K.C., and I explained to them my reason for coming to their club.

The decor of the club is sixties retro with dark, tobacco-stained, pine paneling, a Steelers helmet cutout (Steelers?), a Phillies license plate, Miller Genuine Draft message boards, a few sepia photos of the the club’s history and in the middle, a horseshoe-shaped, formica topped bar. Near the cash register were the daily logs of visitors in spiral bound notebooks. Nothing pretentious whatsoever: a classic neighborhood bar. Just imagine any Bruce Springsteen song and this is it.

“Tell me about the German-American Club,” I asked, and slowly the floodgates opened and one by one their stories unfolded at the bar. The most talkative was a biker with mutton chops and wearing his Iron Eagles colors. He told me about the tradition of throwing change up into the center beam molding, and then every year he would climb and collect it and that would be the money for Toys for Tots.  The Club started in 1937 and was known orginally as the German Club given the German history of southeastern Pennsylvania, but because of the anti-German sentiment at the onset of World War II, the name was changed to the German-American Club. The club’s bylaws were orginally written in German, and according to Karen, they had a heck of time getting them translated correctly. And according to the by laws, when the club expires the proceeds of the sale of the building– after all debts are paid– will go to a German ophanage (actually, I later found out that proceeds will go to the local hospital, but I like the original story better).

Another one of the stories I heard– actually in Wilson’s Hardware store– about the German-American Club was that in the seventies, somehow the combination for the safe was lost and they couldn’t open the safe at the Club. Being a more intimate town back then, word spread and a certain resident, who was known for his safecracking skills, was contacted. He agreed to open the safe on one condition: that he be left alone for forty-five minutes with no one to observe his craft. The Club really had no other choice and away to work he went. An hour and half passed. What could he be doing up there? With his checkered past, they decided to go in; after all this was a safe with money in it. Every cent was accounted for, but the safecracker was gone and so was a bottle of whiskey from the bar. Payment off the books for a job well done.

I enjoyed my visit to the German-American Club and the hospitality they offered me.  As Linda, the Vice-President and manager, showed me around she mentioned, “We’ve thought about remodeling, but some of the nostalgia would be lost.” Like an old boot that is worn and threadbare, but comfortable and familiar, I couldn’t agree with her more. And no, they don’t speak German.

Grassroots Planning

This weekend was the first planning meeting of the year for the Third Annual Craft Beer Festival. As can be seen from the photo, there are a handful of neighbors crowded around the dining room and kitchen engaging in a free flow of ideas as to how to improve this very successful event– grass roots organization at its finest. Like so many other worthy causes and events in their infancy, there is something genuine about this scene.

Many other events and organizations have had similar, humble origins in Lansdale: the Farmers’ Market, the Car Show Under the Lights, the Memorial Day Parade, Founders’ Day, Bike Night, the Lucky One Miler, Lansdale Day, the Mardi Gras Parade and the Christmas Tree Lighting to name a few. Simple ideas incarnated into actual events, each serving a need to foster and promote a different sector of the Lansdale community: the Vets, the bikers, the foodies, the car enthusiasts, the beer enthusiasts, the runners and of course, the families (or in the case of the Oktoberfest, those who desire to wear lederhosen).