You drive by it all the time, barely taking note: a charming, undoubtedly very old shop on a bustling, modernized stretch of Rte. 30 in Strafford.
Next time, do a double take.
For this is The Little Building That Could – all 1,200 sq. feet of it.
The Little Building that could stop a big-time developer in its tracks.
That could force a multibillion-dollar corporation back to the drawing board.
That could be the engine that pushes a certain Main Line township to add muscle to its wimpy historic preservation laws.
The abridged version: A whole bunch of folks are hopping mad that CVS wants to knock down the circa 1780 Covered Wagon Inn (now Thos. Moser furniture) at the corner of Lancaster Ave. and Old Eagle School Rd. to build a drive-thru drug store. (Yup, another one.)
Awash in misty memories of Wagon days of yore (weddings, dinner dances, graduations etc.), nearly 3,000 have signed a change.org petition and more than 1,350 joined a Facebook page (“Save the Covered Wagon Inn Strafford PA”).
Nobody cares that the adjoining and now closed Landmark Americana/O-toro building also goes bye-bye in CVS’ plans for the 1.73-acre site.
The old Wagon had been rolling along quite nicely until it fell off the gravy train in the 1980s, becoming Main Line Rib-It, John Harvard’s, The Paddock, and Landmark. (An area restaurateur who looked into leasing the space back in 2007 tells SAVVY that the owner quoted rents “too high to make it work. Witness the constant turnover of the site.”)
The players: The property owners – unnamed but I hear one lives in Berwyn – are banking on the Big Boys now. They’ve struck a deal with Summit Realty Ventures, a developer for CVS, and, boy, did Summit get an earful when its reps unrolled their blueprints before the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission last week.
Rallying the opposition is Historic Preservation Trust President and community blogger Pattye Benson who delivered an impassioned plea to save the Wagon to township planners. Also moved to speak out against the plan that night was Tredyffrin Supervisor Murph Wysocki, the Supes’ liaison to the township’s Historical Commission, a guy who generally prefers to keeps ears open/mouth zipped at Planning Commission meetings.
So, might all this hue and cry force the Wagon deal off the rails?
Summit attorney Lou Colagreco will only tell SAVVY that his client is “circling back with CVS and other stakeholders in the project. They expect that process to take a few weeks.”
So if nothing else, CVS/Summit hears y’all. Loud ’n clear. Whether it brings revised plans to township planners next month is anyone’s guess.
The bigger picture: The Township’s hands may be tied.
Unless the developer asks for some cuckoo waivers to zoning/subdivision codes, Tredyffrin “doesn’t have the means to deny” the proposal, says Planning Commission Chair Tory Snyder.
For the record, Snyder says that she and other planners want the Covered Wagon building “saved, moved or incorporated” into the CVS site plan. (Quirky to Tredyffrin: The Planning Commission has final say over land use applications.) Summit/CVS contends it MUST have a drive-thru and needs to level the Wagon building to make it happen.
Tredyffrin kinda sorta tried to get serious about historic preservation in recent years, commissioning a historic resource survey in 2003, publishing a six-chapter preservation plan in 2009 and passing a special zoning ordinance in 2011.
But here’s the rub: Becoming part of Tredyffrin’s Historic Resource Overlay District is completely voluntary. You opt in.
And so far – you guessed it – NO ONE has.
Even history-buff homeowners aren’t lining up to say, “Handcuff me, pretty please, so I can’t do what I want with my own house.”
The rest of the Main Line, well, they do things differently.
In Radnor, it’s supercool to live in the North Wayne, Downtown Wayne or South Wayne Historic Districts and homeowners willingly relinquish some architectural control for the privilege.
Lower Merion has enacted some rather strict ordinances, with strong approval procedures for changing or razing historic buildings.
Willistown’s horsey ’n historic properties also appear protected. Basically, the more historic designations a Willistown building has, the more stringent the restrictions.
Worth noting: Amid much sturm und drang, the mammoth La Ronda mansion was razed in Bryn Mawr in 2009. Two years ago, Ann Pugh’s 18th-century Tredyffrin farmhouse –on 2.2. acres– was bulldozed.
Wouldn’t it be something if the puny old Covered Wagon Inn turns out to be the feisty little engine that pushes preservation up and over the mountain in Tredyffrin.
I think it can. I think it can. I think it can.
For years, we’ve been pondering the fate of the long-shuttered FoodSource building near the Bryn Mawr Acme.
Well, ponder no more.
CHOP wants to turn the space into pediatric primary care offices for CHOP-affiliated docs and support staff and is applying for township approvals.
Plans call for them to gut the interior and slap on a new roof. The smaller flower shop building in the back gets razed for parking.
This one should sail through. It’s already zoned commercial, it’s not historic (!), and CHOP has agreed to upgrade streetscapes and landscape the lot.
Nice news for young families. Kind of ho-hum for the rest of us.
What to make of a Ball gone bust? As someone who’s been to the Academy Ball at least five times as a journalist, I have to say it’s a VERY BIG DEAL that Blizzard Jonas forced the first cancellation of the storied shindig since its inception in 1957 (its 100th birthday year).
Before Saturday’s scratch, philanthropist Anne Hamilton had missed the ball only once in 30 years – for a dear friend’s wedding last year.
Like many (although she claims the number is shrinking), Anne flew up from Palm Beach for this year’s soiree.
And not because she likes a good party. Been there, done that – hither and yon, and about a zillion times.
No, Anne came north because she’s a true fan of the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street and wants to keep the National Historic Landmark up to snuff. Season-ticket holders to Broadway at the Academy, the Hamiltons love having Great White Way-caliber shows here in Philly.
An Academy trustee, Anne was among the first to sound the weather alarm last Friday. “It was the quickest meeting we ever had,” Anne tells SAVVY. The phone vote to cancel was unanimous. “My heart goes out to Katharine. [Katharine Eyre and Bruce Leto were ball-co-chairs]. She did an amazing job.”
Truly, if the forecast had been anything but dire, there’s no way the show wouldn’t have gone on: Valley Forge Flowers’ arrangements were assembled. 1,500 dinners were prepared (Kobe beef, roasted vegetables, grilled chicken, eggplant purée and green goddess dressing). Yannick, the Orchestra, Martin Short, and six dance bands were town. Boy soprano (and impromptu Papal entertainer) Bobby Hill was flexing his vocal chords. Gowns were purchased, tails rented, hairdressers engaged.
There’s no telling how big a hit the Academy’s restoration fund will take. Organizers expected to gross close to $2 million; expense tallies and net proceeds have always been hush-hush.
Refunds are being offered but the hope is that folks will be kind enough to donate their full or partial ticket purchases back to the Academy.
Admirably, waste has been minimized.
Flowers were re-arranged so they could be donated to nursing homes and such. The Hyatt at the Bellevue, site of the ball’s half-dozen dining/dancing venues, didn’t charge the Hamiltons (and likely others) for the rooms they had reserved, claiming they needed them for people stranded in the storm. Perhaps other Center City hotels did the same.
The Academy even hopes to make it up to its army of volunteers, announcing that the Board will “determine how we can best honor the many people who worked so hard on the 159th Anniversary Concert and Ball,” in a statement released yesterday.
And, saving the best for last here: 168 guests of the Broad Street Ministry’s 315 Café (a nearby soup kitchen) ate very, very well when they came in from the cold last weekend.
And speaking of the homeless and parties, the storm has slowed ticket sales to next Friday night’s (Feb. 5) Mardi Gras Magic at the Desmond. Staged by some hardworking gals at St. Norbert (full disclosure: I’m a parishioner), MGM supports Bethesda Project and its mission to provide “food, shelter and family” to Philly’s “abandoned poor.” Dinner, auction, dancing to the Chatterband – all for 65 bucks. A steal, no? Click here.