Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Colonial Row. Ardmore, PA

c. 1940s - 2008

The row of 8 colonial revival buildings on the south side of West Lancaster Avenue (only 6 shown) was built between 1900 and 1908 on the former estate of a certain Dr. S.B.S. Smith and was once known as "Colonial Row." Unlike nearly every other part of downtown, this row of buildings in partilar has been especially resilient to rehabilitation, and continues to lack strong retail tenants. I have always been particularly irked by the fact that several businesses in this row choose to leave their Lancaster Avenue storefronts barren and uninviting, letting pedestrians looking through their windows see nothing but empty rooms. Sometimes they're kind of enough to put up crudely made signs that say "parking in back." How do they get by? Well, let's take a walk around the back.

The back side of "Colonial Row" happens to face the Cricket Avenue Parking Lot - Ardmore's largest. This was formerly the site of several residential streets, not unlike the one visible in the bottom left corner, which were demolished sometime before the 60s in the name of alleviating downtown Ardmore's major parking shortage. Over time, adjacent businesses have made the decision to accomodate their buildings to the new car-oriented suburban retail model, and made their old back doors their new main entrances, at the expense of their Lancaster Avenue storefronts. The end result is an odd and perverse strip mall running out of the backside of a row of century-old buildings, whose historic facades have been left to fall apart.

Colonial Row bears the heavy burden of having to serve the automobile, despite originally being built for the sidewalk and the pedestrian. It is no coincidence that this particular block has been the hole in the donut of Ardmore's revitalization. One gets the impression that Colonial Row will always have its back turned to Lancaster Avenue so long as auto-centric development remains the norm of our economy and our culture. More than any other stretch in Ardmore, Colonial Row bears the heavy scars of the failure of 20th century transportation planning.

Of course, there is hope yet. The long-term plan for the Ardmore Transit Center development includes a substantial residential building to replace the Cricket Lot, which will draw more pedestrian life to downtown and force businesses to face the street again. This, however, is unlikely to materialize within the next few years. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that the next century will be friendlier to Colonial Row. The day it is fully restored to its original form, it will be a miraculous trophy piece and great source of pride for a downtown that has finally come back.

Ardmore Transit Center [Lower Merion Township]

1. Property Atlas of the Main Line, Pennsylvania. Atlas. Philadelphia: Franklin Survey Company, 1961
2. Lower Merion Township: Searchable HR Database. Lower Merion Township Historical Commission. 25 Nov. 2008. http://www.lowermerion.org/Index.aspx?page=437. Search: 18 W Lancaster Ave.
Original Image: "Lancaster Avenue Commercial Block, Ardmore." Lower Merion Historical Society Archives. Lowermerionhistory.org. Lower Merion Historical Society. Nov. 23, 2008.
Bird's eye view courtesy of Live Search Maps

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