Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paint by Numbers

Alley in Easton, PA
 I used to be of the opinion that downtowns should have a unified palette of paint colors to give them an historic, dignified appearance. Like many others, I bought the idea that this would somehow compensate for the hodgepodge, organic way that many downtowns developed. So many of them are a mishmash of styles and eras, with sometimes questionable "upgrades" layered over authentic historic facades. A theme palette is supposed to help alleviate some of the disorder that these issues create.

Bath boutique in Kutztown, PA
 But you know what? The more I see color - especially bold, brilliant color - used in historic downtowns, the more I think it's a smart choice. Don't get me wrong; I'm a preservationist and I do not advocate painting brick or stone or doing anything irreversible. I'm just thinking that businesses that make the most of their architectural details by cranking up the color wheel help develop that 'vibrancy' that everyone says they want in their towns.

Kutztown, PA florist and crepes shops
Color is fun and it speaks to a more youthful, forward-thinking clientele. So many downtowns are absolutely dreary, what with all the sage green, taupe, gray, tan, maroon and navy wending down the main streets. Come on, color is a natural draw for a historic downtown, and I'm pretty sure that oldtimers would have used any bright colors they could have gotten hold of to intensify their appeal to pedestrians. Nowadays, a small sign is not always enough to catch the eye of the commuter. You have to use the whole building as a sign.

Is it any coincidence that many of these businesses are located in university towns? Does the presence of a large contingent of youthful shoppers make retailers more adventuresome in their facade choices? I think we have something to learn from this. Everyone says they want a 'vibrant' downtown, whatever the heck that is. Well, why not create it, then?
Kutztown, PA

Selinsgrove, PA

Shop in Philadelphia, PA

Carlisle, PA

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pennsylvania: This Is How We Roll

I love visiting these quirky little downtowns. This is Stoystown, a place near and dear to my heart. My grandmother lived here and I spent a lot of time here as a kid. Later, I lived in a log house down the road; it was my son Jesse's first home. It didn't look like a log house. It was two stories and covered with wooden clapboard siding painted yellow, but when you opened the attic door the logs were visible. The house is gone now - moved, I've heard to another location. I wonder if this is it, or one just like it. This is located on Forbes Road in Stoystown, which may or may not be a part of the original Forbes Trail.

Pennsylvanians are funny. I wanted to get a photo of someone driving a horse and buggy, but taking pictures of the Old Order is rude, so I didn't. But they're right there, every day. I even saw a guy plowing his fields with his draft horses a couple of weeks ago. When the zombie apocalypse comes, the Amish will be ready. Woe to the rest of us! By the way, the Amish are different from the Pennsylvania Dutch, and don't get the two confused.

I've never seen so many quirky oddities as there are around here. Like the sign for this convalescent home. I swear, I am not making this up. Can you read it? Sorry for the poor quality photo, but I felt like a boob standing along the highway, hurriedly snapping the shot. It says, "Nipple Convalescent Home."  Perhaps the aging Madonna, who just flashed hers at a lot of horrified fans, should keep this happy little house in mind for the future.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Streets of Philadelphia

Nowadays, if you want to see the Liberty Bell, you have to visit the shiny new visitor's center just to the right in this photo. It's okay... probably a lot more room than there was in the old place, but it's always a balance between convenience and authenticity.

I love these quirky little neighborhood shops with their creative color choices. So many neighborhoods I work with want to create 'color palettes' to control what colors people choose to paint their facades. I mean, as long as they're not painting brick, who cares? Paint can be changed, unlike some other alterations that people do to historic buildings. And a dash of color can add drama and interest to an otherwise staid and sober downtown.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ready for Reading?

OMG, I know, the puns have got to stop.

Dr. Bodo Otto lived in what is now Reading, Pennsylvania way back in the late 1700s. When you're there, you can tell it was a gorgeous valley way back then. Nowadays, downtown Reading is bustling, youthful, multicultural and kinda cool. THEY don't think so -- the people who live there -- but since when are the natives ever a fair judge of the attributes of their cities?

Can I give a shout out to the Peanut Bar?

I love when the original windows are intact. Sometimes it's just because no one cares about replacing them, but sometimes they are maintained. Nothing looks as good in a historic building as the original windows.

There's something kinda cool about this sleek, modern store in the heart of this Victorian and Deco downtown. Not sure whether the facade is vitrolite or something else, but I like it.

 There's a lot to like about this downtown pharmacy. For one thing, they kept the original deco facade. Kudos, for that. The signage could be a bit less garish and more in keeping with the feel of the architecture, but you can't have everything. The sidewalks here are really large; they're wide enough for sidewalk pushcart vendors. Love it. But the pharmacy spoils its downtown image by pasting enormous posters over the windows. A downtown needs windows for pedestrians to gaze into. That is so basic.
I like to play, "If I won the lottery." It's a pointless game because I never PLAY. But if I did, one thing I would love to do is buy up old buildings like this and DO something with them. This one just screams "boutique hotel." Great coffee shop on the ground floor... maybe a boutique, too. My apartment would be in the penthouse where those great balconies are...

This, my friend, is a crime against architecture. No telling what is under that wood-shingled horror. Possibly, it's a gorgeous brick storefront, just waiting to be exposed. Given the wealth of Victorian and Art Deco in this downtown, it could be special. Then again, there may have been a good reason to deface it in this way. But it's obvious what it is NOT: Attractive. What era ever thought a wood-shingled awning was an improvement?

It's hard to get a good shot of this bank building because it kind of wraps around. Under that enormous portico are two giant stone lions. Relief carving decorates the upper wall, but it's hard to see. It says on the side that the bank was established in 1814, though this is a much more recent building. Maybe 1920s? Who knew that just a few short years later, the bottom would fall out of the economy.

When have you heard that before?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

So Sunbury

I've had the pleasure of visiting the lovely town of Sunbury, PA a couple of times this spring. It's rich in architectural detail and the downtown is just screaming for revitalization. It's right on the bank of the Susquehanna River with loads of opportunities for recreation.  The town is also associated with Thomas Edison. I'm not sure why, but they supposedly have one of his original generators hidden away. Somebody ought to create a museum there to house that stuff. 
Look at the detail on this porch. Sorry I didn't get a better shot...
Little pink houses? How about BIG pink houses? 
Love these old gothic-style jails. Not sure what it is nowadays.
I wish I could remember what this building was. The thing that caught my eye -- besides the fact that it's old and obviously was an important early building -- was the differing colors and textures of stone used on its facade. At least 3 or 4 different kinds of stone were used. This is kind of surprising, considering the prominence, size and importance of the structure. Why would they skimp on the stone? I suppose it was built in sections. Or perhaps it was rebuilt after a fire or flood. If anyone knows, I would love to hear the story.
Look at this beautiful stonework. I think it's late 18th or early 19th C.
It's noteworthy that several kinds of stone were used on the facade of this building. I'm not sure why. There's got to be a story behind this. 

One of the originals. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blessings and Oddities on the Road in Pennsylvania

I've been visiting a lot of small towns in Pennsylvania recently, and I've run across some strange and amusing  sights. Come along for the ride...

 The Chop Shop in Butler served the best burritos I've had outside of Texas. That wouldn't be saying much, but these weren't just good - they were delicious. Here's the owner after a rough lunch shift. The place was hopping - with good reason. Great food, great atmosphere, great staff. If you're in Butler, PA- go.
 I have no idea whether this little gargoyle is supposed to be picking his nose or just thinking hard. He was only one of a dozen or so that circled a building in downtown Butler, and each one is different. Seemed like no one else even noticed those quirky creatures perched just over their heads. The whole building reminded me of that line in Ghostbusters when Aykroyd's character says, "No one EVER built them like that."
 Roadside oddity. It just caught my attention so I turned around in the rain and went back to take a picture.
 Another face on the side of a building - this one in Ephrata. I'm not sure what the significance is of these faces on buildings. You sure don't see this kind of whimsy on modern buildings.
 Here's a sculpture entitled, Amish Boy on His Tractor. It's stuck off on a side street on a lot strewn with huge, hewn stones, and no one seems to know what the purpose of the installation was. Are the stones a foundation that has fallen into disrepair? Or are they leftover building materials that were dumped there?
 These daffodils and crocuses made me happy. This was last week, so it's safe to say that spring sprung early this year. Blessing, indeed.
 Another quirky face, this one in an iron foundation grating. The people who built these buildings would, I imagine, have been deeply religious, so I'm not sure what the purpose of these pagan-looking faces could have been. Whatever it was, I love it. 
This is the leftover trunk of some kind of vine which was trained (I assume) to grow over many years entwined in this iron fence. It's at least 6 inches thick in some places, and thoroughly embedded into the fence. Amazing that the fencing held up this long with minimal distortion. This is also in Ephrata. I wonder if it will sprout again as the weather warms?
 Looks like a loo to me, on the grounds of the Ephrata museum.
 Who could resist getting their car worked on at a place with such a great sign?
This cemetery is in Mifflinburg. Don't those mausoleums on the hillside look like Hobbit homes? 
 This is a blessing. Can you say, "bucolic"? I knew you could.

After a rainy day, I saw this lovely rainbow along Route 104. It may not be visible in this photo, but all the colors were sharply delineated. A true, full rainbow. May you find your blessings - pot of gold or otherwise - on your journeys.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

There's Oil City in Them Thar Hills!


  Former depot for the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad.

Sidewalk grate in Oil City, PA.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A New Ore to Mine

Ashland, Pennsylvania is in Schuylkill (school-kill) County in the heart of coal country. They even have a museum, Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine Museum dedicated to the borough's first major industry.

This storefront window display was captured just before Valentine's Day, 2012.                                                     
Sadly, there isn't much industry left in coal country these days. What remains is the legacy of fanciful buildings created by a proud and creative people. Storybook turrets and fanciful colors war with yawning, vacant storefronts. But there is life here, and a rich, proud heritage. No one here is looking for a handout. One can't help but sense though, that for a community that gave so much in sweat, blood and spirit to build the foundations of our country, they are being pushed into the backwater of history.

I'd like to imagine that these old storefronts will one day be filled by enterprising entrepreneurs who see, not decay, but opportunity. Surely I am not the only one who sees these graceful places and feels the excitement of a possibility ready to be realized.

There's gold in these buildings, if we only have the courage to mine for it.