by Walter Fox
Lloyd Parker Wells, 92, a key figure in the revitalization of Chestnut Hill during the 1950s and 1960s, died May 25 at his home in the Shell Point retirement community at Ft. Myers, Fla.
Mr. Wells was instrumental in founding the Chestnut Hill Development Group – of which he had served as president – the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, the Chestnut Hill Realty Trust and the Chestnut Hill Local newspaper.
He also had served as president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association from 1968 to 1969, and had worked to transform that organization from a typical civic association into what he called a localized “quasi-government.”
A man of wide-ranging interests, Mr. Wells had been involved in underwater archaeology at Bodrum, Turkey, and in studying human development among the Bushmen of the Kalahari in South Africa and the Xingu tribe in the Brazilian Amazon.
He also had been a commercial airline pilot and a licensed commercial operator of power and sailing ships.
Born in St. Louis, where his grandfather was a former mayor, Mr. Wells was introduced to aviation as a 6-year-old by Charles A. Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator. When Lindbergh flew in to visit the grandfather, who was one of the underwriters of Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, it was suggested that Lindbergh give the boy a ride, which he did.
The flight clearly made an impression. After graduating from Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut, Mr. Wells pursued a career in aviation, becoming a pilot for Pennsylvania Central and Northeast airlines. During World War II, he served as a pilot for the U.S. Air Transport Command and in the Civil Air Patrol’s Antisubmarine Command.
In 1948, he settled in Chestnut Hill with his wife, the former Jean Tod Ballard, and became proprietor of the Hill Hardware Co. It was his experience as a shop owner that convinced him of the need for adequate parking for customers, and he began the process that would culminate in the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation, which ultimately provided eight parking lots accommodating nearly 300 cars.
Joining with other businessmen to plant trees and upgrade the appearance of buildings along Germantown Avenue, he established the Chestnut Hill Development Group – the forerunner of the Chestnut Hill Business Association – that created an aesthetically pleasing and financially productive shopping district.
Mr. Wells saw the Chestnut Hill Community Association as a means of addressing local concerns and issues that could not be adequately dealt with by City Hall. To enhance this process, he felt it was important to have a community newspaper that would provide a forum for community discussion, and in 1958 he was instrumental in establishing the Chestnut Hill Local.
That same year, when an 85-acre tract of land at Stenton and Willow Grove avenues became available for development, he and other CHCA members concerned about the form it would take organized a town meeting attended by 200 residents who voted by a show of hands what would be allowed. The resulting development – Chestnut Hill Village – marked the first time the city had cooperated with an entity not under its jurisdiction.
It also demonstrated the political clout that could be wielded by an energized civic group. Looking back later at the event, Mr. Wells declared, “We controlled City Hall.”
In the early 1960s, as a way of facilitating a comprehensive plan for Chestnut Hill, Mr. Wells and other activists established the Greene Party, a group that would endorse candidates for the CHCA board of directors who shared their goals.
During this time, he served as director of marine operations for the University of Pennsylvania’s underwater archaeological expedition to Bodrum, Turkey, to excavate a Byzantine ship that had sunk around 342 AD, and was a staff member at the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Wyndmoor that had sponsored explorations in the Brazilian Amazon and South Africa.
In 1971, he and his second wife, the former Ellen Van Pelt Newbold (a former editor of the Chestnut Hill Local), moved to Crawford, Maine, where he converted a former hunting camp into a year-round dwelling. He served for two years as executive director of the Calais, Maine, Chamber of Commerce, and in 1979 was elected First Selectman of Crawford Township.
The couple later moved to Falmouth, Maine, and retired to Ft. Myers.
While in Maine, Mr. Wells was also active in the Episcopal Church. He was invited in 1981 by Bishop Frederick Wolf to supervise the Maine Episcopal Diocese’s Stewardship Program and was elected by the diocesan convention to the New England Provincial Synod and named by Bishop Wolf to the Provincial Council.
Even in retirement, he continued with church and civic interests. He was one of the founders of the Center for Consensual Democracy and was co-author with Larry Lemmels of the book “Recreating Democracy” published in 2000.
Mr. Wells is survived by his wife; a son, Rolla Wells, of Alfred, Maine; a daughter, Frances Wells Johnson, of Darnestown, Md.; stepsons William Fisher Newbold, of St. Thomas, V.I., and David Dixon Newbold, of Bend, Ore.; a sister, Harriet Bailey, of Essex, Conn.; six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.