by Pete Mazzaccaro
As the Fourth of July approached, it looked as if the unthinkable might happen – it would rain on our parade.
Early in the week, it was a tropical storm. As Friday approached, though, the storm was upgraded to hurricane status. Rain would spoil the entire holiday weekend.
The Bocce Club of Chestnut Hill, a group that has dutifully raised the funds for and hosted Fourth of July activities in Chestnut Hill for at least two generations, had not had to move indoors since 1981 – 33 years ago. In the event of rain, there would still be races and free hot dogs, but they’d be moved inside the Water Tower Recreation Center.
But the rain and wind struck our area early, and by Friday morning it was overcast but cool. Perfect weather for the annual bike and float parade – a neighborhood favorite that again drew a healthy crowd. And by the time foot races and lunch were ready, the sun was poking through the clouds. The Fourth was spared.
After all that, I think we should get a pre-Fourth hurricane more often.
Normally, July is a pretty slow time for neighborhood news. The pace of summer is often a slow one.
But this summer promises to be somewhat eventful as the neighborhood takes up the cause of 415 W. Moreland Ave., a home that was recently purchased by Blake Development and is now scheduled to be razed and replaced with two new homes.
As I write this, 733 people have signed an online petition to try to compel Blake to save the property. It’s a pretty significant number for a petition that has yet to be in circulation for a full week. People may have gone on vacation, but they are paying attention to this story.
As neighbors take sides in letters here and in more than a dozen comments at chestnuthilllocal.com, it’s clear that the issue presented by the fate of 415 W. Moreland is representative of a larger fear for the future of the neighborhood. As times change, what is the economic viability of many neighborhood homes that are older than 100 years? And what lengths should be taken to intervene if and when the market deems these homes to be a poor economic choice?
It’s true that these homes are part of Chestnut Hill’s character. But it is also true that they are subject to forces out of public control. An owner can let a historic home go to seed for 30 years. Or a historic home might be so large, it’s not attractive or feasible for a single family. A lot of these homes were built when they could be maintained by a small army of servants. Those days are, mostly, gone.
The choice here is not easy. Blake is operating under the law in demolishing the home and subdividing the property, and likely, judging by his track record, will add value to the homes on Moreland Avenue when he’s done – if he does indeed build two new homes. On the other hand, it’s easy to understand the motivation of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, the mission of which is to advocate for the preservation and restoration of all of the neighborhood’s homes.
Whatever happens, the important thing is to make sure permanent enemies are not made. The Hill can survive the demolition of a historic home. Putting two institutions at odds as a result is the real danger.