This week we conclude our look back at the top stories of 2014.
Here comes the Fresh Market
by Pete Mazzaccaro
A sign went up today at the former site of Magarity Ford, 8200 Germantown Ave., announcing the impending arrival of Fresh Market, a high-end grocery chain, in 2015.
The plan for Fresh Market was endorsed by neighbors and the Chestnut Hill Community Association after a very long public discussion three years ago. Property owner Bowman Properties had requested a series of zoning changes in order to build a row of town homes at the back of the property and to construct a five-story building that would house retail, the Fresh Grocer and a number of apartments. The conclusion of that process was covered here.
Those zoning changes were approved by the city in 2012, and a construction permit was issued last November.
Bowman Properties’ Chief Architect Charles Keefer told the Local in an interview that construction will begin at the site on August 11 and would take 18 months to complete. The market, he said, would open while apartments are completed above.
Keefer said he anticipated no street closures or delays near the site while work continued.
“We look forward to the completion of this project and the enhancement to the business district this new tenant will bring, in addition to the new community members the condominiums will house,” he said.
Little Treehouse Play Cafe closed
by Pete Mazzaccaro
The Little Treehouse Play Cafe, 10 W. Gravers Lane, which opened to considerable praise and fanfare five years ago, appears to have finally gone quietly out of business sometime in June.
The business had reduced its hours recently to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Weekends. In May it reported on Facebook and Twitter that the building had suffered from flooding during rainstorms in the early part of the month. The last tweet from its account was issued on June 1. It’s phone service is now disconnected.
Last year, owner/founder Rachael Williams announced that she was actively selling the business and that she wanted to leave its management for personal reasons.
The building is currently for sale or lease.
Jenks to reopen with a new name
by Kevin Dicciani
When the school year begins in September, the John Story Jenks School will officially be known as Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences.
The change was two years in the making, Principal Mary Lynskey said. She said the school had to draft a resolution, explain the reasoning behind the change, and gather support and petitions from the parents and community before getting it approved this summer by the School Reform Commission.
Lynskey said the change came about organically in lieu of the school’s increased focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), a course of study incorporated into the curriculum in 2013.
“STEM is really what solidified the need for the name change,” Lynskey said. “The name change is an announcement that, ‘yes, we are dedicating ourselves to these lines of study.’”
Haviva Goldman, the president of J.S. Jenks and a parent of a Jenks’ student, said the name change will strengthen the school, especially the middle school, in numerous ways.
“It will open up new opportunities to form and strengthen partnerships with the businesses and organizations in and around Chestnut Hill,” Goldman said.
Mo’ne fever grips the Northwest
by Bob Previdi
As more and more people entered [McMenamin’s], you could tell from the chatter this was no ordinary baseball game. Was this history in the making? All we could do was watch, wonder and hope. Since this was Little League the talk around the bar was focused on pitch count. Games are only 6 innings long and the tournament requires any pitcher who has a pitch count of more than 65 pitches to have 4 days rest and Taney’s next game was Sunday, so everyone was hoping Davis could keep that pitch count below that. At the end of four innings, the pitch count was up to 44.
Fellow bartender Eric Stewart was fascinated the scrutiny.
“We’re talking about her as if she is a pro,” he said.
Sitting at the bar, fans were shaking their head and laughing in disbelief at what was unfolding on the TV as Davis continued to baffle every batter who faced her.
“You watch her – she is cool and she’s not tired, this is incredible,” said Dickie Cobbs, of Mt. Airy.
Jim Dugan of West Philadelphia was tired and hungry after a long day at work when asked what brought him in. He got to work at 5 a.m. and on his way home saw others leaving work early with Mo’Ne shirts on. Because he hadn’t eaten lunch, he decided to head out to watch the game and grab a bite to eat.
A fellow Little League player, Alex McPhedran, of Mt Airy, came with his mother sat down for an early dinner and was glued to the TV in the back room. McPhedran plays for the Mt. Airy travel team and played against the Taney Dragons. He was excited to see the game and said his friend got to ride on the Taney bus with the team.
Helen Marter, of Chestnut Hill, admired the poise of the 13-year-old star.
“This was my life’s dream to be that girl,” she said.
O’Doodle’s closing ends 60-year run of O’Donnell’s retail in Chestnut Hill
by Pete Mazzaccaro
For several generations of Chestnut Hill children, there was always O’Doodle’s Toy Store.
In its heyday through the late 90s and aughts, it was a colorful and toy-packed children’s store where kids could dance on a giant floor piano, guide wooden trains across a track at a large train table and more. Many children knew it as the store that always had bubbles blowing into the street.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids grow up,” said Fran O’Donnell, the store’s owner and chief manager since it was started in 1997 as a spin off from O’Donnell’s Stationery Store, which was opened by Fran’s father Hank O’Donnell Sr. in 1954.
“We’ve gone through a few generations,” O’Donnell said. “Some of the kids who used to play at the train table are now my employees.”
So it was somewhat bittersweet for O’Donnell when he announced last week that he was going to close the 17-year-old business, currently located at 8532 Germantown Ave., for good by the end of the month.
For O’Donnell, though, it was a decision made unavoidable by the consistent decline the business has had over recent years. Today’s economy does not favor small independent toy stores.
“The business overall has its challenges with the Internet and the big box stores,” he said. “The whole industry is hard. A lot of my suppliers have gone out of business.”
Home at 415 W. Moreland Ave. demolished
by Kevin Dicciani
The 104-year-old home at 415 W. Moreland Ave. has been demolished.
The demolition comes after months of debate between the Chestnut Hill Historical Society and Blake Development Corp., the company who purchased the property in April of this year.
The CHHS wanted developer Sam Blake, the current owner, to reconsider razing the home and subdividing the property to build two new homes. They argued that the home, a Colonial Revival built in 1910 by Philadelphia architect Charles Barton Keen, should be restored as it was deemed a significant structure by the National Historic District. The society’s executive director Jeniffer Hawk previously called the house “a part of the fabric of the collection of houses in Chestnut Hill.”
Blake previously said his original intention was to restore the house. But after inspecting the home and surveying the damage inside and out, Blake said the home was “unsalvageable.”
The Chestnut Hill Community Association joined the CHHS in opposing the demolition of the home. Over 900 people signed an online petition supporting the CHHS in their efforts to save the home, hoping that Blake would find an alternative path other than demolition. Blake had mentioned before that he had listened to many suggestions from people and various groups and nothing could deter him from his plan. He said, as someone who has restored a multitude of old homes, the home was “beyond repair.” Referring to the two new homes, Blake insisted that many people would be “pleased with the finished product.”
Not everyone opposed the demolition, though. A few neighbors living near the house found it to be an eyesore and welcomed Blake’s development. Some feared the house, in its state of disrepair, would lower their property value. Others said they would rather see it restored than demolished, but something needed to be done soon.
Venetian Club marks 90 years of Hill heritage
by Sue Ann Rybak
While its function has changed over the years, the Venetian Social Club at 8030 Germantown Ave. continues to be a safe haven, a place where people can feel secure and accepted.
The club was established in 1924 by artisans from the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region in northern Italy who had come to Chestnut Hill to work on homes built by Henry Houston and George Woodward, and it provided more than just a gathering place for these workers and their families: It was a bridge between the Old World and the New – a place where members could be themselves, speak the Friuliano dialect, celebrate the music and culture of Friuli, and support one another.
Many of the club’s early members had been lured to the area by the plans of Houston and Woodward to create a “new village,” and their designs required skilled masons, bricklayers and tile-marble-terrazzo craftsmen to quarry, cut and set the sparkling Wissahickon Schist stone and other materials to create many of the quintessential historic homes in Chestnut Hill today.
Chestnut Hill resident Helen Marcolina Henry, whose father Joseph Marcolina was one of the early members, said the club, which was built on the site of the former John Gilbert Elementary School, was begun as a men’s sports club, but its focus was always on families.
“It was a meeting place that was strictly ours,” said Henry, who preferred not to give her age.“Although the membership was never exclusively Friuliano, our neighbors, many of whom were Irish, German or from other parts of Italy, were always welcome to join.”
Synagogue mourns death of East Mt. Airy member
by Sue Ann Rybak
Ronald Fischman – a cantor, a poet, a writer, a teacher and a father – will be remembered above all as a man who was constantly seeking a genuine and authentic relationship with God.
Fischman, 54, a longtime member of Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough, was stabbed to death in his East Mt. Airy home on the 200 block of East Phil Ellena Street on Sept. 30 after he confronted a former house guest, according to a police report.
Police arrested Jonathan Williams, also known as William James, after a witness saw him fleeing Fischman’s residence.
According to the police report, officers stopped Williams near Fischman’s residence and observed a laceration on his right hand.
Police have charged Williams, 33, of the 300 block of Upsal Street, with murder, burglary and other related offenses in connection to the home invasion and fatal stabbing.
Lead Rabbi Shawn Zevit, of Mishkan Shalom Synagogue, said Fischman was an esteemed member of the community and was going to be profoundly missed.
Harry Potter Festival brings Hogwarts to the Hill
by Sue Ann Rybak
The Hogwarts Express came to a screeching halt at the Chestnut Hill West station at precisely 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18. Thousands of muggles, wizards, death eaters, and dementors packed the train station’s platform to get a glimpse of the famous Harry Potter – “the boy who lived.”
This year’s Harry Potter Festival had something for everyone, including a wizard chess tournament, moon bounces, crafts, live readings of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” a hunt for the Horcrux, Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, fortune tellers, a selfie park, a corn maze and Quidditch tournaments, a game that combines elements from dodgeball, basketball and rugby.
First-time visitors like Sophie Johnson, 7, of South Philadelphia, could purchase their first wand at Kilian’s Wand Store, where, according to Wizard Ken Roberts, “the wand chooses the wizard.” Johnson and her mother boarded The Hogwarts Express on platform 9 ¾ at the Jefferson train station to arrive in Hogsmeade. The young wizard described the trip as “really cool.”
Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Minister of Magic, and Harry Potter cast a spell to mark the opening ceremonies.
Tesia Barone, of Mt. Airy, said she has been coming to the Harry Potter Festival with her son Foster since it began.
“It’s a family tradition,” said Barone. “My son looks forward to it every year.”
Former Cafette restaurant demolished
by Kevin Dicciani
The building at 8136 Ardleigh St., the former site of Cafette, has been demolished.
Jan Wilson, who owned Cafette, closed the restaurant in September 2013 after 21 years to pursue a career in acupuncture. The building functioned as a temporary clinic for Wilson’s practice before she vacated the premises earlier this year.
The lot is now vacant, surrounded by a chain-link fence and tarp. On the grounds sit a dumpster and a portable toilet. Multiple permits and forms are attached to the fence, sparking the curiosity of neighbors eager to discover what will become of the property.
A zoning permit was issued in July to the new property owner, Quantum Partners LLC. The permit is for “the complete demolition of an existing semi-detached structure and the relocation of lot lines to create three (3) lots from one existing lot.” The property’s current zoning allows for RSA5, residential and mixed-use occupancy. A posted building permit was issued to Ardleigh Street Properties LLC.
Man held for trial in murder of Mt. Airy cantor
by Sue Ann Rybak
A former homeless man accused of fatally stabbing Mt. Airy resident Ronald Fischman, 54, a cantor at Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough, around 11 p.m. on Sept. 30 in Fischman’s house on the 200 block Phil Ellena Street was held for trial on Tuesday, Dec. 2, on all charges — murder, burglary, trespassing and possession of an instrument of crime.
Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon denied bail for William James, 33, also know as Jonathan Williams, and ordered that he be held at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility until his arraignment on Dec. 23.
Police arrested James, who was a former house guest of Fischman, after a witness saw him fleeing Fischman’s residence.
Chestnut Hill Holiday Parade brings cheer to neighborhood crowd
by Sue Ann Rybak
The Christmas season In Chestnut Hill was officially kicked off on Saturday morning, Dec. 13, with the arrival of Santa Claus in the Hill’s annual Holiday Parade.
Seven-year-old Lisa Lavender, of Chestnut Hill, couldn’t wait to see Santa Claus. Her father said she has been counting down the days until the parade. Lavender knew exactly what she wanted to ask Santa Claus for this Christmas – bunk beds. No doubt she was planning to have a slumber party soon.
Saint Nicholas arrived in style on the back of the Wyndmoor Hose Company No. 1’s 1958 B-Model Mack Heavy Rescue Fire Truck.
After the parade, children of all ages were invited to drink hot cocoa, roast marshmallows and have their photo taken with Santa Claus at the Market at the Fareway.
Brian Tilley, a former president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the organizer of this year’s event, said the turnout for this year’s parade was “fantastic.” He added that this year the parade had many more participants than last year.
“This year we had more antique cars, marching bands and local schools,” Tilley said. “We are looking forward to having more in the future. It’s only going to get bigger. The parade can get as big as the community wants it to get. It’s a wonderful celebration of holiday and community spirit.”
Community praises police efforts in Chestnut Hill
by Sue Ann Rybak
The officers of Philadelphia’s 14th Police District were lauded for their good work at a meeting held on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at Norwood Fontbonne Academy, 8891 Germantown Ave.
Will Detweiler, president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, was one of the roughly 35 attendees at Tuesday night’s community meeting who lauded the police officers assigned to Chestnut Hill.
“On behalf of the community Association, I would like to thank you all,” Detweiler said. “I lived in Chestnut Hill a long time and I don’t think we have ever had a stronger sense of police presence, and it translates into people feeling secure and safe – on the streets, in the business area, and in their home. It’s tribute to all of you, and, frankly, we should all be very proud.”
Captain John Fleming held the meeting to review the status of crime in Chestnut Hill and encourage residents to be more proactive in preventing crime – especially burglaries.
Officers Tom Seymour, Kimberli Harris, Bob Mahan, Joseph Gomes, Mike Bransfield, Ed Solvibile and Detective John Schell, of the Northwest Detective Burglary Task Force, attended Tuesday night’s meeting.
Fleming said Chestnut Hill has a long history of being plagued with burglaries. He cited a recent book he read called “Confessions of a Second Story Man,” about the K & A Gang, a crew of professional burglars that claimed to have been “in every house in Chestnut Hill.” He added that while there has been a decrease in burglaries in Chestnut Hill this year, that has not been the case for surrounding neighborhoods.