Thursday, March 27, 2014


IN MEMORIAM. Today is the birthday of my late brother Michael, sorely missed by his wife Wanda, sister Rachel, me, and our families. Mike was a gentleman, universally liked. I wish we all had had more time together. RIP.

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If you have been reading Where in the World is the Box for awhile, you've noticed that for some crazy reason I like houses, neighborhoods, villages, and so forth. Heck, I even like houses in paper, pottery, or plastic, like the Plasticville houses I have had since youth.

Perhaps they represent to me the closeness of family, friends, and neighbors, just like in the Good Old Days when I was growing up in the Uptown section of Harrisburg.

The first house I lived in (gosh, I assume it was the first -- it's the first I have memory of, and my parents never spoke of any earlier homes they had, except for living with my aunt in their early days of marriage and then at least one apartment) was a tiny row house in a block that is disappearing as we speak. The houses at either end are caving in, and I imagine the whole row will soon be bulldozed. 
We lived in the center of the row, now just urban decay.
Humble as it was, it was home. And so was the larger house we had on Sixth Street, where we moved when I was in third grade. It even had stained glass windows in the living room. I lived there until I was twenty-four and got married!  My parents lived there until they died in 1989. This one was semi-detached, a step up from the first.

See, the thing is, we knew so many people -- including many relatives -- in our block on Sixth Street, on Radnor, Lexington, Reel, Wiconisco, and Jefferson. We even knew people way down on Second Street and Green, near the lake. And even a few above Division Street, which was so aptly named and divided the blocks of row houses from the single homes north of it.

The house on Sixth Street (second from left).
We could walk or ride our bikes anywhere in those days and fear no danger. In the summers, we stayed away from home for hours, just checking in for a cold drink or a bite to eat. There was a playground nearby where we hung out. Then at dusk, we could hear our mother standing on the porch and clapping loudly to call us home. I swear you could hear that clapping for blocks. It is a wonder she never broke the bones in her hands.

When we heard it, we'd head home, tired from the day's activities. After dinner, we would watch TV. My dad sat in the chair by the front window, smoking his unfiltered Camels (who knew anything about second-hand smoke?) and eventually would send one of us scurrying across the street to the store, where they sold large pretzel sticks for a penny each. We'd buy ten or twenty of them and share them. My dad really loved those things. Other times we would sit on the front porch in the cool of the evening and say hello to folks walking by or naming models of cars.

So, you can see that home meant for me, like most kids, tranquility, security, comfort, and so much more. Perhaps that is what has stuck with me all these years. I hope I gave my children the same experience that I had growing up, although in a greatly-changed world.

These feelings come back when I see an attractive house, and I wonder what it was like to grow up there or to live there today. I'm no architect, but I like the American "traditional" look, nothing too far out or weird. (Well, maybe Fallingwater. It's a little unusual, but if you have been inside it, it's quite cozy.)

 I like to see the repeating pattern of houses in a row, and the look of tall narrow row houses (even though I would prefer to live in a one-story at my age). Here's an extreme example of the row house -- in Baltimore.

I like houses that look cozy, have good clean lines, are well situated in relation to their neighbors, and are made of traditional materials like wood, brick, and stone. (These days I settle for the best imitations of any of those materials.)

I think our own house has some of the qualities I most admire.
Yesterday the Box took me to Carlisle to purchase a new pair of old fogey shoes at a great shoe store and physical therapy firm called Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy, and on the way back we decided to take the scenic route, Pa. 641, locally known as Trindle Road, through Mechanicsburg, then Pa. 114 over to Interstate 81 and home. A few blocks off route 114 is a housing development (sorry, a "neighborhood") called "Walden." It has town houses, single houses, and at the entrance, something unique to this area -- a little "downtown" with storefronts on the first level and homes above. 

At first I thought "this will never work" because this neighborhood is too far off the beaten path, but more and more of the retail spaces are being leased, including a well-known bakery and café that opened its second location there. I like the thought of walking "downtown" for a cup of coffee and a croissant in the morning, chatting with neighbors, reading the paper, perhaps even using a little wifi. There are two very large open spaces nearby for kids to play in and around which to stroll or walk the dog.

Here are some pictures of "Walden," including the colorful interior of their latest model home.

The main entrance to "downtown" is just beyond the tower.

Retail on the first floor, living space above.
This is the first "row" you come upon leaving "downtown."
The model has a two-story foyer, something I don't generally like, but it's not bad here.
(What I don't like is "wasting" the space on the second floor I also think people
like to enter into a human-scale area and not a cavernous space, which this is not,
so that is why I don't mind it!)

The living room.

Kitchen with dining area off to the right.
A small sitting room in the front of the house.
A window in the dining room, being used as the sales office.
The old-fashioned "breezeway" to the garage, re-branded as "The Spot."
Window seat at the bottom of the stairs.
Built-in cabinet in the upstairs hall.

Master bedroom.
I like the curbstones and the combination of yellow and white on this single home.
This one reminds me of something you would see in French Louisiana.
One of the larger homes at Walden.
Some people prefer wide open spaces. I prefer the density of this neighborhood.

On my way back to Rt. 114, I saw this house in a neighboring development. It was the largest house and seemed very much out of place in its neighborhood. Someone went a little overboard here.

Its neighbors must have wanted everyone to know about the security system, as evidenced by the discreet placement of the warning sticker!

Another of my favorite neighborhoods is the famous Bellevue Park, within the city limits of Harrisburg. Here the houses are placed among meandering drives, natural areas, and ponds. According to the neighborhood association's website, "the residential neighborhood of Bellevue Park reflects the genius of two of America's pioneering advocates of urban beautification and landscape conservation. J. Horace McFarland, a local Harrisburg businessman and civic leader, partnered with Warren H. Manning of Boston, one of America's pre-eminent landscape designers of the early twentieth century.

"The houses in Bellevue Park are a combination of architect, developer and contractor designs. Each design was subject to the review and approval of the Bellevue Park Association prior to its construction. The McFarland-Manning collaboration resulted in central Pennsylvania's first landscaped suburb, just five minutes from downtown Harrisburg and the Pennsylvania state capitol complex."

The earliest houses date from 1910 through the 1920s. Here are some that caught my eye on a recent drive through the park one late afternoon.

I really like the semi-circular portico.

Imposing, no? Classic, yes.

Interesting shape.

Traditional stone -- real stone, that is!

This reminds me of houses in the Brandywine Valley.

Here eez a leetle French number!

I love clapboard siding and the appearance that a section was added on, as at right.

It looks like someone scraped the fan detail over the door but never painted it. The mailbox and house numbers on the door frame are a surprise. Some attention is needed here!

I wonder what large family this grand old place sheltered.

Some of the homes are more modest but still offer something of interest to look at.

This little house is being renovated and I think will be for sale.
This is how the little house above looked before the vegetation was cleared away. I wonder how long it was standing empty as Mother Nature began to reclaim the land. The picture was made as the Google maps people drove by one day.

Here's another doorway I like. It's a bad picture, as the owner was in the yard and was wondering what the heck I was doing.  I had to snap and run. I told her I always like a black door -- it's classic! She seemed okay with that.

J. Horace McFarland was much, much, more than a real estate developer. I urge you to look at this brief slide show to find out more about our famous neighbor! His house still stands in Bellevue Park. In recent years it has fallen on hard times, standing vacant for a number of years after getting a coat of yellow paint. All of Breeze Hill's gardens, including roses, are gone now -- or severely compromised -- but the house and what's left of the original plot were recently sold to a family who very much wants to restore it and preserve it.

McFarland's house, named "Breeze Hill," is seen in an early photo.
"Breeze Hill" today (2014).
The new owners and I have some things in common -- love of old houses and love of THE BOX! Look closely in the lower right corner of the picture. Yes, it is the Scion xB. Do we have good taste or what?!