I first became a fan of North Wayne when I was a kid. The fanciful Victorian architecture in particular had me at hello, just like Cape May, NJ.
North Wayne has grand Victorian homes with sweeping porches and smaller homes of a more fanciful bungalow style. Many of these homes have been lovingly restored. You see Queen Anne, Second Empire, Tudor, shingle style, stick style, craftsman, and colonial revival homes dot the streets neatly laid out on a grid pattern.
Like many other towns on the Main Line, Wayne popped as the Pennsylvania Railroad developed and connected Philadelphia to points west–Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. The Main Line itself received its now famous name as a result of this train line.
Wayne as we see it today can be ironically described as an early planned development. Streets were orderly and on a grid. Houses were large, but convenient to downtown Philadelphia. They embraced the Victorian sensibilities and importance of hearth and home, yet were so modern. Steam heat, the train, public water and sewer, electricity, indoor plumbing, paved roads. There were even swimming pools–like the famous Wayne Natatorium.
The Wayne Natatorium, which was recognized in the fall of 2010 with a historical marker from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, was located in North Wayne on what we know today as Willow Avenue. Among the largest open-air, in-ground swimming pools in the United States, and some still argue the world, this Victorian folly existed between 1895 and 1903. It was 500 feet by 100 feet and played host to national swim meets during its existence. And in the winter, when this fresh water pool froze over? There was ice-skating and winter carnivals held under colorful lights.
The area in which the Wayne Natatorium sits is in North Wayne, but outside the boundaries of the historic district. The historic district in North Wayne only extends so far, and doesn’t encompass a lot of the more modest streets with working class roots that abut the Wayne train station, and I think that is a mistake. For example, if it hadn’t been for vigilant neighbors who live on some of the streets NOT in the historic district, 236 North Aberdeen Ave. might have been lost a couple of years ago to ill-fitting new development.
What was so special about 236 North Aberdeen Ave.? It was the home of builder Jonathan Lengel. Lengel was a builder who brought a lot of the whimsical architectural visions of such greats as David Knickerbocker Boyd. Lengel was responsible for the construction on some very interesting Radnor landmarks including but not limited to:
- – (On Lancaster Ave; now houses offices)
- – (Still standing)
- The Saturday Club – (Still standing)
- Wayne Grammar School – (Now Radnor Township School District Administration Building)
- Waldheim mansion – (VFMA's Sullivan Hall, torn down in 2001)
- Radnor High School – (Could be various buildings, now all demolished)
- Walmarthon estate (Now ; still there minus historic log cabin)
- Radnor Fire House – (Demolished for new building ca. 1996)
- Waynewood Hotel – (Still standing)
North Wayne not only boasts the homes out of the imagination of David Knickerbocker Boyd but also among others, the Price brothers–William and Frank Price, Philadelphia Quakers who were originally protégées of Frank Furness before venturing out on their own starting in 1881.
The Price brothers are also famous in the Philadelphia area for designing the Woodmont Estate in Gladwyne for Alan Wood (now under some debate as it is owned by the dwindling followers of Father Divine and the headquarters of the mysterious International Peace Mission) as well as for the wonderful homes in Rose Valley, also in Delaware County.
But for all the history in North Wayne and the loving restorations, I have to wonder if there are other preservation solutions that could be capitalized on? After all, some of these homes beloved to Radnor residents and local architecture buffs in North Wayne have been lost to new development that most described as unwelcome, so maybe it’s time to think outside the box?
Yes there is a HARB and a historic district and the NWPA (North Wayne Protective Association), and Radnor Historical Society, but is that enough? Perhaps Radnor should look to a more practical inducement to preserve?
What am I talking about? Think about two other communities in this country on the east coast with fabulous Victorian architecture. Think Cape May, N.J., and Newport, R.I. Why? What do they have that Radnor doesn’t? Bed and breakfasts.
Bed and breakfasts work well in Wayne-like places in Chester and Bucks counties, yet Radnor Township apparently doesn’t have the zoning to allow them. And some in Radnor think that allowing zoning for bed and breakfast inns would be akin to letting Freddie Kruger come to town. I say people are dead wrong on this issue as well as shortsighted.
In 2009, an application came before Radnor from a couple who owns a large Victorian and wants to convert part of it to bed and breakfast use. People crawled out of the woodwork and claimed if this nice couple was allowed to do it that real estate values would plummet and children would be snatched off the street and spirited away. Twaddle.
(Editor’s Note: The case is still tied up in the Delaware County legal system.)
Look at Cape May and Newport. Look at the northern coast of California, and Bucks and Chester counties and upstate New York and places like Martha’s Vineyard, The Hamptons and Nantucket. I would like to think that at least a few of these communities have more than enough snob appeal that they could be comparables?
Bed and breakfasts bring in tourist dollars and additional tax revenues. They are a way for some of these fabulous older homes to be preserved, not demolished.
North Wayne as well as the rest of Wayne have some amazing homes, and a vibrant history. But wanting to preserve them isn’t enough. The historic preservation has to be not only proactive, but also clever. I say allowing bed and breakfasts to be created out of older and historic homes is a way to do that.
But in the interim, Radnor residents, take the time to become more active with your local Radnor Historical Society and get to know your local streets. They are delightful and charming, offering a real sense of community. Get out of your cars and walk these streets if you haven’t in a while. You’ll be glad you did.