February 2021 NEWSLETTER
Rosa Parks in Chestnut Hill
February 4 is Rosa Parks Day
This photograph taken by Chestnut Hill Local photographer Joe Morsello shows the crowd waiting inside Chestnut Hill’s Border’s bookstore;
no photography was allowed of the actual signing itself.
Courtesy of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy Archives
On October 23, 1996, civil rights activist Rosa Parks visited Border’s Books at the northeast corner of Germantown Avenue and Bethlehem Pike to sign copies of her new book. Ms. Parks became known worldwide for her Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott which began on December 1, 1955, and lasted over a year. Titled Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue With Today’s Youth, she published her book in celebration of the arrival of the 40th anniversary of the start of the boycott. The book included 48 letters of the thousands she had received from children over the last 40 years- and her responses to them.
The authors of many of the letters were interested in Ms. Parks’ thoughts about subjects like hope and courage, paths to freedom, and the power of knowledge and education. However there were many other questions about more mundane subjects, inquiring about Ms. Parks’ favorite foods (she loved broccoli and string beans, to name a few), and her favorite kinds of music (blues, jazz, and classical music were among her favorites). Over 1000 people arrived for the book signing; the line was so long that it extended down the stairs from the location of the signing, out the front door and down the sidewalk along Bethlehem Pike as far as the entrance to the parking lot behind the Top of the Hill Plaza.
Visit the Conservancy Archives for more about Chestnut Hill’s history.
Ask the Experts – Going Solar
Sustainable Preservation
Virtual Presentation on February 18
February 18, 7pm
Virtual Zoom Presentation
Micah Gold-Markel, founder of Philadelphia-based Solar States, a solar installer and educator, will discuss residential solar electric systems as a way to invest in clean energy and the local community. His frequent collaborator Chris Kurtz of Kurtz Roofing will join the conversation to answer questions about installations on historic houses.
A free, virtual program, Ask the Experts addresses a featured topic by an expert on prevalent issues relating to historic home and landscape care. Ask questions; get solutions! Organized by the Chestnut Hill Conservancy and co-sponsored by the Chestnut Hill Community Association.
Free, registration required. Zoom link and details will be sent to registrants.
Ask the Experts is presented with support from Johnson, Kendall & Johnson
New Archives Acquisition!
Chestnut Hill Hotel in the 1960s
A 1965 image of the Chestnut Hill Hotel, with its added Mt. Vernon-style two-story porch, and “colonial style” sign. A wing for two restaurants was built at the corner lot along Southampton Avenue in 1984 as well as a wing in the rear to accommodate a store.
Although we have information about the Chestnut Hill Hotel during most of its existence, we had very little from the 1960s until Deb Zwicker Wilson sent us a group of family photos and papers with accompanying background, for which we are grateful.
The Chestnut Hill Hotel was built as the Landis Hotel in 1894. Sarah and John Landis saw the need for a fashionable hotel in the center of Chestnut Hill near trains and the trolley. The two hotels that existed on Germantown Avenue mainly served working class travelers. The Landis’s purchased the hotel site, the rear tract of land (today’s parking lot), the barn (today’s Market at the Fareway) and the adjoining site (which became a gas station, now gone). Their heirs owned and operated the Hotel until 1956.
Robert and Clara Hoffman bought the Hotel, and from 1957 to 1958 undertook a “Neo-Colonial” renovation of the hotel at a time when many Chestnut Hill buildings were “colonialized” in an attempt to revitalize the Germantown Avenue commercial corridor. The Hoffmans removed many of the Victorian elements, added a two-story portico, and renamed it the Chestnut Hill Hotel.
Bartender Jack McHugh was on duty in the Chestnut Room, an informal dining area with a bistro feel. Weekend evenings featured some form of live music, a small band or someone playing the piano. The windows behind the bar looked out onto Germantown Avenue to the south of the front entrance of the building. Several employees, including Jack stayed on after the Hoffmans sold the hotel to the Zwickers and Grassis.
John Grassi, Chef Connie, Edward Zwicker and Inez Grassi, stand in front of a banquet table in the dining room. Chef Connie’s full name was Cornelius Bethesda (to the best of the donor’s recollection). He came from New Orleans was a fabulous classically-trained chef. When he left the Hotel, the chef hired in his place was not nearly as good – could not make the classic sauces etc. – and the kitchen went downhill after that.
Deb Zwicker Wilson’s father, Edward C. Zwicker, Jr., and his partners John and Inez Grassi, were the owners of the Hotel from about 1964 through 1969. The Zwickers lived in Wyndmoor, unlike many in the Landis family before them who lived in the Hotel. The guests who booked rooms were mostly family members of Chestnut Hill residents who were in town for a wedding or funeral, with an occasional romantic one-night stand booking! After the Zwickers left there was probably another owner, and the restaurant became Chef Tell’s International Restaurant until about 1981.
Visit our online Archives to take a walk through history!
Call for Nominations
What’s your favorite treasured place in Chestnut Hill? We are now inviting nominations for the 2021 Architectural Hall of Fame. These will join the treasures already honored with membership in the Chestnut Hill Architectural Hall of Fame.
Tell us what places in our community you think should be added to this esteemed list. After nominations close, a shortlist will be announced, and then voting will begin!
The winners will be revealed at our Architectural Hall of Fame Event on Saturday, May 22. SAVE THE DATE!!! Tickets and more information on the event will be available soon.
Email Lori@CHConservancy.org with your nomination, and why you think it should be recognized.
Promoting Complementary Efforts
The Conservancy is grateful for the work of our community partners and friends. We invite you to learn about two important projects by other organizations.
The Children’s Park of Chestnut Hill, better known as Jenks Playground, was built in an 11-day community effort in 1997 after months of planning and fundraising.
The playground and gardens are enjoyed by Jenks students, residents, and visitors from afar throughout the year, and a campaign is now underway for its renewal.
The Park playground is maintained by an all-volunteer Friends of the Children’s Park in Chestnut Hill, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Learn more about the plans and campaign HERE.
You can help to preserve a significant historic building, and support a 100-year-old mission to provide space and support for some in the Chestnut Hill non-profit community.
For the mission to be successful and thrive in the 21st century, the Woodward Community Centre building at 8419 Germantown Avenue must undergo a major renovation. The goal is to create a diverse, inclusive space for non-profits with varied purposes and needs where they exchange ideas, develop mutually beneficial relationships, share services and enhance their respective missions, thus benefitting the overall community vitality.
The Chestnut Hill Community Centre is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation not affiliated with any other organization. Learn more about the Centre’s history, and future, HERE.
Thank you for joining us!
Virtual Lecture by Rob Fleming
On January 21, The Conservancy presented a virtual lecture through our Discovering Chestnut Hill program series.
Rob Fleming presented a fascinating look at the open spaces of Chestnut Hill – Accidental Master Plan: The Fortuitous Open Spaces of Chestnut Hill.
In this illustrated lecture, Landscape Architect Rob Fleming showed how even while Chestnut Hill’s gradual growth may have been unplanned, a principled aesthetic worldview informed the key land-use and design decisions that would give the community its unique character.
For more information on our Discovering Chestnut Hill programming, visit us at http://chconservancy.org/discovering-chestnut-hill
Discovering Chestnut Hill was presented with support from John B. Ward & Co.
  • February 4 – Historic District Advisory Committee Public Meeting 6:30pm
PROJECT REVIEW OF 30 W Highland Avenue
Contact info@chconservancy.org for a Zoom link to attend
  • May 22 – Architectural Hall of Fame Event
In case you missed it…
For more archived articles, visit our Press page.
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Chestnut Hill Conservancy | 8708 Germantown AvenuePhiladelphia, PA 19118