With the resurgence of local and sustainable living, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we are onto something new. In my last article, the first of a three part series, Germantown was remembered as the place to be.
This was a time when the Monteiro boys described Fairmount Park as their big backyard and defying authority meant sneaking in the creek for a casual swim. Along with their imagination, fires and torches were all lit in the caves of Esquire Park and later put out by the calm flowing stream that ran through it. There was so much more to Germantown, along with the simple childhood pleasures that made it live.
Germantown boasted a bustling shopping and theater district, car dealerships, an automatic food store and a Thanksgiving Day Parade. All of which left a deep imprint upon the psyche of those growing up in G’town. Germantown was the epitome of local and sustainable living at a time when the concept didn’t even come close to defining it.
With names like The Orpheum, Bandbox, Rialto, Colonial and The Vernon, New Lyric, you’d think I stumbled across the latest prescriptions to hit the market. In fact, they were a few of the oldest theaters, a total of 14 within and surrounding Germantown. While physical evidence of these once popularized hotspots lives on, some are all but dismantled remnants in the rich history of Germantown’s past.
This period also reflects a time in Germantown when Horn & Hardart Automat, the nation’s first taste of take of food came to town. One of the few places you could enter with some coins and exit with a meal. Not to mention a cup of java. Ricky (of Monte & Sons Auto Repair) remembers being mesmerized by the sight of neatly assembled sandwiches passing down the conveyor belt. Somehow the experience of getting food delivered this way was his mother’s weapon of choice in getting them to behave when out and about. The aroma of fresh drip coffee, a mother’s method for sanity, would’ve been temptation enough.
There once were four car dealerships and major department stores all along the corridor of Germantown Avenue. Allen’s and C.A. Rowel’s were the two major stores that Ricky enjoyed most as a child. C.A. Rowel’s main attraction was an elevator ride to the second floor. This is where kids would enter a new dimension. This is where textiles were sold to make rugs and magic carpet ride adventures. Allen’s, with multiple levels, an elevator attendant and oversized windows, was a child’s ideal play space. The best time of year to visit Allen’s Department Store was during the Holidays. Germantown not only hosted a Thanksgiving Day Parade, but an early visit from Santa! This was too good! As Allen’s Department store’s guest of honor, Santa could be seen climbing in and out of the oversized windows. Isn’t it a good thing that the holidays have come to pass?
What are your most memorable childhood experiences in Germantown? Please leave a comment to share your story. And stay tuned for the final part in this series about Germantown’s present, future and rekindled role in the local and sustainable movement!
For more information about the history of Germantown visit:
NW Philly Parents is a partnership between NewsWorks.org and GermantownAvenueParents.com, a community blog covering events and issues of interest to parents and children in Northwest Philadelphia.