Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Arden House & Garden Tour

The first weekend we came to visit in Arden, Cynthia took us on the House & Garden Tour, an event sponsored by Arden Community Recreation Association (ACRA). The tour isn't open to everyone. You have to live in the Ardens or be guest of someone who is a resident. It is a free event designed to show off house and garden projects and remodels to neighbors. We saw more than a handful of houses on that first Sunday. Coming as we did, from a cookie-cutter development that varied little from three main house designs, seeing the variety in Arden houses was a rainbow feast for our beige-weary senses.

When it comes to architecture,  Arden started modestly, but purposefully. One of Arden's two founders was the architect Will Price and he imbued the early Arden houses with the style of the Tudor Cottages. I have been doing some reading about the early planning of Arden and discovered that one of my oldest and dearest friends lives in a neighborhood in Wayne, PA for which Will Price was a prominent architect. I happened to visit Missy a few days after this year's house and garden tour. Missy is more than an architecture buff after getting her Master's Degree in Interior Architecture and Design from Drexel. She showed me examples of Price's work which was loftier in scale than the stuff of Arden, humble by comparison.

Treehouse built by Jeff Politis
Humble is a good word to describe Arden architecture. The focus of Arden was always community. Small, but meticulously gardened lots, giving way to large public spaces where the real action happened--from baseball games to hop-rocking and from live theater and shows to the Arden Fair. The cottages were not meant to denote your status. That was to be kept under wraps as you linked arms with those from all socio-economic levels. Still, Ardenites aren't Amish. Pride is not a sin. We like to show off our palaces. But here, palace is not a celebration of how much square footage you can cram under one roof, but how many stories you can build on one foundation. This year's tour included The Jungalow, a home built for Upton Sinclair with monies from the Fels-Naptha Soap fortune (the same fortune that financed Arden). The Jungalow, in its present state, bears little resemblance to that cabin, but features remain in the original part of the house: the paneled walls, the built-in-book shelves, the craftsman-era fireplaces that are ubiquitous in early Arden houses.

G-Arden--community garden of Arden
Other spots on the tour included a magnificent treehouse, built by Arden's newly elected town chair, who is on sabbatical from career and really enjoying his time with his young boys. We saw the original farmhouse of the farm that eventually became Ardencroft in 1950. The Craft Museum was also on the tour.  I helped letter a sign for the G'Arden, which was the final destination before everyone went inside the Buzz for a lovely reception featuring Beverley Flemming's wonderful tea sandwiches. After the long walk (this was on top of the five mile hike we did earlier in the day, I couldn't keep away from the chicken salad.

I am still learning about the founding and design of this town, discovering its influences which include the socialism of William Morris's Arts and Craft's Movement and the open, public spaces of Central Park designer Frederick Olmsted. I hope that I can document some of what I uncover in this blog, because it really is a fascinating glimpse into a very specific slice of American history. What happened in the building of Arden is a result of what was going on here and in the world in 1900. As an Art History minor, I am fascinated by these artifacts. As a writer I am inspired by the stories.

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