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Friday, December 19, 2014

Loch Aerie in Frazer, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Thom Nickels Headshot

A Victorian Mansion in Andrew Wyeth Country

Posted: Updated: 

When the poet James Whitcomb Riley visited William E. Lockwood in Glenloch, Pa, sometime in 1895 or 1899 during his tours of eastern U.S. cities, he arrived at the Glenloch station of the Pennsylvania Railroad. That station was nestled nicely in the 836-acre estate of Lockwood, founder of Glenloch and the millionaire inventor of the popular paper collar for men. Riley, at that time, undoubtedly noticed that Lockwood's Italianate Victorian Gothic marble and blue limestone mansion- built from quarries that have long been covered over by Route 202, and designed by architect Addison Hutton with its eaves, torrents, arches, tower and cranberry stained glass windows- resembled his own Indiana home.
Why the poet chose to visit Lockwood is unclear, unless of course the wealthy businessman had an avid desire to host America's most popular poet. Whatever the reason, Riley was now in the most spectacular house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In those days the area was filled with grain dealers, dairy farmers, so called "maiden schoolteachers" and marble quarries. Glenloch- Scottish for "lake of the glen"- was Lockwood's personal kingdom, an area rich in Revolutionary War lore. The fields and forests there have long yielded continental army muskets and cannonballs which, at least until the 1960s, were occasionally unearthed by children or farmers. It was in these fields and forests that General Washington and his men established camps on their way to Valley Forge.
The original 836-acre estate once housed three separate farms, tenant houses and four railroad stations. Glenloch, in fact, constituted an entire town and had its own post office. The mansion itself cost $250,000 to build. The property also contained a number of springs, which attracted the wandering (and lustful) eye of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR).
The PRR had already engaged Lockwood's fury when it built and named the Glenloch train station without getting Lockwood's permission to use the name, causing Lockwood to change the name of the Estate to Loch Aerie. The PRR would also break its promise to Lockwood that it would maintain the pipes that carried water from the estate's springs for the railroad's upkeep of its steam locomotives. In addition to breaking this contractual agreement, the PRR used all of the water from the Estate, leaving the Lockwood family high and dry.
Lockwood had no choice but to fight the PRR, but this would be a battle that he would lose. The fight cost him his fortune. When Lockwood died in 1911 at age 79, he left two daughters, Miss Daisy and Miss Edith, and a son, William E. Lockwood. Jr. who died in 1949. When I interviewed one of the sisters as a budding high school journalist, the William Jr. came up several times in the conversation.
The Loch Aerie mansion was just a quarter mile from where I grew up in Frazer. My boyhood home was originally built as a simple housing development consisting of six split level houses, thanks to the post WWII housing boom generated in part by the GI Bill. Some extended family members often referred to our Frazer house as being "in the sticks" because it was surrounded by fields, streams, hills and great swaths of hilly forests.
The three bedroom split level home was set square in the middle of land that once belonged to a nearby farmer who had cows grazing in our backyard. My mother, busy working in the kitchen, would often utter a shocked "Oh!" when a cow or two would break through the barbed wire fence and walk up to the kitchen window.
Driving along Lancaster Pike near Planebrook Road and Route 29, you could glimpse much of Loch Aerie behind clumps of trees. Trees also covered a good portion of the mansion's front porch. Only a section of the mansion's tower (which contained a 900 gallon water tank) could be spotted among the tree tops.
As children, we had always heard that old Loch Aerie was inhabited by two old sisters who rarely came outside but occasionally made appearances when curiosity seekers explored the estate's massive backyard. The backyard contained a man made pond and a weather beaten statue of Neptune, which seemed to recall ruins from ancient Greece.
You could not just walk on the grounds of Loch Aeries because one or two of the old sisters who lived there inevitably would spot you and say something. Miss Edith and Miss Daisy seemed to have eyes in the backs of their heads. The ornate mansion, with its Swiss Gothic architecture, alpine roofs and chalet dormers, approximated the gingerbread houses we had seen in children's books. For us it was a house of intrigue and mystery.
We especially liked to visit the house in summer, albeit in a sneaky way because we didn't want to be spotted by the sisters. The few times when we wern't "apprehended" we would linger by the fish pond near the overgrown and nearly ruined gardens and lose ourselves as we stared into the sun bleached eyes of Neptune. We were also careful to periodically scan the mansion's windows for shadows or silhouettes indicating that the sisters were spying on us. When this happened one of the massive shutters might open and a sister's voice would call out, "Who goes there?"
We ached to get inside Loch Aerie, but as the sisters were old and very private, we knew this would never happen. We did not know then that the estate was once one of the largest in Pennsylvania, and that in 1877 it had its own telephone system, security system and that every door in the house was wired with a burglary alarm. The 19th century also had its own version of the homeless problem, as vagabonds or tramps would sometimes try to hide on the property or try to get inside Loch Aerie through one of its many windows. At one point in the mansion's history, a dozen tramps were rounded up on the grounds of the estate.
Loch Aerie had five bedrooms, round stained glass windows, a large cranberry stained glass window on the second floor, a spiral staircase and that 900 gallon water tank that was half hidden in the trees. It also, at one point, had its own landscape designer, Charles Miller. Throughout the years, both before and after its demise, it had been featured in many magazines and newspapers.
Although Miss Edith and Miss Daisy both died before 1970, I would get a chance to meet them when I began working as a paperboy for The Daily Local News.
I'd ride up to the mansion on my bicycle, knock for Miss Edith or Miss Daisy, and wait to be admitted so that I could be paid for the week's worth of newspapers.
Sometimes I'd be asked to come inside while one of sisters counted out the exact change. I'd find myself standing in the magnificent foyer with its grand "Gone With the Wind" staircase while eyeing the gilt gold framed oil paintings on the wall. I forget whether the old ladies ever tipped me, but I do remember them as being nice but also somehow from another time.
When I graduated from paperboy to a teen-aged, first-time newspaper journalist on assignment, I went to Loch Aerie to interview Miss Daisy for a Main Line publication. Miss Daisy told me stories about her father and the paper collar, the Pennsylvania Railroad and about the poet, James Whitcomb Riley. Suddenly, all the years of mystery and reserve surrounding Loch Aerie- and its occupant sisters- vanished in a confessional waterfall.
After the sisters' death, the house lay abandoned for a time, opening the door to another kind of "tramp"--motorcycle gangs like the Warlocks and The Pagans who set up camp and used the mansion as their headquarters. Although Loch Aerie had a new owner then, this was the wild, experimental decade of the 1970s- a time when older forms of tradition were tramped underfoot. Nobody cared about exquisite ceiling carvings or moldings or grand staircases. Drop ceilings and modernism ruled the day.
In 2000, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that after the sisters died, "the house was sold, then became famous for a time in the 1970s as the home of the Warlocks motorcycle gang. The gang's stay included a fire in the east wing and a 1973 shootout with the rival Pagans in which one Warlock was shot, as was the gang's pet wolf."
Although Loch Aerie has been compared to Bryn Mawr's La Ronda Estate and to Granogue, Irenee Du Pont's Estate in Delaware, it's still on the real estate market today.
The magic of this old place is transcendental and compelling, although Neptune has long since vanished.

Teresa Muldoon-Nickels on her Wedding Day (with Nellie Kelly Muldoon and Patrica Biscotti (in the mirror)

                   ICON MAGAZINE City Beat Column December 2014

We spotted people falling asleep during Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn at the Wilma, and wondered how this could be given the play’s good reviews. Things got worse when, at intermission, some audience members walked, proving that even critically acclaimed works can generate nay sayers. Can a “juxtaposition of feminist theories with messy human desires” ever be funny? How about a comic version of Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics or Simone de Beauvior’s The Second Sex; would these be immune to walk outs and audience narcolepsy? Rapture’s stellar record-- a 2013 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama--suggests that nobody should be nodding off, even if  the play would have benefited from a 30 minute dramaturgical cut. The promotion around Rapture was stellar, however:  postcards advertising the play could be found all over town: in Center City restaurant and pizza parlors, and on random city buses and trolleys.       

 The Barrymore Awards used to go on for hours, so that by the time it was over you had Charley Horses in both legs and one, big primal urge: to tie a long scarf around your neck Isadora Duncan-style and drive off in a fast convertible. This year’s Award ceremony was much better (and shorter) than in years past, though we discovered this only after deciding not to attend. We didn’t want to sit through hours of theater minutia, like Award for Best Theater Usher Wearing Blue Contact Lenses, etc., etc. We’ll get our Barrymore act together in 2015.   

We marveled at all the tall hunky Israeli furniture guys in pointy European shoes at the grand opening of the Cella Luxuria Furniture superstore at 1214 Chestnut Street. Deputy mayor Alan Greenberger said he saw some furniture there he really liked, while HughE Dillon worked overtime photographing the city’s furniture subculture elite. The five floors of beds, sofas, desks and bookcases meant lots of styles and options, from modern minimalist to warehouse-rustic to the comfortably traditional. The Bauhaus style configurations on the first floor included an orangutan- colored recliner that had us thinking of the beach chaise lounges in Wildwood’s Doo Wop motels. Brulee Catering, Zavino Wine Bar and Pizzeria and Abbey Biery Cake Design provided the food. Since the bartenders told us that red wine was banned from the serving queue (it stains furniture), for a fix of deep, rich color we had to turn to Kory Zuccarelli’s lavish photography, which was featured on the walls.

 Philadelphians may love Rittenhouse Square with its “meet me at the goat” ambience, but for out-of-towners like Connie Willis (who came here to three years ago to land a job in broadcasting), the picture’s not so pretty. Willis’ bird’s eye view of the Square from her fifth floor apartment enabled her to see more rats than goats scurrying from bush to bush. She was soon calling Rittenhouse Ratinhouse Square, though she later dropped that after the furry creatures were exterminated. She added another name soon enough, -- Rittenhouse Dog Park—because everyday from her bedroom window she saw Chaplinesque replays of people putting picnic blankets on sections of grass that moments before had been a dog toilet: German Sheppards, Greyhounds, dachshunds, poodles and boxers would squat, and then after their owners dutifully bagged, another cycle of picnickers would sit directly over the spot, on and on all day long-- from picnic to poop to picnic and then back to poop again. Those without blankets would relax directly on the soft, fertile grass, never suspecting (or caring) that dogs had been there before.    

We spoke with filmmaker Nancy Kates, whose film, Regarding Susan Sontag, had its Philadelphia premier at the Jewish Museum. The effervescent Kates describes meeting Sontag years ago at a Meet Susan Sontag Night on the campus of the University of Chicago. Kates, who had been struggling with a paper on Jackson Pollack, found the artistic answers she was looking for in Sontag’s essays in Against Interpretation, but when she went to tell Sontag this she says that the diva looked at her “with utter disdain,” as if she were thinking, “I have better things to work on than helping a hapless undergrad.” Sontag, of course, could be hot or cold. We felt the cold years ago when Sontag spoke at the Free Library on Sarajevo and greeted us with a slightly hostile bark when we attempted to speak to her at the reception.   

Everybody’s an expert on architecture these days.’s stories on proposed buildings in Center City and elsewhere generate hundreds of inflammatory and passionate comments from readers who want their opinions to count. We related this fact to Radical Traditionalist architect Al Holm recently when he called to say that there were few registrants for an upcoming ICAA-Philadelphia seminar at the Franklin Inn. “How do we get the word out?” he wanted to know. “Does anybody care?” We suggested he try and recruit the passionate readers of whose online comments often get censored or deleted because they don’t know how to handle all their pent up architectural insights.  

We leave you with this: A revamped, reformed Vince Fumo has advised all good citizens in an Inky Op-Ed never to give money to the homeless. Lessons from a teacher—indeed!

The High Rise Center City Stalker in the Katherine Hepburn Hat

The Local Lens

• Wed, Dec 17, 2014

By Thom Nickels

My friend Lena lives in a big, lush Center City condo building with a 30-story high view of the city. The view from her living room window is anything but dull. She’s lived there peacefully for almost two decades—until she met the woman in the hat.

The woman in the hat, a building newcomer, is a woman of smallish stature and maybe 50 years old. She’s the type of woman who would blend anonymously into any crowd. At any local supermarket you wouldn’t look twice if you saw her picking over the broccoli and red peppers. If you spotted her at Dollar General or Family Dollar you’d think she was just an ordinary neighborhood lady out shopping for cheap rolls of toilet paper and paper towels.

Unstable people don’t always look crazy. Jeffrey Dahmer looked like a movie star. Ted Bundy, another serial killer, could have been a movie double for Anthony Perkins, the man who played the lead in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

As the Scriptures say, Lucifer can also appear as an angel of light.

The lady in the hat, to the contrary, has a huggable appearance, so much so that there’d be a battle among strong contractor types to open the door for her at any Wawa convenience store.

Lena recalls the night she was sticking a fork in her microwave cooked Idaho baked potato (her dinner at the end of a long day) when she heard someone pounding on her door. The pounding had the ring of an enraged parole officer or advance SWAT team member staking out a suspect.
"Who’s there?" Lena asked, her sing-song voice showing some signs of stress. "May I help you?"

The Idaho potato, safe in its skin, went cold as Lena peered through her condo’s security peep hole. She saw the smallish woman but could only see a portion of her face because the rest of her was hidden. Obviously, she had moved out of the perimeter of the peep hole. Not a healthy sign by any means. To an overactive imagination it might suggest a dangerous scenario straight out of the movie, Gone Girl.

The voice in the hallway might have been Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist:

"You’re smoking in there… smoke is coming into my apartment. You are speed walking all night… I can’t sleep. I’m calling the police. I am going to register a complaint!"

People—neighbors—have a right to complain about noises that keeps them up at night. On my own street, for instance, one sometimes hears neighbors raising their voices when there are problems with rambunctious pit bulls. Several years ago it was an all-girl riot, which I reported on in these pages. That was when ten or more high school girls were engaged in a massive street fight of hair pulling, screams, face slaps and ‘cheerleader’ style kicks to the shins. Although the rumble ended anticlimactically when the Alpha girls who started it all sped away in Daddy’s convertible, it left neighbors here wondering if heretofore quiet Mercer Street had become ground zero for a Philly version of West Side Story.

Center City high-rise "neighborhood" fights usually don’t begin with hallway rumbles but with zealous door poundings.
The woman at Lena’s door shouted her complaint several times so that all the neighbors would hear.
Lena remained nonplussed. "I… don’t… smoke….You have the wrong… apartment," she said.
"I’m calling the police," the woman screamed.

Had I been in Lena’s place, I would have been tempted to say, "The police won’t come anyway. They’re hanging out at Wawa in a group huddle." Honestly, when do the police do anything about domestic disputes?

I asked Lena why she didn’t open her door and engage the woman full blast. After all, wasn’t she afraid that a refusal to open the door would enrage the woman even more?

"How dare you talk to me through a hole!" I can easily envision someone saying.

Why not speak to the woman face-to-face? I suggested to Lena that perhaps she should have ‘humored’ the woman by inviting her inside for a bit of cold potato or a tall glass of Port. There must be some truth in that old cliché about winning an enemy over with honey.

"I knew she was crazy from the start and didn’t want to engage her," Lena said, "I didn’t want to start any kind of relationship with her."

She had a point.

The woman’s accusation of speed walking seemed peculiar to me because speed walking used to be a popular women’s sport in Center City. It was often practiced in the 1990s as a substitute for jogging. The idea behind speed walking was to make your body look like it was running when in actual fact it was just walking faster than a stroll. The quick motion of the arms in contrast to the slow motion of the legs also gave it a comedic look. When I lived at 21st and Pine there were speed walkers all over the street.

"It’s positively Chaplinesque on this street!" visiting friends would comment.

Lena is more of a sleep walker than a speed walker; she’s slow and methodical in her movements.

"I do not speed walk," she said. "I’m not a road runner of any kind. The woman is nuts. Nuts!"
The big question, of course, was when the woman would return.

That question was answered two days later when another series of door pounds woke Lena up around midnight. The screams in the hallway referred to the same complaints: smoke and speed walking, in addition to "other noises that keep me awake." This time Lena did not bother spying at her through the peephole but stayed in bed until she went away.

"Tell management now," I suggested.

A few days later, Lena entered the condo elevator and pushed the 30th floor button before noticing that the smallish woman huddled in the corner of the elevator heretofore hidden by shopping bags was the woman in the hat.

Enter stage right: A film by Dario Argento or Brian De Palma.

Staring neurotic eyes framed by shopping bags kept their focus on Lena.

"I get off at the 29th floor," the woman said in a flat monotone.

"That’s nice," Lisa said, in Disney mode but secretly sweating bullets.

When the elevator opened at 29 the woman remained in the car, and at 30 she followed Lena out but walked down the opposite hallway. Lena went to her place and bolted the door but stood by the peephole to see if anything would happen. In a second or two she could see the woman pacing back and forth in front of her door. She was pacing and looking worried as if she was trying to decide what to do.

Lena, who rarely cries, felt a swell of emotion. She says she wondered how something like this could happen to someone who minds their business, is nice to neighbors and who has few if any enemies.

The next night, she was startled to hear the sound of someone trying to unlock her door with a key. Through the peephole, she could see the woman, still in her crumbled up Katherine Hepburn hat, fiddling with the lock in hopes of getting inside.

This story has an anticlimactic end.

The next day Lena registered an official complaint with management, only to find out that the woman in the hat had also lodged numerous complaints against her, among them making smoke, speed walking, and making strange nocturnal sounds.

Rationality finally prevailed, however, and the woman was given notice that she would soon be evicted. This process, however, could take some time.

What Lena’s story illustrates is that perhaps landlords should check the mental health of a prospective renters with the same tenacity and enthusiasm with which they tackle their credit history. A bad credit report never put anyone’s life in danger, but an unstable person with money can be more dangerous than full fledged bankruptcy.

From The Chestnut Hill Local: The Work of Noel Miles (Legendary Locals of Center City Philadelphia)

Paintings by Miles (right) are currently on display in an exhibit titled “Philadelphia Artistry: The Forgotten, The Remembered and The Beloved” through Nov. 14 at the Bazemore Art Gallery, 4339 Main St. in Manayunk, owned by Lenny Bazemore (left).
Paintings by Miles (right) are currently on display in an exhibit titled “Philadelphia Artistry: The Forgotten, The Remembered and The Beloved” through Nov. 14 at the Bazemore Art Gallery, 4339 Main St. in Manayunk, owned by Lenny Bazemore (left).
by Len Lear
“There are starving artists all over the world, but my hero is Ai Weiwei, a prisoner in his own country of China. (Weiwei is a famous artist and political activist who has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese government‘s repression of democracy and human rights.) But he is not starving as far as his creativity is concerned. I believe you cannot starve creativity out of someone.”
This passionate comment was made last week by Noel Miles, 78, during an interview with the Local. A native of North Central Philadelphia, Miles moved to Mt. Airy 52 years ago after graduating with a fine arts degree from the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (later called the Philadelphia College of Art and now known as the University of the Arts).
A gentle, sensitive soul, Miles would be too modest to say so himself, but he might just be the most accomplished watercolorist in the Delaware Valley if not the east coast. His delicious paintings of Philadelphia landmarks ripple and surge with both delicacy and strength, turning stone and iron structures into living, breathing characters with dignity, character and profound feelings.
These paintings by Miles are currently on display in an exhibit titled “Philadelphia Artistry: The Forgotten, The Remembered and The Beloved” through Nov. 14 at the Bazemore Art Gallery, 4339 Main St. in Manayunk. Miles’ watercolors depict the evolution of Philadelphia from its industrial roots in what he calls the “Athens of America.”
Miles grew up near the Stetson Hat factory in North Philly and down the street from the once huge Phillies Cigar factory. It was an area with many Victorian brownstone houses when Miles was young. “Our house was three stories with coal fuel heating,” he recalled. “After a four-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, through the GI Bill I was able to attend art school.
“My great-aunt Ida was born in 1892; I always attribute to her my love of the aesthetic. I knew I would be an artist from early childhood. My junior high school had an art club, which I joined and where several teachers encouraged me to continue my desire to be an artist. I was lucky to have the best art teachers, Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Hibbert, who gave me my first art history book, ‘Art Through the Ages,’ by Helen Gardner. At Dobbins School I also had outstanding art instructors such as Mr. Sam Brown, a former WPA artist and my mentor.”
A spectacular rendering of City Hall by Noel Miles.
A spectacular rendering of City Hall by Noel Miles.
In art school Miles studied with W. Emerton Heitland, one of the country’s foremost watercolorists, who supported Noel’s nomination to the American Watercolor Society in 1964, which allowed him to use the letters AWS after his name. (The society was founded by Samuel Morse, himself a painter and the inventor of the Morse Code.) Miles generally works in “pleine-air.” “I consider natural light and shadow a big factor in my compositions,” he said.
All of Miles’ working life has been spent in design and commercial art. For 13 years he was the art director for Channel 6. He also worked as art director for Channel 3, designing sets and logos. There was an occasional portrait commission done in oils, but the large majority of his work was done in watercolors. The presentation of one of his paintings to the Prince of Wales was a painting of the Academy of Fine Arts building. A painter himself, the British royal remarked to Miles that he was “not in your league.”
Miles has taught art courses at Drexel University, Temple University, the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Cabrini College. In celebration of the 100th birthday of Philadelphia’s City Hall in 2001, Miles collaborated with the city to create “The Splendors of Philadelphia’s City Hall: An Artist’s View,” a complete history of City Hall, which was the world’s tallest habitable building when it was completed. The volume is filled with more than 50 interior and exterior full-color images of City Hall, all created by Miles.
The current exhibit of his work was proposed as a joint venture after his friend, George Beach, a businessman and the first African American to own a public relations firm in Philadelphia, introduced him to gallery owner, Lenny Bazemore, who wanted to stage an event featuring local writer Thom Nickels’ recently published book, “Legendary Locals of Center City Philadelphia” (Arcadia Publishing).
A photo of Miles appears on the cover along with photos of opera singer Mario Lanza, author Pearl Buck and several other legendary Philadelphians. What does the future hold for Miles? “Beyond continuing to paint, I look forward to frequently visiting my Memphis-based grandson, who is 5 years old.”
I urge everyone who has ever admired the architecture of some of Philly’s great buildings to see this exhibit. More information at 215-482-1119, or @BazemoreGallery.