Thursday, August 22, 2013

Neshaminy Mall - Revisited

One of my first jobs as a teenager was as a salesman at Kinney Shoes in Neshaminy Mall. Kinney's is long gone, like my hair, but Neshaminy Mall, one of the first malls in the country, is still there after several incarnations.

I too, have been through several incarnations over the years and after all this time, from Israel, to Boston, back to Philly to New Mexico to California, to Florida and back to Philly again, I have come full circle.

Recently, I took a part time job as a rep for Kitchen Saver®Kitchen Saver in Neshaminy Mall, the mall where I first started almost 40 years ago.  And here's where it gets interesting...

It's my job to stop you when you pass by and ask if you're interested in remodeling your kitchen cabinets and then set an appointment for a free estimate for a cabinet facelift. It's actually a very reputable company and I enjoy the work most of the time.  It's not difficult and, despite having to deal with a fair amount of rejection,  I get to meet a lot of nice people during the course of a shift.

One day during a break, I noticed seven beautifully crafted dioramas built into the wall outside of Macy's indoor mall entrance, each covered by a glass pane, and each depicting a scene from our country's illustrious history. The first window box shows an early settler shaking hands with an Indian from the Neshaminy tribe and a faded plaque on a pedastal in front of the window explains what is transpiring in the scene. The next one holds figurines of Ben Franklin at the age of 70 and his grandson, Temple, on their return from France; all of the characters impeccably dressed in colonial costumes in colorfully painted backgrounds.

As I was admiring the dioramas, a mom and her two young children approached to look at the dioramas. At some point, she turned to me and asked, "Do they still work?"
"What do you mean?" I countered, not having a clue what she was referring to.  The woman explained to me that years ago,  there was a button in front of each window that you could press which caused the window to light up, the characters would move and a narrator would explain what was happening in each scene.  She then pointed out that the old speakers were still there, and, sure enough, there are still speakers there; remnants from a time when the mall was young and enchanted.

SIgning of Declaration of Independence, Neshaminy Mall

She went on to explain that the dioramas were commissioned and donated by the Strawbridge family, and that what is currently Macy's Department Store was originally a Strawbridge and Clothier when the mall opened in 1967. Apparently, old man Strawbridge was were very into the history of the Bucks County and Philadelphia and somewhat of a philanthropist. The stores were noted for their great customer service and friendly employees.  This got me thinking.

Wouldn't it be cool if the current management of Neshaminy Mall, and/or Macy's and/or other tenants of the mall or members of the community got those window boxes working again.  It makes perfect sense - Recently, the Neshaminy Mall fountain and wishing well was completely refurbished.

It would be ever so fitting to get those dioramas working again and rededicate the mall once the work is complete. It could be a media event which I'm certain would infuse the area with a whole new energy and bring families back into Neshaminy and renew interest in the community at large! We Pennsylvanians are very aware of our contribution to the history of this country and our place among the thirteen original colonies. We're proud of our Quaker heritage and of William Penn, Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, etc. What better way to share our pride than bringing the communities of Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County together to commemorate the renewal of those talking action windows.

I have been given the green light by Neshaminy Mall's management to look into the cost of this project. But there may be one other snag. Macy's, the current owner of those windows, may not be interested in restoring the them. So, I have created an online petition to present to Macy's and Neshaminy Mall's management to demonstrate how much community interest there is in the restoration of the display. Please click here to sign the petition


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  2. Just after the mall opened in '68 (a year of political turmoil if there ever was one) I was in the seventh grade at a Catholic school in Penndel, Pennsylvania. One of the good sisters at the school assigned an essay to our class with the long-winded title; 'The Historical Wall at the Neshaminy Mall Fascinates Me'. I suspect now that upon seeing this for herself that Sister Francine Marie was gripped by the scope and novelty of the display. I can, in memory, actually hear the sister's voice as she drawled-out that title; this is going on forty-nine years soon.

    The 'Wall' was of course in fine shape and working order when it first opened. There must have been proximity sensors built-in to these dioramas as they'd come to life when you'd get close to them. Just to the right and above the display was Strawbridge and Clothier's restaurant which offered a view of the mall as you'd have lunch or dinner; I can't say if breakfast was ever featured there but I did eat at this restaurant many times with family and friends in the afternoon and evening over the years.

    It was a practice of parents, even back in '69-'70 to drop-off their 13 and 14 year-olds to meet-up with school and neighborhood chums and then 'respectfully' tour the mall in groups as big as a dozen or so. I'd be hard-pressed to recall a time when any of these groups caused a disturbance 'back-in-the-day' as the current, popular idiom would have it. We were just too well brought up I'd venture to say.

    At the Neshaminy Mall's Premiere Theater, opposite the end where Strawbridge's existed, we saw Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand and Omar Sharif; the girls in our group swooned at each appearance of Omar Sharif while we boys admired Barbra's ample assets tastefully on display. In this setting is where I had my first kiss with my 8th grade (me) inamorata; she was an 'older woman' of the 9th grade vintage. Afterward, I never again washed or wore that shirt which I had on that afternoon as it smelled like my then-girlfriend's perfume, Heaven Scent. Good times, great memories all wrapped-up in that still-standing edifice there on that hill and opened in 1968.

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  4. Dear Unknown,

    This is such a great story and I'm so happy you took the time to post it here. If you wouldn't mind, please contact me personally by email. I have a few questions I'd like to ask if you wouldn't mind.