When I first learned that the same creative team who made the Bazaar of All Nations film has begun their ground work for a similar documentary about the "Golden Mile," I was excited. Almost anyone who grew up in Delco will agree that both The Bazaar and The Golden Mile played some kind of roles in their lives and most memories of those places are fond ones of a simpler, more gentle time. No matter what part of Delaware County in which you've lived, chances are you have a few emotional attachments to Springfield Township's Golden Mile.
Last week, when I heard the Bungalow Inn in Clifton was closing, followed by news that the Springfield Inn (formerly Richetti's) may evolve into an urgent care medical facility, I knew the Golden Mile project was more important than ever before, because it can capture Delco's changing face, its history. With every passing year, more and more things we know in the county disappear, changing the landscape as we know it. I realize time marches on — it's called progress — but I can't help but feel strangely sentimental with an unexplainable sense of loss whenever I hear another landmark bites the dust.
Truthfully, I haven't been to the Bungalow Inn since way back when, while in my 20s, when it was one of the few after-hours clubs around town. The Bungalow was a happening place in the ‘70s and I remember going there and having a lot of fun! And honestly, I also haven't been to the Springfield Inn for awhile either, but I remember some enjoyable times there as well.
The Golden Mile, unlike the Bazaar of All Nations, is actually still there, going strong. But its history, its slate of our memories, is what the filmmakers hope to capture.
Technically, the Golden Mile stretches from Bishop Avenue in Upper Darby Township to Route 420 in Springfield, although unofficially, and in most locals' minds, it stretches from Oak Avenue and Baltimore Pike to the Springfield Mall. In the very least, those parts of Baltimore Pike that bookend the Golden Mile have impacted it, even if not considered an official part of it.
I worked many jobs in places along "the Pike," in my high school years. I used to work weekends as a coat checker during banquets at the Fireside Hearth. Additionally, I worked at Bambergers (in what is now Macy's) at Springfield Mall in its inaugural year, the first year after the Mall opened (I am feeling old writing this) and I also earned my pocket money at Perkins Pancake House, located right smack in the heart of the Golden Mile.
When I reflect back on my Perkins’ job as a hostess, I remember working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift (I chuckle thinking, "Did my parents actually allow me to do this at 16 or 17 years old?"). In those days, the manager would station a policeman on duty in the front of the restaurant because drunks would wander in all night long (think Bungalow Inn again). Perkins was a 24/7 hopping place and there was a perpetual line up front, waiting for seats. Believe me, I always had a few very interesting tales to tell my friends and family when I came home from working my shift!
Many of my friends and acquaintances also had jobs along the Golden Mile. After all, the stores and the restaurants were one right after the other. Jobs were in no short supply at Marra's, Clover, the Bazaar Movie Theater, Putt-Putt Golf, Gaudio's (later Frank's) and all the other eateries and retail stores that dotted the Pike.
When I asked Patrick Manley, part of the creative Bazaar/Golden Mile documentary team along with Brendan O'Riordan and Melissa Whiteley, where most of the Golden Mile memories are coming from during this research phase of their film project, I had expected him to say from where people worked on the Golden Mile. Rather he told me most people had lots to say about their recreational times at Alpine Inn and Playtown Park (There's even a Facebook page entitled "I tossed my cookies at Playtown Park.")
Sure, I too have my share of memories there. The tea cups and roller coaster were my favorites at Playtown Park. What kid didn't love to go to that local, fun mini-amusement park, where Kohl's now stands? I also have my share of memories at The Alpine Inn, later September's Place. I attended weddings and other big events, as well as my very first class reunion from Archbishop Prendergast there.
The Golden Mile holds many other memories for me as well. I remember going with my Dad, and later my husband, who bought many cars at Farmer Dick Barone. I remember going to Block Distributors, which was a big deal when it opened, the first of the "catalogue" jewelry stores in this area. I remember getting my first Barbie Doll at Kiddie City, taking my children to Celebration Station (forerunner of Chuck E. Cheese), and going to other places like Charlie's Hamburgers, the R-Way Diner, Penn Fruit, Gino's, Ferraro Cadillac, Strawbridge & Clothier (Was there ever a store since that came remotely close to this one in service and quality?) and Food Fair.
Hey, I know things change. In recent decades, we've seen not only the Bazaar of all Nations' demise, but we've watched Donut Land, the Knights of Columbus DeLaSalle Post, Bruster's, I.Goldberg's Army and Navy, Mr. T's (Green Valley Motor Lodge), Drexel Hill Furniture, Toys R Us, Bob's Big Boy, and numerous other landmarks go, while Swiss Farms, Zinni's, the $2.49 dry cleaners, Michael's, Red Lobster, Chic-fil-A, Acme, Home Depot, Famous Dave's, Best Buy, Party City, Babies R Us, Central Park, Burlington Coat Factory, the Springfield Diner, Target, CVS and many more new businesses arrived on the scene. And then there's the handful of businesses that have weathered the storms and hung in there through several generations and a myriad of changes, still gracing the landscape of Baltimore Pike.
According to Wikipedia, the Golden Mile in Springfield is defined like this: "At the beginning of the 20th century Springfield's Baltimore Pike had become one of the busiest commercial areas outside of Philadelphia. The strip of Baltimore Pike in Springfield became known as "The Golden Mile." The Golden Mile is a unique corridor that is essentially a compact commercial strip that cuts directly through an established residential area on both sides. Lifelong residents of the community are currently pushing to improve the cluttered and dangerous Golden Mile, through the implementation of green initiatives, responsible traffic planning and zoning improvements."
The locally produced documentary The Golden Mile has begun pre-production. From White Lyte Productions, the same team that produced Bazaar of All Nations in 2010, the film will focus on The Golden Mile and the film team is seeking any old photos, advertisements, or video footage of this area that the public may wish to contribute to the film. The team wants to talk with any residents who lived near the Golden Mile, worked at or owned its businesses — basically, anyone with interesting stories about that famous stretch of Baltimore Pike that they want to share.
Patrick, Melissa and Brendan did an awesome job on the Bazaar film. If you love Delco, as I do, you couldn't help but get pumped over the memories and history in that documentary. Some parts of the film were as nostalgic and heart-warming as if watching a home movie of your childhood years. I am sure The Golden Mile will rekindle some of those same golden memories! There's nothing like getting brought back to the wonder years of decades gone by to make you feel good and put a smile on your face. And it's comforting to know those memories — "our" memories — are being preserved and presented in an orderly fashion for generations to come. After all, if you live or work in Delco, this is "our story."
If you have stories, photos, film or memories to share and want to help to tell "our story," e-mail the film team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 484-589-0509. For more information visit www.whitelyteproductions.com.
Delco News Network will keep you posted on the film's progress. Somehow, I have a sneaky suspicion that Delaware County residents are in for another treat!
Readers can e-mail Peg DeGrassa at pdegrassa@ delconewsnetwork.com or write her c/o DCNN, 1914 Parker Ave., Holmes, PA 19043.