Wednesday, December 15, 2010

silver spring's long-lost twin

After living in Philadelphia for three months, I've been anxious to find places that remind me of home. In Upper Darby, located immediately west of the city, I've found a time machine back to Silver Spring in the 1980's and 90's, when I was a kid.

Plastic Bag on 69th Street
Upper Darby's business district is strung along 69th Street.

Like Silver Spring, Upper Darby Township had a spectacular rise and fall. Rail and trolley lines from throughout the region converged at 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby during the early 20th century, making it a logical place to develop. The area became a second downtown to Philadelphia, attracting amenities like theatres that once required a trip into the city to enjoy. Yet suburban expansion wasn't kind to Upper Darby, which was eclipsed by newer and more fashionable areas by the 1930's.

Though the area hasn't deteriorated as badly as some parts of adjacent West Philadelphia, Upper Darby's downtown definitely has a lot of unfulfilled potential. It remains the fifth-largest municipality in Pennsylvania (behind Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Erie) and has substantial Korean and Sikh communities, among others.

Hoagie Sign

Upper Darby still has a substantial shopping district. The stores aren't high-end, but you can take care of a variety of needs here, including hoagies. (This charming, hand-painted sign reminds me of one in Silver Spring, though the guy who runs that store is a total jerk and should never get your business.)

Terminal Square Food Court

A block from 69th Street is Terminal Square, a Korean shopping mall. On the bottom floor is H Mart, a supermarket whose Glenmont location we reviewed last year, while upstairs is a group of shops selling everything from TVs to eyeglasses and a nice food court.

101 Trolley at Terminal Square, Upper Darby

Unlike Silver Spring, streetcars still run in Upper Darby. Most of the trolley lines have since been converted to buses, but three routes remain. Two of them, the 101 and 102, serve outlying suburbs and run in the street, like this one.

Sidewalk, Ludlow & Copley
Ludlow Street in Upper Darby.

Jim Dandy, Bonifant Street (cropped)
Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring.

There's just something that feels so familiar about the 69th Street area. Walking around, I can't help but reminded of the older parts of downtown Silver Spring. Is it the signs? The mix of people? The worn-around-the-edges but still charming buildings? I don't know. The excitement of living in a new place is, you know, finding places that are different than the one you came from. Yet when homesickness creeps up on me, I'm eager to seek out any comparisons I can.

Check out this photoset of Upper Darby.

1 comment:

Critically Urban said...

When I was at Penn, I didn't think it reminded me much of Silver Spring. It's colloquially known as Koreatown in the Philly area. Where we would go to karaoke. It reminds me more of Market Street between 6th and 13th in Center City Philly than of downtown Silver Spring.