On an unseasonably warm day a few weeks ago, I was standing on the front porch of Rory and Suzy Detweiler’s home at 403 York Avenue, and as I looked west from their front porch I was struck by the tunnel of front porches that lay before me. I counted six in a row and then a few more beyond that in the twins that continued down the street like picture frames getting smaller and smaller. In the days before air conditioning and ceiling fans, the front porch was often the coolest room in the house in the summer; it was the Facebook of the time. Looking down the row of porches on York Avenue, I can imagine the conversations and the intrigues going on during the waining summer hours before the advent of television and computers (these homes were built in the twenties). Gossip that would include who had one too many the other night, how much did so and so pay for that house on Columbia Avenue and that contagious laughter and carousing that must have been heard echoing off the porch ceilings and decks.
Most modern housing developments from the sixties, seventies and later have a rudimentary porch that is practically non-functional– enough space for a lawn chair and a door matt but not much else. And even if there was a conversation on the front porch of one of these homes there would be no possible way for a neighbor to hear the details, but that was the design and the allure of the colonial, cookie-cutter homes set on three quarters to an acre of land that drew our parents, the baby boomers, out of South and Northeast Philadelphia. Rebellion against our parents is natural and nostalgia typically skips a generation or two. That is why those stories of grandma eating ice cream on the front porch of her parents’ row home in South Philadelphia on a sweltering summer night while kids played stickball in the street seem so quintessentially American. Lansdale still has the remnants of that era in and on its front porches throughout its avenues and streets. Pull up a chair, grab a beer and stay a while. No need for Facebook here.