In the last two decades, Grove City has made some great improvements. In 1995, downtown was filled with obtrusive street lights and power lines, while recent revitalization efforts have buried those power lines and added period street lamps to complement the architecture. The brick sidewalks and facade improvements make the downtown seem fresh, yet still historic. These are a few of the positives.
However, if you looked at Grove City from let’s say 1930 compared to today, you’d probably be pretty disappointed. Beautiful buildings have been replaced with generic lifeless structures. Once thriving family neighborhoods are now apartments and peeling paint. While many of Grove City’s most historic structures can never be brought back, we can at least try to save what we have left. We need to stop bulldozing history and replacing it with Rite Aids.
First, look at Main Street. Beautiful homes, churches and schools once lined both sides. Looking at the picture above, on the very left you can barely see the corner of a church tower (also pictured below). Beside the church, you have several attractive homes that today would be considered historic and somewhat architecturally interesting. Just beyond the intersection of Main and Center you see the old Center School (also pictured below). Today, not a single building in this picture is standing. Often, something new can be better than something old. But today, the church is a parking lot, the houses are a Rite Aid, and Central School is a McDonalds. Better?
On Broad Street, College View Towers demolished an entire block of downtown (pictured below). Continue down the Main Street and you’ll find gas stations. Country Fair and BP/Marathon took down churches. Rev. Dr. Isaac Ketler, who founded Grove City College, had an ornate Victorian mansion that was demolished on Main Street (pictured below). What stands in it’s place? The old cinder block Rite Aid that now sits empty. While time often brings change, and change is sometimes necessary, the community has the right to say, “Is this what we need, and is this where we need it?”
In the last few months, the newest Rite Aid demolished a large beautiful craftsmen home, along with the old Four Star Pizza building that was once one of the first gas stations in the area. Granted, the building sat vacant for a few years, but it had unique architecture that added character to the busiest intersection in town. The right person could have restored it into something useful, and beautiful. In the right situation, change is the right decision. A hotel was once interested in building on that block, but had trouble acquiring all of the land it needed. While you could more easily argue that a hotel near downtown Grove City could have been good change, can you argue the same about Rite Aid?
It’s important to remember that the most successful small towns are loved for their main streets and not for their strip malls or Rite Aids. They’re also not loved for their giant housing developments. While the first step in Grove City is preservation, the second is restoration. In nearly every case, the nicest small towns are the ones that embrace its history and, when needed, restore it so the houses and buildings will be around for another century. Every year the once stately homes around West Pine, Main Street, Center Street and others fall further into disrepair or are renovated into apartments. And with Center Street being the entrance to Grove City, the first impression is hardly a good one.
While there is no clear answer as to how to make these residential neighborhoods thrive again, we can at least look at what other successful communities have done. Many have embraced walkable neighborhoods. They place more value on being able to walk downtown and historical character, than having a giant backyard and a three car garage in the suburbs. To not have to get in your car for every errand is a plus to many. Could this trend happen in Grove City? Why not? There’s a growing popularity of TV shows that spotlight buying old homes on the cheap, and putting the rest of your budget towards renovating it into your dream home. And this trend isn’t just on TV. If for every person that built a new house in Village Park, another person could be convinced to instead renovate a home in town, change could happen quickly. For now we just wait for that one person, or group of people, that are inspired to make the first step. Then hopefully others will follow.
We can’t replace these buildings once they’ve been demolished. And if they are going to be demolished, we should at least make sure it isn’t for another Rite Aid.
by Alex DeGroff