Kentucky Fried Mansion
What Do You Think You're Looking At? #126
This was a building in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, captured on Google Earth in 2018, torn down in 2021:
Here it is a few years earlier!
The inside was not gutted either; it even retained a residential staircase and had an upstairs dining room! Here’s a picture screenshotted from one of the old Google reviews:
I can’t find anything online about the particulars of this case, but the building was probably under some sort of historic preservation; chains rarely do these conversions from residential to commercial structures on their own.
Buildings like this are something like fossils or radiocarbon dating: they allow you to determine that a place was settled at least as early as the building’s build date. And they also tell you what the original landscape looked like. In all likelihood, nobody built a house on a commercial strip; rather, the house is the last little vestige of the area’s previous land use.
As far as I can tell from NETR aerial photos, the house was there in 1948, the earliest date for which there is imagery. At that time, perhaps surprisingly, the area was already quite heavily built up, and the street in question already appears to have been a commercial strip. But this isn’t really surprising, given how close it is to the city. The house, if I had to guess, is from the 1890s-1920s.
But without actually trekking to a county clerk’s office, that information is lost. The official county record for that address, in the online lookup system, is for the replacement building: an AutoZone built in 2022. Most of these record lookup systems wipe the information of a previous building at an address, so those records no longer exist online.
This is an interesting small way in which information deteriorates, and it becomes difficult to tell these mundane little stories about the places we live in. Old buildings embody this knowledge. Records, research, putting together history are substitutes, in some sense, for the real thing.
On the other hand, while I’m on the subject, historic preservation sometimes just doesn’t make sense. Here, from Reddit, is another house-to-KFC, except the grand old mansion was demolished to make way for the dinky little drive-thru building. Commenters noted that the old building had suffered a fire, and in any case might have been impossible to save and restore cost-effectively. This comment, in particular, is 100 percent true:
Someone has to pay for this kind of work, and sometimes nobody is willing to. But when they do—even if it’s a fast food chain—it’s pretty neat.
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