Lansdowne: Faith in the borough's renaissance is everywhere
One in a continuing series spotlighting the real estate market in this region's communities.
Matt Schultz leads a visitor to open space in front of the Lansdowne Theater's orchestra pit. "Say something," he urges.
The utterance made in reply echoes off the ornate ceilings and walls of the theater - built in 1927, before talkies, and shuttered 60 years later.
"Acoustics," says Schultz, executive director of the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corp., a nonprofit that bought the movie house in 2007 and is raising $8 million - $2.5 million to $3 million more is needed - for restoration.
Those acoustics and a relatively small number of seats have attracted the interest of music promoters, Schultz says - it's an ideal venue, not for a high-priced Bruce Springsteen concert, but for, say, a show by Rosanne Cash.
"Just think of what having 1,300 theater patrons here four nights every week will do," says Schultz, who has lived in Lansdowne since he was 8, renovated a Queen Anne-style twin on East Greenwood Avenue with his wife, Judie, and been involved in a number of community projects, including restoration of the local train station.
Virtually everyone you talk to here has thought about that very thing, and the evidence of their faith in the borough's renaissance is everywhere.
"It's been fun watching the resurgence for the last two decades," says Sarah Fowler, 36, an artist who, with husband Daniel, 33, moved in mid-January into a two-story, Shingle-style house "with a big front porch and a garden in the back" after renting for years in Center City.
They looked to buy in the city, "but nothing big enough was in our price range," says Fowler, who lived here as a teen and is "thrilled to be back."
The Fowlers were lucky to find something quickly - "a couple of weekends," she says - because houses between $275,000 and $400,000 are highly sought after, according to Gloria Carpenter, of Keller Williams Main Line Realty.
"There are 70 properties on the market now," says Carpenter, whose sales team includes her husband, John, and son, Michael. She has lived for years in Lansdowne, where she and John buy and renovate old houses.
"There are typically more than 100 for sale at any time," she says, priced from $60,000, due to a spate of foreclosures in the depths of the financial downturn, to $400,000.
Carpenter describes the property taxes as "healthy," rising about $60 in 2012.
The Fowlers, Carpenter says, are typical of today's buyers: younger families looking for bigger houses at reasonable prices.
Renters, too, are lured by proximity to Philadelphia, especially University City, says Alicia Sherrin, who runs a PR firm from the theater building. That has developers looking at, and buying up, properties.
The Galman Group, for example, acquired Lansdowne Station, where one- and two-bedroom apartments rent for $990 to $1,190.
On a smaller scale, Bruno Ceccarelli, of Pace Property Management in Upper Darby, was the "driving force" behind the decision by son Justin and son-in-law Brian Kreamer three years ago to buy and renovate the Devonshire on Lansdowne Circle, built in 1863 for a president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and subsequently carved into apartments.
"We saw the potential of the property, but hadn't planned on spending so much money so quickly," Justin Ceccarelli says.
"An old house is never done, and a lot of these big old houses are expensive to maintain," he says. "While we have gotten things to the point where we can rent and walk away, we had to deal with a lot of big problems that we never anticipated, and had to do it quickly."
Ceccarelli, who doesn't live in Lansdowne, says its residents are a "little different than a lot of other places in the way they are dedicated to their town."
Schultz says the town is reaping the benefits of what he describes as a change in the "definition of 'family.' " Lansdowne, he says, has become gay- and lesbian-friendly and much more diverse than when he was growing up.
"It was very conservative, but now it is very tolerant, and consciously so, and has become a decidedly arts-based community."
It's still very close-knit. Or, as Sherrin puts it, "I know where every yard sale is."
All that brought Laura Frangiosa, husband Joshua Skaroff, and business partner Brian Flounder to Lansdowne Avenue, where they bought the former home of Doyle's Deli and in the spring will open the Avenue Deli, with Italian-Jewish cuisine.
"Lansdowne is a neighborhood, people are coming here because it is affordable, and we are directly across the street from the farmers' market that draws 1,000 people every Saturday," says Frangiosa. The theater, she adds, "is so mind-blowing and was 100 percent the catalyst for putting 'our baby' here."
Their deli's offerings will reflect her and her husband's ethnic origins, which might also have resulted in a name other than the Avenue Deli, says Frangiosa, who lives in South Philadelphia.
"We sent out a poll for a name, and the best was Matzoh-Rella," she says. "But a name that goofy would be hard to deal with over the long term, especially because we plan to be in business for a long, long time."
Lansdowne, By the Numbers
Population: 10,579 (2010).
Median income: $60,732 (2009).
Size: 1.2 square miles.
Homes for sale: 70
Settlements in the last three months: 20.
Median days on market: 120.
Median sale price (single-family home): $115,000.
Median sale price (all homes): $100,000.
Housing stock: 4,999 units, most large singles dating from the 1880s to 1930s.
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, City-Data.com; Zillow.com; Moveto.com; Gloria Carpenter of Keller Williams.
Contact Alan J. Heavens
at 215-854-2472 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.