John G. Hoopes

In 1986, the Covered Wagon Inn was saved from demolition — will history repeat itself?

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Timing really is everything!  Over the last couple of weeks, I had been working with Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Michaelle Bond on her Covered Wagon Inn article for the paper.  As often happens in the newspaper world, local stories tend to get pushed back from their initial date of publication. I had just about given up on ever seeing the article, when “Can main line history coexist with a CVS” appeared on the  front page of today’s Philly Inquirer and, as they say in the newspaper world, the story was “above the fold”.

Michaelle did her homework on the article, reaching out to the developer, Summit Realty Advisors, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society and Tredyffrin Township staff. She also spoke with the Greg Caneda, a member of the family who owned the Covered Wagon Inn from 1959 to 1986. Since 1986, the property has been owned by John G. Hoopes of Berwyn.  All parties contacted by Michaelle responded with the exception of Hoopes, who did not respond to her requests for comment.

Hoopes owned Hoopes Realty, one of the Delaware Valley’s largest residential real estate firms for many years. I did a little research on Mr. Hoopes and interestingly thirty years ago, Hoopes had plans to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn. Immediately after  Hoopes purchased the property on the corner of Lancaster Avenue and Old Eagle School Road from the Caneda family, he presented his redevelopment plans for a 9,000 sq. retail building to the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission in January 1986.

Hoopes’ plans called for a new retail building using a mixture of exterior materials, including stone and stucco. One of the walls was to use glass brick and the building was to be topped by a clerestory tower. Hoopes land development plan included the demolition of the Covered Wagon Inn.

According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article dated January 20, 1986, ‘Building Plan Called Junk’, Hoopes proposed plan, which included the demolition of the old Covered Wagon, was called “junk” by several of the township’s planning commissioners.

An interesting read thirty years later, the article states that former Commissioner Robert Rand said to Hoopes, “You’re taking an ‘anywhere USA’ solution to what we think is a unique corner,”

In explaining his desire to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn, Hoopes said, “The building there now is very unfriendly to the public.”  Former Planning Commissioner Chair Oleg Dudkin responded, “What you’re seeing here is a unanimously unfriendly attitude now to what you’ve got!”  He further stated, “There’s an impasse here. That corner is sensitive”.

Thirty years ago, Tredyffrin Township’s Planning Commissioners stood up to Hoopes; telling him that he needed to redesign the plan so as not to demolish the Covered Wagon Inn.  Although certainly dissatisfied with the planning commissioners, Hoopes balked at redesigning and did not pursue his 1986 land development plan, The Covered Wagon Inn was allowed to remain for the next thirty years.

As was the case in 1986, and continues to be the case in 2016, there is no historic preservation ordinance to protect the Covered Wagon Inn or any other historic building in Tredyffrin Township. Will our 2016 Tredyffrin Township officials have the same commitment to preserving our local history as those who served thirty years ago?  We may have an answer to that question soon.

On Wednesday morning, I will join the developer, his attorney and engineer, township staff, a planning commissioner and a couple of supervisors for a meeting to discuss the CVS Pharmacy land development project. Here’s hoping that there’s a solution for the fate of the Covered Wagon Inn.

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