When planning a vacation near the Atlantic Ocean, a resident of Philadelphia says, "I'm going to the beach." Someone from New Jersey says, "I'll be down the shore." I'm from Philly but now live in the Garden State, so I use the latter expression these days. However, my first trip through the shore towns of Ventnor City and Margate, along the Jersey coastline last year, had me scratching my head wondering where I was and which way to express my location.
As we drove, I asked my husband, "Why do these shore towns feel so familiar?" It was as if I was back in Philadelphia where I grew up, and still loved to visit.
"The buildings here are designed like the ones in Philadelphia." Joe began rattling off examples as we traveled along Ventnor Ave. His specific recall clicked more keen than my foggy memory.
Hardly a building expert, I was floored that I not only noticed the similarities in these small communities to the big city, but could also feel the affinity to them that I had to the urban neighborhoods. It amazed me how architecture reaches out in its essence as well as art form.
The house we rented in Ventnor wasn't a row home, like the Philadelphia ones I had lived in, but had that aura as I sat on the open front porch looking across the tiny car lined street at other houses. I realized after Joe's information, that these houses didn't have to connect for me to get the same Philly feel.
Reading the street names from the truck window as we drove, we had also noticed many of the same ones we remembered from familiar areas of the great city: Wissahickson, Wyoming, Oxford, Jasper.
Joe pointed out true row houses we passed in Ventnor that resembled those in the Somerdale area of the city. Ventnor's two story homes with a balcony on the second floor mirrored Philly's Mayfair and Northeast sections of the city.
My childhood neighborhood of Kensington's sister greeted us with its storefronts, each also topped with an apartment dwelling. The delicatessens and pizza joints made me want to get out at a red light and stroll these reproductions of my youth. The stores also mimicked ones Joe'd seen in Port Richmond and Fishtown. "You're right," I cried, as the originals focused from my past. I almost heard the neurons firing in my head.
Margate's colonial flare ballooned in its city hall, designed after Independence Hall in Old City Philadelphia. Similar to the Mayfair brick homes in the city, these shore ones only told me I wasn't on the other side of the Delaware River because they clearly were more recently built.
The Tudor style houses at N. Haverford and Ventnor Aves. screamed to me that we were in Mayfair. The intersection of Frontenac and Gladstone Aves. teased, 'You're at Frankford and Cottman Aves.' Margate's fire hall could be a newer Philadelphia Firehouse, and its Community Church is a descendent of the ancient Christ's Church at 2nd Street in Old City Philadelphia.
We ventured back to Ventnor for this year's vacation. It was like coming home again. Even our temporary neighbors chatted with each other and greeted us. At night, this friendliness was like sitting outside in the city waiting for the ice cream truck while chewing the fat. And dogs. What city neighborhood would be complete without the occasional barking of a dog? I met so many dogs on my vacation whose owners were as gentle as they were. Were these people duplicated from my childhood city home, like their architecture? I didn’t know, but what I did know is that I wanted to visit again next year.