Swarthmore Tiles Need New Permanent Home




03-swarthmore tilesA Facebook post showed a photo of the commemorative Swarthmore sidewalk tiles and asked: “What’s going to happen to them when the Caruso project goes in? Somebody paid a lot of money for them.”

Early in the 1990s, the hardscape on Swarthmore (from Sunset to Monument) was in poor shape. Ficus tree roots had torn up the sidewalks so badly that people were tripping, falling and hurting themselves, leading to potential lawsuits against the city.

Local residents founded a nonprofit, Palisades PRIDE, to not only spearhead a Swarthmore beautification effort, but to find ways to improve the business district’s visual appeal.

Chuck McGlothin and Hal Maninger led a fundraising campaign that included direct donations from citizens and business owners, as well as the sale of sidewalk tiles ($400), antique trash cans with a dedication plaque ($1,600 each), antique iron benches ($2,000 each), trees planted on Sunset ($5,000 each), stone benches ($10,000 each) and antique lamp posts with a dedication plaque on Swarthmore ($12,000 each).

Ultimately, aided by financial assistance from the city, the PRIDE project cost $525,000, including new Chinese flame trees, new sidewalks and a repaved Swarthmore. For their efforts, McGlothin and Maninger were named Citizens of the Year in 1996.

Over the past 20 years, PRIDE has continued to offer naming opportunities and to place additional benches around town, while also landscaping and maintaining several traffic medians (especially Sunset at Chautauqua). The nonprofit currently has about $31,000 in cash and $78,000 in investments.

People who donated $400 (later $450) to place a tile on Swarthmore want to know what will happen to that donation when the sidewalks are hauled away this summer.

To find out if the tiles could be salvaged, the News tried calling the people who had initially installed them. The company is no longer in business.

Next, the News called Precision H2O, the company that made the individual dolphins on each tile. Spokesman Bud Smith replied, “We produced these tiles for quite a few years; it’s sad to hear they will be demolished. I think the only way to salvage the dolphins would to break up the tile around them and try to pry them out or chisel them out. I wish there was a more simple way but they were made and installed with the intent of being permanent.”

According to PRIDE’s website, more than 800 tiles were sold. The News contacted its president, Kurt Toppel, to ask about plans for the tiles, benches and light poles on Swarthmore.

Toppel said on April 12, “Mr. Caruso said he was going to take care of the tiles. He will build a wall with space for 1,000 bricks. They will be one foot by one foot in size. The names or whatever it said on the tile will go on the brick.”

According to Toppel, the PRIDE wall will most likely be installed on Monument, but he did not know if the names were going to face the street or towards the interior of Caruso’s development. “We have not figured out what the wall will look like and Rick has not decided how he’s going to do that,” he said.

Toppel was asked if the wall was included in Caruso’s plans submitted to the City. He did not know, nor does he yet know if the benches on Swarthmore will return to the street when it’s re-landscaped.

“He [Caruso] has to figure out his overall design scheme,” said Toppel, a former Community Council president and a 1998 Citizen of the Year. “I will work to the best I know how to make this acceptable to everyone.”

Caruso Affiliated was contacted and spokesperson Liz Jaeger responded, “Our commitment to P.R.I.D.E. is that we will honor and respect the previous tile donors in the new project. We will replace ceramic tiles on Swarthmore Ave. with bricks on a low-wall featured between the new park area and Monument. The size of the brick has not been determined.

She added “There are about 1,000 tiles today on Swarthmore and all previous donors will get a new brick in the project. We offered PRIDE the opportunity to sell additional bricks so they can raise money and continue the beautification projects in the area.”

Jaeger was asked if the wall had been designed yet, and about the fate of the benches, but she did not respond by presstime.


A sampling of tiles on Swarthmore. Photo: Wendy Price Anderson

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