The First 300

Surburban Square

In 1881, a mansion was built on six acres on Montgomery Avenue in Ardmore for a Mr. Blummer. Two owners later, it was sold to Alan B. Rorke, a prominent Philadelphia builder. He named his summer home, Thorncroft. An 1897 history reports, “George Hewitt was the architect of the grey stone edifice of ample dimensions, surrounded by a piazza.

Mr. Rorke added various embellishments and improvements…a porte cochère…and erected an artistic stable with a red tile roof.”

The next owner, Edward S. Dixon, Sr., upon his death in 1920, left the estate to his son. Six years later, the son sold the house and land to the Suburban Company.

Surburban Square was developed by James K. Stone in 1926. He purchased the property from the Suburban Company in that year for $365,000 and commissioned an architectural firm, Dreher and Churchman, to design a shopping center on the site of Thorncroft. The original plan was to have a bank, post office, food market, small stores, a department store, an office building and a movie theatre. The same building material was to be used for all the structures. There were to be only two tall buildings: a department store and the Times-Medical building. Parking spaces for cars were to be in the center and around the perimeter and on two wide streets with diagonal parking.

When construction began in 1927, a furor ensued. Local residents were concerned about the traffic and the decline of property values. Ardmore business owners feared a drop in revenues, but building moved forward.

In 1931, the center was named Hestobeen Square for three of its developers. Five years later, a contest was held to find a new name and Suburban Square was chosen.

In the 1970s, a street was replaced by an attractive pedestrian courtyard and walkway. At the left is Strawbridge’s; on the right, the Times-Medical Building.
Suburban Square in the late 1920s. Note the early Sunoco station.

Suburban Square was not the first outdoor shopping mall in the United States, but Strawbridge & Clothier was the first major department store that opened a suburban branch…to be followed by Wanamaker (in Wynnewood) and Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor (along City Line Avenue).

In 1937, Strawbridge’s added a separate Men’s Store, across the way, on the ground floor of the Times-Medical building. There are seven floors of medical offices. The Main Line Times was an original occupant.

Recent improvements include additional shops and landscaping that have added a certain European charm.