Twelve hours in State College

A lot of driving this weekend, from Washington to State College, from State College to Philadelphia, and tomorrow from Philadelphia to Washington—but grateful for the chance to visit Happy Valley when Penn State’s classes are in session and as as summer comes to a close.

I got in late last night, headed to 7:30am Mass at Our Lady of Victory on Westerly Parkway, then headed to the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s third quarter board meeting (which is why I visited town), and then met up with a friend before heading to Philadelphia.

Trying out the iPhone 11 Pro’s new cameras with these photos. Nighttime photos are markedly better. I took the nighttime photos here at around 11pm last night.

State College for six waking hours

I woke up around 7am in State College, Pennsylvania this morning at the Super 8 on South Atherton Street, went for a short run, showered, and headed to the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s second board meeting of the year. It’s hot out, and I left the window of my hotel room open and woke up to the Nittany Valley’s near-muggy air. I love weather like this partly because, whether walking or driving through town or the outlying countryside, you encounter the near-summertime in a sensual way—the scents, breezes, and verdant sights are right there for you, if you’re open to receive these gifts.

After the meeting, I drove to Meyer Dairy to pick up some cheese and lemonade, and then to downtown State College for a short walk. Penn State and State College have emptied out with the end of spring classes, and so campus and town are especially peaceful this Sunday morning:

I like solitary trips like this as both a way to think and as a way to go deep with audiobooks. I’m listening to Wilson D. Miscable’s “American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh” and Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson.”

I drove up from Washington last night for this morning’s meeting, and am heading right back to Washington for a dinner meeting tonight.

February Sunday in State College

After settling in Park Forest Village yesterday afternoon, visiting Mount Nittany’s trailhead, and enjoying Cafe Lemont as evening set in, we joined friends at Otto’s on Atherton Street for conversation and supper. Otto’s Night Owl was perfect; a smooth, creamy Irish stout. This morning I joined other Mount Nittany Conservancy board members for our first meeting of the year, held in the otherwise-closed Centre Region Council of Governments headquarters.

We hit the road in mid-afternoon, making it back to Washington in time for Marymount University’s 7pm mass.

Washington to State College drive

We left Washington, DC about half past six this morning and headed north, taking the scenic route to State College, Pennsylvania from I-70 past Hagerstown and then on along Pennsylvania route 416 to 75 to 522 to 22 to 26. This slightly longer route added about 15 minutes to the length of the trip, but what it cost in time it paid out in terms of scenic beauty: snow covered forests, historic and contemporary barns in every state of repair, winding roads along winding creeks and rivers, and beautiful farmlands broken up by periodic passes through little villages and towns. This wasn’t my first ever Washington to State College drive, but it was my first in nearly a decade and the first since I’ve started calling Washington home.

After a brief tour by car to become acquainted with the town, we headed to the Hintz Alumni Centenaries to decompress in Robb Hall, before walking north on campus and through Pattee/Paterno Libraries to the Nittany Lion Inn for lunch at Whisker’s. Staying in Park Forest Village, here for 36 hours or so.

Penn State Homes Sales

This mid-20th century “Penn State Homes Sales” office has sat on North Atherton Street, just a few minutes from Downtown State College, for decades. I wondered about it when first arriving at Penn State in 2005. In driving by it when leaving State College on Monday I noticed lots of equipment surrounding it, and thought this might be one of the last times I see it if it’s scheduled for demolition. I hopped out of my rental car and took this photo:


I emailed a friend who grew up in the area to ask about it, and here’s what he wrote:

Yes, it was the rental/sales office for what was the mobile home park that existed back there up until the mid 2000s or so. I have a vague memory of visiting my aunt who lived there for a year sometime in the mid 80s… Although it was run down toward the end of its life it was actually pretty decent in the prime of days. There also wasn’t a ton of non-student housing available in the State College area back then either (believe it or not considering the expansion of housing options today).

And here’s a bit from Matt Carroll in the Centre Daily Times a few years ago on what looks like a park that was adjacent to this one:

The last of the North Atherton Street mobile home parks is closing.

Franklin Manor Mobile Home Park is shutting down, according to a letter sent Friday to residents and Patton Township officials. The 22 families that live in the park were informed that they have until Oct. 1 to find new homes.

The park is next to the former Penn State Mobile Home Park, which closed July 31.

Natalie Corman, Centre County Office of Adult Services director, was informed Friday that the mobile home park is closing, and she said officials already are organizing assistance for residents.

Owner Ed Temple, when reached Friday, said the condition of the park’s infrastructure is failing, as are many of its trailers, and that ultimately led to the decision to close.

“This winter was a tipping point,” Temple said. “So many people had failures, frozen-up water lines broke. It just became evident they were just not functional anymore.”

He said closing the park is a “difficult decision.” It was established by his father in 1953, and Temple grew up there.

“It’s been a situation where I had generations of people there — parents and now their children,” he said. “We’ve tried to facilitate it. It’s just come to the point where we have to do something.”

Temple said the park was not being closed to make way for development, but did not rule that out as a possibility in the future.

I hope this little office survives and is repurposed into something more publicly useful someday. It’s such an aesthetically distinct park of North Atherton Street, compared to the derivative shopping centers and hotels that line both sides the whole way north.

Labor Day in State College

Happy Labor Day. I’m in State College, Pennsylvania this morning and enjoying this beautiful late summer day on my friend’s South Allen Street front porch. A view from that porch below, from last week when I was in town, along with some scenes from Downtown State College and Penn State’s campus from yesterday. Penn State has its flags at half mast in honor of Sen. John McCain.

College football season has started, and autumn will be here in earnest before long. Looking forward to what the next few months have in store.

Visiting Happy Valley in late summer

Here are scenes from past few days of travel; first in leaving Philadelphia and driving past the Art Museum where they were setting up for Labor Day’s “Made in America” concert, and the rest from State College and Penn State on Monday night and throughout Tuesday. I worked from the Creamery Tuesday morning before heading downtown and eventually to HIST 197, and it was a great sort of “living nostalgia” getting to enjoy a coffee, catch up on the news, clear my inbox, and just be amidst the fairy subdued early morning bustle of the early fall semester.

After all of this, I headed out of town around 9pm headed toward Cincinnati but decided to stop in Steubenville, Ohio around 1am.

Loving a place

I think the Nittany Valley is a remarkable place, home to not only to Penn State, but also to special communities like State College, victorian Bellefonte, and scenic Lemont, the hamlet at Mount Nittany’s base. Michael Houtz, by the way, captured the heart of the Nittany Valley beautifully a few years ago in this early morning, fog-blanketed valley scene:


I’ve developed a love affair with the Nittany Valley, but I’m not from there—I’m from Bucks County, near Philadelphia. The two places share some similar characteristics: historic in their own ways, filled with farms and woodlands and rivers. But Bucks County has changed dramatically since I was a child. Its population has exploded in a suburbanized, sub-division way at the expense of many beauty places. Today in Bucks County there are 1,034 people per square mile. In Centre County there are 138 people per square mile.

When I wrote Conserving Mount Nittany, one lesson was that conservation only works if people are prepared mentally and financially and communally to protect what they love. It’s why we protected Mount Nittany, but lost Hort Woods.

Too many of the farms, fields, and quiet places of the Bucks County of my youth have gone missing. I’m glad that, even as Centre County’s population grows, it remains a comparatively homelike place to capture some of the spirit of a different time among the old farms north of Philadelphia.

This is one of the reasons I think nostalgia lives in places like State College.

Goodbye, James Building

Penn State administrators plan to replace the James Building on South Burrowes Street in State College late next year. It’s a building that dates to 1920, but it’s a plain building that I think started out as a showroom for cars and I think I’ll be happy to see it replaced by something that will presumably be both more beautiful and make better use of space. Here’s the James Building from Google Street View:

123 South Burrowes- James Building.png

I’ve only ever set foot in there a handful of times. Once as an undergrad to meet with the editors of the Daily Collegian to talk about the threat that a Penn State student affairs administrator posed to free speech of campus media outlets, and another time or two for class or other reasons.

It’s historically interesting to me as the 1995-2003 home of The LION 90.7fm before the campus radio station moved on campus into the HUB-Robeson Center, the student union. I know a number of alumni from that era, and for their sake I’ll be a bit sorry to see this physical site of a brief era in Penn State student broadcasting history depart the scene. The campus radio station was housed one floor above the Daily Collegian, the student newspaper, and a joke from that era was something like, “Visit WKPS, Penn State’s campus station. We’re above the Daily Collegian, literally.”

It’s a building that sits at a remove from the street, and contributes to a deadness along with two other Penn State-owned buildings, two parking lots, and other unremarkable structures on this block of South Burrowes Street. I hope whatever Penn State selects to replace it will revitalize the experience of the street in this part of town, because it could really stand for improvement. Geoff Rushton with details:

The James Building in downtown State College has been home to the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, for the past 30 years. But it won’t be for much longer.

Penn State plans to demolish the nearly 100-year old building at 121-123 S. Burrowes St. and replace it with a new, $52.8 million building that will serve as a hub for the Invent Penn State entrepreneurial and innovation initiative.

According to a request for letters of interest from design and engineering firms, the university anticipates construction on a new building to begin in November 2019 with completion in December 2020. Development plans would require approval from State College Borough Council.

In addition to the Collegian, the James Building also houses Bellisario College of Communications administrative offices and the Media Effects Research Lab. Each of the current tenants will be relocated to a new location, Penn State spokesperson Lisa Powers said in an email, though where has yet to be decided.

“The Office of Physical Plant indicates that multiple locations have been identified for these groups to potentially move into, so the space allocations are still somewhat in flux and subject to change,” Powers said.

The new building is expected to be 99,000 to 119,000 gross square feet, and “will support the Invent Penn State initiative by developing a multi-use Innovation, Making and Learning facility that will become the cornerstone of our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” according to the letter to architectural firms.

It would “maximize the allowable buildout” of the existing site and would include an estimated 29,000 gross square feet for maker and innovation space; 6,000 gross square feet for retail; and upper levels of at least 65,000 square feet for flexible office, learning activity and other spaces. …

On-site parking will be included with the new building, as required by zoning.

According to the OPP letter, goals of the project include developing “a new building in State College that will help create a ‘hub’ of activity and enhance the existing aesthetic and character of the urban site and tie into downtown at the adjacent [University Park campus]” and “to create a well-designed, unique, destination building that functions as a center for innovation and knowledge sharing,” that will serve community businesses, start-ups and students.

The building also is expected to be highly efficient with LEED certification.

The existing 30,000 square-foot, two-story brick building was constructed in 1920 and the university says it and its infrastructure “are at the end of their useful life.”

I’m hopeful. Growing from the existing ~30,000 sq ft to ~100,000 sq ft or more will be a good improvement, I just hope that grace and beauty come with size. And I also hope/expect sanity to prevail and for State College Borough to waive the zoning requirement for on-site parking. There are two enormous municipal parking decks within two blocks.

In Park Forest, and nearby

A few snapshots from a beautiful summer day in State College, introducing Peter Atkinson to Penn State and the Nittany Valley for the first time.

We spent the afternoon visiting with Ben Novak and Maralyn Mazza in Park Forest Village. Maralyn will be celebrating her 91st birthday later this month. Like her husband, Paul, Maralyn has been a pillar of the State College community. She’s an incredible woman with an ageless spirit.

After visiting, Peter and I met another friend and took Hollow for a walk to Park Forest Elementary and the nearby woods. After a power nap at the Glennland Building in State College, we picked up supplies at the grocery store and grilled burgers, dogs, and corn for friends for an evening on the deck. And as the burgers were cooking, Justify became the second Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.

I don’t think days like today can be planned, exactly. They’re a gift.