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Towns change, new landmarks emerge

Matthew Loesch, 10, fishes off of Veterans Bridge in March. The Bellefonte waterfront project was completed in August.
Matthew Loesch, 10, fishes off of Veterans Bridge in March. The Bellefonte waterfront project was completed in August. Centre Daily Times, file

Moonlight glinted off Spring Creek, black ripples gurgling past me.

Never had I seen the waters this way.

I was walking along a lit promenade, out for an evening stroll along Bellefonte’s latest attraction. To my left on the Waterfront Walkway a handsome stone wall rose. To my right appeared new views: waves flowing mere feet away, headlights sliding along Water Street on the opposite bank, amber windows and dark rooftops climbing up the downtown incline.

Glancing back, I took in the full span of Veterans Bridge above me, bathed in street lamps — a vantage point only possible before by wading.

It was my first look up close at Bellefonte’s ongoing waterfront redevelopment project, and I was impressed. The walkway felt reminiscent of the famous Seine River quays in Paris: tranquil by day, atmospheric and even romantic by night.

It’s an encouraging start toward filling a crushing loss a decade ago. When a fire consumed the Bush House along High Street in 2006, the town lost one of its most picturesque corners. I especially loved the Old World charm of the old Schnitzel’s restaurant’s riverside patio in the building’s basement. Tucked into the shadow of the Veterans Bridge, the spot belonged on a European postcard.

All that’s gone forever, but its replacement could grow on me. This represents a bit of personal evolution. I’ve always been averse to change and partial to old buildings, so a historic landmark vanishing struck a double blow. As usual, part of me misses the past, but I also appreciate what Bellefonte has done for the future.

Though it took years, the rubble-filled, razed Bush House site and a decrepit warehouse have given way to a grassy expanse above the river walk. Plans call for shops and restaurants, but for now, it’s a refreshing open space, a verdant neighbor of Talleyrand Park and the refurbished Match Factory. Standing on the corner of High and Water streets, one can see all the way to the Gamble Mill Tavern, a perspective opened up after almost 150 years.

I was prepared to scorn the renewal, to pine for the past and discount the present as an inferior substitute, but Bellefonte has proved me wrong — and not just with the burgeoning riverfront district. To be honest, I was skeptical of developer Ara Kervandjian’s plans to rebuild the fire-ravaged Garman House and Cadillac Building into apartment buildings. I respected his commitment to preventing the sites from becoming eyesores, but could he really create Victorian appearances with modern construction as promised?

He could, as it turned out. Though less ornate as nearby fronts, no surprise there, the facades sport enough architectural touches to blend in with the downtown aesthetic. I have to quibble with a chain pizza outlet occupying a prime Garman storefront, an extraneous addition to a town rich with quality pies and a wasted opportunity for adding something more distinctive to the business district, but that’s another issue. With meeting the challenge of replacing history, Kervandjian and Bellefonte’s planners succeeded beyond my expectations.

I’ve also had a change of heart about the Fraser Centre, which I was sure was going to be soulless monstrosity and a blight on State College’s cozy college town character. Now, to my surprise, it’s not so bad. The Fraser Street stairs, colorful wall mural and prominent clothing store corner entrance add urban style to the block, which has become one of the more interesting downtown sections with its mix of old and new.

I’m not sure whether another of Kervandjian’s projects, the towering Metropolitan building along Atherton Street, will rise to that level and blend with the town as well, but I’m going to keep an open mind. Towns change; new landmarks emerge, sometimes replacing older ones. Only time can tell if they end up being treasured or mocked.

Prejudices can change, too, a nice thought to have while walking on a fall evening beside a murmuring river.

Chris Rosenblum writes about local people, places and events. Send ideas to chrisrosenblum@comcast.net.

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