Back when it opened, Neshaminy Mall made history and celebrated it. Now, local musician Hal Aaron wants it to do both again.
While working part-time in the mall last year, Aaron discovered some old treasures seemingly hidden in plain sight: large, detailed window displays just outside the Macy’s. Each depicts a milestone in American history: The Signing of the Declaration of Independence; Washington Crossing the Delaware; Valley Forge; and others. The scenes are created with painted background, props and 10 to 20 expertly rendered figurines.
“They’re beautifully crafted,” he said. “A lot of effort went into it — there’s quite a bit of detail.”
But the settings are dark, and the figures in them frozen in the same spot they’ve been in for years. When Aaron found out that wasn’t always the case, he decided to make 2014 the year they’d be restored to their former glory.
According to Aaron’s research, there used to be a button for each window that, when pressed, would make the animatronic figures inside move as recorded narration explained the scene. The windows were commissioned by Strawbridge and Clothier, the store that originally occupied the spot when the mall first opened. The store’s founding family, particularly George Strawbridge Sr., was a noted philanthropist with an interest in the histories of Bucks County and Philadelphia.
That makes Neshaminy Mall the perfect place to celebrate these events. “People in Bucks County and Philadelphia are very proud of their history, and our role in history,” Aaron noted.
Aaron counts himself as a history buff, inspired by the late Harry Silcox, the vice principal when he attended Abraham Lincoln High School who later wrote columns about the area’s history for years in the Northeast Times.
“I thought, imagine if I could tell him about these,” Aaron said.
And, the mall itself is something of a landmark: When Neshaminy opened in 1967, it was one of the first malls in America, and the largest at the time.
Renovating the windows would be positive reinforcement.
“It can bring even more communities back to the mall. Teachers could bring classes,” he suggested.
It could also be good for business, with more traffic and interest.
“Maybe there’d be less vacant stores here, too,” Aaron said.
Businesses in the mall would be central to Aaron’s plan. His ballpark estimate to restore the window scenes and update them with new electronics and recorded narration would cost between $5,000 and $10,000, and he hopes the shops at Neshaminy would see the price as an investment that could bring more shoppers to their stores.
It’s the kind of work that involves creativity, resourcefulness and networking — qualities he’s bringing to his restoration project. Along with his hopes of class field trips and more businesses, Aaron envisions a kiosk near the windows selling historically themed T-shirts and other items to complement the displays. He’s also got a running list of Philadelphia-area celebrities to approach about lending their voices to the new narrations.
His next step, he said, is to convince Macy’s that the project is worthwhile. Last month, he started a Facebook page to get information out about the project, and also to gauge and cultivate public interest.
“I’m just one guy, they’ll probably blow me off,” he explained about why he wants to approach them with proof that others are interested in the project, too.
But so far it looks like he’s not alone. His “informal polls” of mall shoppers points to more people who would appreciate the displays in all their glory.
“People’s eyes light up when they see them,” he said.
If enough eyes brighten, goes his theory, then he can get the windows to light up as well — and Neshaminy Mall can “make” history once again. ••
For information, visit www.facebook.com/windowsofhistory