based on "Talamore at Oak Terrace" by Dr. James Hilty. Edited for the web site. The complete paper with references is available in our archives
Talamore at Oak Terrace | Early History | Pine Run farm | McKean Manor House | Horace Trumbauer | McKean Divorce Scandal | Pine Run Country Club | Banker's Country Club | Oak Terrace Country Club ~ Wingels | The Old Oak | Slamming Sam Snead | Archdiocese of Phila | Bud Hansen | Realen | Making of a Golf Course | Rebuild 1993-1995
Oak Terrace’s survival was constantly threatened by suburban Philadelphia’s rising real estate market. Horsham Township, after experiencing no growth at all during the 1930s, saw a slight influx of commerce after the war and then a substantial, 200 percent increase between 1950 and 1970. Commercial growth spawned an increased demand for housing. Rising real estate values were tempting, and Harry and Elsie Wingel spoke often of cashing in and selling the Oak Terrace property.
The Wingels had done little to improve either the course or the club facilities, and members were painfully aware of the club’s tenuous status. In 1952, to insure continued operation of Oak Terrace its members persuaded the Wingels to grant them a long-term lease, and the members themselves took over club operations, electing their own officers, taking charge of tournaments, and managing club facilities. Exact terms of the lease are unknown, but in 1964, when Harry Wingel attempted to solicit buyers for Oak Terrace, club president Wallace Stitz told newspaper reporters that the members still had fourteen years to run on their lease. Stitz said that any sale, according to legal counsel, was contingent on the lease. “We feel that it’s a good lease,” said one member. “And we expect to be golfing here another 14 years.”
Oak Terrace scraped by, relying on resident members to take care of small repairs and most of the maintenance around the club. Unable to afford professional services or outside contractors, members contributed their own labor, even to the point of rebuilding the eighteenth green, moving the earth and sculpting and shaping the new green themselves. Bernie Waddell, elected club vice president in 1965, recalls that the members also dredged the pond on the thirteenth hole, painted buildings, and performed other major chores around the club.
Oak Terrace managed to retain its membership in the Golf Association of Philadelphia, and a few members, such as Malcolm “Max” Strow the Temple University golf coach, excelled in GAP tournaments. For several years, the popular Wally Paul served as the club professional and his brother, Pete DePalentino dominated club championships. The club also continued to provide dining and dancing in a convivial atmosphere, as well as reasonably priced golf.
In the 1960s Oak Terrace’s members began drifting away to other area clubs, such as North Hills, LuLu, and two new clubs, Cedarbrook and Squires. Cedarbrook, which since 1921 had been located at Limekiln Pike and Cheltenham Avenue, decided in 1961 to move to its present location along Penllyn Pike in Blue Bell. The new Cedarbrook course, designed by William F. Mitchell, opened for play in June 1962. Two years later, Squires Golf Club opened across McKean Road from Oak Terrace. Built on the 147 acres of rolling terrain that were once Henry McKean Ingersoll’s estate, Squires was designed by renowned architect George Fazio, a Norristown native, who intended the course originally to be available for public play. However, Herman Watkins and a group of investors purchased the course from Fazio for $525,000 and offered a limited number of memberships reserved exclusively for “gentlemen” golfers. Squires’ all-male membership quickly laid claim to several innovative sartorial informalities, including, among others, to be the first to wear shorts on a golf course in the U.S.
Expanding population and commercial growth made Horsham and the area around Oak Terrace highly desirable for residential real estate development. The first successful venture occurred in 1955 with the building of Oak Terrace Farms, a small community of forty-four mostly split-level single-family homes situated on the 35-acre tract once owned by the McKeans and more recently by John Nesbitt. Entry into Oak Terrace Farms from Welsh Road on Oak Terrace Drive is approximately 200 yards east of Talamore’s main entrance and about five-tenths of a mile west of Tennis Avenue. Talamore’s eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth holes are routed around Oak Terrace Farms. To create additional lots for houses the developers of Oak Terrace farms substantially diverted Park Creek creating a flood plain that in heavy rains swells the creek and carries quite a lot of water past Talamore’s eighth and ninth holes, taxing the golf course run-off systems.
Two other real estate development plans, one rather modest and the other quite ambitious, never succeeded. Nor did the Catholic Archdiocese’s plan to use the property for a cemetery. All three plans envisioned expansion well beyond the bounds of Oak Terrace Country Club.
To this point we have concentrated largely on the former McKean estate and the Oak Terrace parcels. Let us now consider the other half of the Talamore property, the considerable chunk (approximately 189 acres) of Talamore that lies east of the main entrance, that borders against Oak Terrace Farms, and that connects through to Tennis Avenue. Today this section of Talamore contains most of the back nine of the golf course, plus a substantial portion of Talamore’s housing stock. By the 1960s this particular parcel garnered significant attention because of its potential value as a residential development. Among those seeking to develop the land were E. A. van Steenwyk and Herbert Barness.
In 1946 E. A. van Steenwyk, founder and first president of the Philadelphia Blue Cross, and his wife, Marion purchased a 70-acre parcel, called “Reddy Run Farm." Once the site of H. P. McKean’s piggery, today it engrosses Talamore’s sixteenth and seventeenth holes and the surrounding homes. The sixteenth green now rests where the "Reddy Run" farmstead once stood.
The van Steenwyks later purchased two adjacent parcels as investments. In 1954 they bought 89.6 acres fronting on Tennis Avenue, which included the site of Rowland Hugh's house and H. P. McKean’s “Cold Spring Farm.” In February 1956 the van Steenwyks purchased 29 acres along McKean Road, being the same 29 acres Elsie Wingel split off from Oak Terrace in October 1954.
Van Steenwyk’s farm and pastureland covered the area that today contains Talamore’s fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth holes and the townhouses on Stoneham Court, Woodbrook Drive, Marsten Green Court, Leamington Court, and Kingstown Court. When Oak Terrace Farms was developed in 1955 on adjacent land, van Steenwyk considered and turned down separate development plans offered by the Fox Brothers of Abington and from James Bush-Brown, the noted landscape architect who lived across McKean Road (opposite Talamore's third tee).
Mr. van Steenwyk died in 1962, leaving his wife and son, John with three mortgages and no real prospects. Pressured by the trust company settling his father's estate to put up the 188.6 acres for auction, John van Steenwyk approached the Montgomery County Planning Commission for advice. Arthur F. Loeben, director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission recommended selling the land for a “cluster development” of an open space residential community. Loeben assisted van Steenwyk in preparing illustrative sketches for a 200-homesite development plan titled "Four Fields" and helped gain passage of an ordinance to permit the development. When details of the plan were publicized, residents of Oak Terrace Farms organized to block the development. The van Steenwyks mulled over and rejected lowball offers from the Levitt Brothers and George Fazio (who proposed a golf course community) and then abandoned hopes of developing the property themselves.
In 1968 Marion van Steenwyk sold the property to Herbert Barness, exempting two parcels from the sale. One parcel of six-acres contained the Rowland Hugh house (next to Talamore's fourteenth green), which the van Steenwyks considered historically significant and wished to spare from demolition. In 1968 Mrs. van Steenwyk moved into the house, remaining there until her death in 1976. It is now the residence of her son, John. Mrs. van Steenwyk sold the remaining ten-acre parcel (919 Tennis Avenue) to the Episcopal Church Foundation, as the site for St. Matthew's Episcopal Church
Herbert Barness (1923-1998), a highly successful, politically well-connected Bucks County developer, also encountered community resistance, and his development plan stalled and eventually collapsed. On August 18, 1969 Barness sold 173 acres to the Philadelphia Archdiocese for $852,990. Ten days later, Elsie Wingel (by then widowed), sold Oak Terrace Country Club (188.7 acres) to John Cardinal Krol and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for $995,000.
Details of the Archdiocese’s intentions are murky. Area residents believe the Archdiocese planned to use the van Steenwyk and Wingel properties as a cemetery and to convert the former McKean mansion into cemetery offices, a retreat house or possibly a convent.
One need not be a geologist to know that substantial portions of the land purchased by the Archdiocese were too wet for burial grounds. A portion of Oak Terrace was on high ground, but two forks of Park Creek meandered through the property, plus other sections contained wetlands and several underground springs. Indeed, the underground springs in the area were so volubly productive that Henry Pratt McKean built a water tower and pipeline to carry spring water over 4,000 feet from "Cold Springs Farm" (next to Talamore’s fourteenth green) to the manor house. In the 1920s Eugene Coho purchased "Cold Spring Farm" from McKean's estate and established the Sunbeam Water Company. Coho’s successful water bottling business drew water from the spring next to the old Hugh house and operated until 1976.
Either the Archdiocese was woefully ill advised about the water problems or they purchased the properties as a real estate investment. No lasting evidence of the Archdiocese’s use of the ground for a cemetery survives today. A few persons say they recall that the Church consecrated the ground and commenced burials, but no markers were erected and no graves were uncovered during construction of either the homes or the golf course.
Still, rumors circulated long afterwards, leading some Talamore residents to wonder what (or who) lay beneath their homes. One day in 2003 Jodi Pollock, a Fulwell Court resident thought she had found a “grave marker” in her backyard. She discovered a cemetery-type stone bearing the name “Donnie DeLaurentis.” Jodi was comforted to learn that the marker was not a gravestone. Rather, it was a tribute marker placed near the old Oak Terrace’s first green sometime in the late 1980s by Donnie’s golfing buddies to honor his memory and mark the spot where DeLaurentis suffered a fatal heart attack. (The marker may also have salved the consciences of Donnie’s playing partners who reportedly delayed their round of golf only long enough to wait for an ambulance to remove Donnie). The DeLaurentis marker, moved about by heavy equipment during golf course construction, ended in Mrs. Pollock’s backyard by happenstance.
Whatever the Archdiocese planned for the property, they apparently were in no hurry, because they honored the lease arrangement with the Oak Terrace members and allowed the club to continue for another ten years, or until the 1978 expiration date declared by Wallace Stitz back in 1964. A few remarkably dedicated members, led by Dick Pierce, continued to run the club, and somehow it survived on a season-to-season basis. Dick Pierce, Max Fisher, Bernie Waddell, and other club officers were sometimes required to sign promissory notes to finance club operations pending receipt of members’ dues. Yet somehow the course remained open for play.
Services and facilities fell into neglect. The manor house was essentially abandoned, and the carriage house became the clubhouse proper. Eventually the golf operation turned to daily-fee play to cover operating and maintenance costs. Following the 1971 season, Oak Terrace effectively forfeited its status as a private club and dropped out of the Golf Association of Philadelphia. Having once aspired to be one of the top private clubs and courses in the Philadelphia district, Oak Terrace now hoped only to survive.
Dr. James Hilty
Dr. James W. Hilty, retired Professor of History and Dean of Temple's Ambler campus, has written extensively about American politics, including Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector (Temple). He has provided political commentaries for various publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and served as historical consultant to various news media, including C-SPAN, NBC News, NPR, and others. A Temple faculty member since 1970, Hilty also wrote the introduction to Marvin Wachman's The Education of a University President (Temple).