York Town Square

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York’s Shady Dell for sale: ‘People don’t like to see their past vanish’

The outside dance floor of the Shady Dell has been turned into a basketball court. The main Dell building is in background. (See four additional photos below). Background posts: ‘Dell rat’ blogs about southside York hangout where owners put out welcome mat.

Last post on the Shady Dell, its owners revealed that the now-closed southside York teen hangout is for sale.
So York Daily Record writer Mike Argento and photographer Paul Kuehnel visited the old site on the side of the hill off Starcross Road in Violet Hill.
Here is what they found:

Tom Deroche stands next to a pinball machine the Shady Dell’s former cafe.

Tucked into the woods off of Starcross Road just south of York is a local landmark, a place where generations of kids spent, or misspent, their youth.
Its founder called it a safe haven, a place where kids could gather and hang out with no purpose other than having a good time.
It was the Shady Dell.
The times may have changed. Music may have changed. But the place remained the same — the barn with the jukebox packed with classic music, the outdoor dance floor and fireplace, the pool table in the main house, right off the soda fountain.
It was an idyllic place for generations. It was a hangout for the kids and grandkids of the people who went there when the joint opened in 1945. It was a constant.
It did have a reputation. A lot of parents didn’t permits kids to hang out there. It was a den of adolescent depravity, they said. The reality was, it really wasn’t.
Time rolled on and the Dell went the way of 29-cent-a-gallon gas. (Yeah, I know, and right here I’d like to say, “You kids, get off of my lawn!”)
It closed in 1991. A lot of the fixtures were auctioned off a few years after that. It changed ownership several times.
The last change of ownership came about 21/2 years ago when Tom and Bob Deroche bought it at an estate sale. Deroche, president of Williams Service Co., a heating, air conditioning and refrigeration contracting company in York, and his brother didn’t purchase it for sentimental reasons. Tom Deroche did visit the Dell when he was a kid, in the early ’70s, “a couple of times,” he said.
He wasn’t a regular, a Dell-rat, so he had no emotional connection to the place. He and his brother bought it as an investment.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but we were planning to develop the site,” he said.
They bought the adjoining property and were planning to raze the Dell and develop condos on the hillside. It is a great location, just south of York Hospital and just off of South George Street, close to Interstate 83. Yet, it is tucked into the woods – kind of like being in the country right on the edge of the city.
The plans didn’t pan out. Developing the site would be a very expensive proposition for a variety of reasons, and at this point, you might have heard something about the real estate and mortgage markets having a little difficulty.
So now, it sits, on the market. Deroche let his son and his band, The Underwater, live in the house for a while. A couple of members still live there.
The listed price is $375,000, which includes the house next door to the Dell and 3.56 acres of prime real estate.
More likely than not, the property will go to development.
Which is too bad because it’s a part of history.
It’s not a part of history writ large – it has nothing to do with the Continental Congress or the Civil War, as far as I know. But it is an important part of a lot of personal histories.
Like Tom Anderson’s.
Anderson, a 58-year-old York native who now lives in Lakeland, Fla., met his wife on the dance floor in the barn. He grew up at the Dell. It was a huge part of his life.
He hung out there in the’60s. At that time, he said, it was fascinating to watch. Kids from all over York County gathered at the Dell, under the watchful eye of proprietor John Ettline, and listened to music – almost all white kids from the city and suburbs and rural areas coming together in appreciation of mostly black music. Motown, Stax-Volt, the Sound of Philadelphia was the soundtrack of that era.
The Dell did have a mystique. Unlike the White Oaks, the teen hangout on the other side of town, the Dell had a reputation. A lot of parents forbid their kids from hanging out there, which, of course, made the kids more determined to go there. “It was kind of on the other side of the tracks,” Anderson said. “But we weren’t all juvenile delinquents. It was kids being kids.”
Asked if he’d like to see the Dell preserved, Anderson, who writes a blog about the Dell, said, “Absolutely.”
“That place has so much history,” he said.
The history is written on the walls in the barn. The graffiti tells the tale. “Brenda Loves Darrell.” “Cindy Loves Darrell.” (Darrell got around.) “Tina & Everybody.”
It is in the fixtures – the illuminated signs over the rest rooms in the main house, by the lunch counter, the still-working stainless-steel soda fountain that looks like something out of “American Graffiti,” the stools at the Formica and steel diner-style lunch counter where Ettline held court, regaling anybody who would listen with his thoughts on the day’s events and inviting discussion from anyone who was available.
The place is pretty run-down. The main house needs a new roof. The barn needs some extensive renovations.
But it is a very cool property. The only problem is cash. Deroche estimates that it would take $500,000 to bring it back to its glory. Maybe some business people with deep pockets, or more money than sense, will buy it and restore. Perhaps WellSpan could buy it and do with it what Memorial Hospital did with the Elmwood Mansion. Who knows?
One thing for sure, Anderson would hate to see it go.
“People don’t like to see their past vanish,” he said. “The past is important, especially in times like these, when we can think back to more innocent, less complicated times when we were all young and foolish.”

The Dell’s pepper beef steak cost less than a buck.

Frozen in time, graffiti remains on The Dell’s walls.

The soda fountains at The Dell still work.
Additional posts on White Oak Park or the Shady Dell:
Just try to resist this memory-tugging photo of White Oak Park.
Stadium will be site of The Oaks music reunion
Wanted: Old photos of teen hangout.
Memorabilia from ‘the Oaks’ hard to come by.
Memories of The Oaks pile up.
Memories of The Oaks pile up – Part II
The Dell: ‘It was like family’.
White Oak Park welcomed Blaw-Knox workers .