by Pete Mazzaccaro

When we talk about the past in Chestnut Hill, we often focus on its buildings.

In recent weeks we’ve published photos from the archives of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society that depict street scenes from as far back as 100 years ago. It’s interesting to see how the character of the neighborhood has changed and been redefined by changes to its buildings. Dozens of books have been published that detail the neighborhood’s physical history. Few feature the names of its prominent citizens.

(A noted exception is David Contosta’s “Suburb in the City,” a history of the neighborhood that includes its people.)

We have institutions that are dedicated to preserving the neighborhood’s character, from the Chestnut Hill Historical Society to the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Streetscape Committee. Our zoning committees are also, in part, charged with the same. No zoning change comes without consideration for the building’s past. The state and well being of Chestnut Hill’s historical buildings are of the utmost priority for many of its residents.

What is less a part of our conversation about Chestnut Hill’s past is its people.

This came to mind last week when news arrived that Frank Salemno, a man who had been cutting hair on Germantown Avenue for 75 years(!) had closed his shop to retire. In recognition of that, news of his retirement is the front-page story.

Why front page? Not everyone in Chestnut Hill knew Salemno. His clients were only (or mostly, anyway) men. And not all men are into old-fashioned barber shop cuts that cost well under $20.

But Salemno’s barbering career dates back before most Chestnut Hill residents were born. That, in and of itself, is reason to take a moment to recognize the man and what he accomplished, even if it was just opening up the shop doors and turning on the lights. Not everyone does that for 75 years.

And with Frank’s retirement, it’s clear that a piece of Chestnut Hill is lost – faded into the past – like many of Chestnut Hill’s prominent citizens before him. His building will remain, but it probably won’t be long until the barber pole comes down, the barber chairs are removed and a new shop or office takes its place.

Then how long will it be before most people forget the building was a barber shop to begin with? Five years? Ten? Probably not longer than that. Our memories are pretty short. Surprisingly so.

I don’t want to make it seem as if Salemno’s retirement is a bad thing. I can’t imagine lasting as long as he has at anything. But it’s sad, again, to see something that you’d come to expect as a constant suddenly surprise you by being not so. It’s sad to see another name slip from the present to the past, reminding us that change is inevitable – even change we don’t like.

In 50 years from now, perhaps, chestnuthilllocal.com will feature images of Salemno’s barbershop. It will then look like photos of horse-drawn carriages on Forbidden Drive or ice skaters on the Wissahickon look now: impossible images of a past that we can only imagine.

So cheers to Frank Salemno for a well-earned retirement. The neighborhood will miss you. Even those of us who didn’t really know you that well.