Why local news matters to one of Chestnut Hill's most prominent developers

by Len Lear
Posted 3/10/22

Richard Snowden, one of Chestnut Hill’s most prominent developers and a Local board member, is stepping down from his role at the newspaper. It’s not because he no longer wants the job. …

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Why local news matters to one of Chestnut Hill's most prominent developers


Richard Snowden, one of Chestnut Hill’s most prominent developers and a Local board member, is stepping down from his role at the newspaper. It’s not because he no longer wants the job. It’s because he’s served two consecutive three-year terms, which is the maximum allowed. 

“If not for the term limits, I would definitely continue on the board,” Snowden said. “I'm really enjoying it. I think the Local is one of the most important institutions in the community.”

Newspapers run deep through Snowden’s family story. His parents grew up in Chestnut Hill, seven blocks apart from one another, and they both volunteered for The Cymbal, the predecessor of the Local. 

Snowden was only five years old when his father, Charles Snowden, moved the family to Portland for an editor’s job at the Oregon Journal, where he eventually became one of the youngest news editors in the country. 

“One of my first clear memories is going down to the composing room with my Dad,” Snowden said. “I was about six years old. I stuck out my hand to introduce myself, and this gruff old man barked at me to ask what my name was. Then he turned around, printed out my name on a little piece of linotype and handed it to me.”

Then there was the day his Dad called his Mom and told her to forget about school and instead bring him into the office. 

“There we were, standing at my father’s desk, and here comes Bobby Kennedy coming over to be introduced,” said Snowden, who was just 11 years old at the time. “Ten days later he was dead.”

Father and son joined forces when Richard became editor of his high school newspaper and his father agreed to be an advisor. And when Charles died, the Snowden family founded the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism, an endowment for the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, which has funded more than 250 internships for students since 1998.

Snowden went to Kenyon College in Ohio, which perhaps is best known for its swimming team dynasty, including members of the U.S. Olympic Team. After graduation, Snowden came back to Philadelphia, thinking he might pursue a career in law. However, after spending a year and a half as a clerk at Dechert Price & Rhodes, a major Center City law firm, Snowden concluded that he had no interest in a legal career but instead was interested in real estate.

His first project came along in 1981, when the Anglecot, a historic building designed by architect Wilson Eyre at Evergreen and Stenton Avenues came up for sale. It had been used as a nursing home and was in disrepair. 

“My grandmother was my first investor, and I took the project through the grueling process of getting it rezoned for condominiums,” Snowden said. “It worked out well, so I kept doing it. I loved living on the Avenue, and I loved the idea of fixing up properties there.”

It is in honor of his grandmother that he named his company Bowman Properties, Snowden said. 

“My grandmother and I started the company, and her grandmother's name was Millicent Virginia Bowman, so the name is a tribute to her,” Snowden said. “I also liked the fact that the name Bowman lends itself to a logo with a bowman (a man holding a bow and arrow).”

Bowman Properties has been acquiring and restoring historic properties throughout Chestnut Hill for the past 40 years, developing them with an emphasis on maintaining the existing character of the community.

“Chestnut Hill has the most beautiful collection of building designs of any neighborhood in the city, and so many of those buildings have survived,” Snowden said. “Look at how many architects live in this community. That tells you something.”

And Snowden, who now manages 80 commercial properties and 140 apartments, has a unique perspective on the importance of local news. 

“Unlike a lot of developers, I’m actually in favor of some of the approval processes that we have in Chestnut Hill, because I think they tend to keep the neighborhood intact,” Snowden said. “The Local has, in the past, and I hope in the future, acted as a steward of the neighborhood. It’s been a place where you go to get information about what’s going on, and what changes are coming.

“The other reason I support the Local is that it’s a wonderful amenity for my residents,” he said. I think it’s unbelievable that a neighborhood the size of ours has a full-scale weekly newspaper, especially one that has a 64-year history.”

Like everyone else, his business has been hit by the pandemic, Snowden said. But he feels fortunate, he said, because Chestnut Hill has weathered it better than most. 

“People are seeking Chestnut Hill out, and there has actually been a resurgence of small family-owned businesses in the area,” he said last week. “I am counting my blessings.” 

Really? How many blessings have you counted so far? 

Snowden replied with a laugh, “It's a different number every day.”

For more information, visit bowmanch.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Snowden named his company after his grandmother. In fact, it was his grandmother's grandmother.