High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Monday, October 6, 2008

For Sale: Fixer-Upper with a Scenic View and a Colorful Past

The Shady Dell is back up for sale.

Tom and Toni Deroche, the current owners, bought the Dell two-and-a-half years ago following the death of then owner Clarence "CN" Foose, one of John Ettline's nephews. (John had 14 nieces and nephews and 19 great nieces and nephews!). The Deroches are now in the process of showing the property to prospective buyers.

Turns out, many of the visitors that stop by the Dell these days are there for a different reason. They are nostalgia seeking fifty and sixty-somethings who simply want to stroll around their old alma mater, soak up some atmosphere, and wax philosophic about their misspent youth.

Although Toni Deroche was born too late to get in on the fun during the Dell's peak years and never went there as a teenager, she knew about the Dell's history before buying the place. “It was a little before my time, but I heard a lot of stories from people with fond memories.” Toni says she encounters plenty of folks who still remember and care about the Dell. “Whenever we speak of the Dell, people say, 'that's where I met my wife/husband!!!’ Anybody that's a little older than me knew all about it--lots of memories.”

Brandon Deroche, Tom and Toni’s son, came under the Dell’s magic spell while residing at the enchanting estate with his band mates. “My son and his band members lived there and practiced in the barn," says Toni. "They really enjoyed it. They had parties and enjoyed the fire pit (place) outside."

Brandon, now in his mid-twenties, shares a fascinating account of the two years he spent in, what I like to call, the "House on Haunted Hill" (haunted by the friendly ghosts of merrymakers from days gone by).

“I moved into the Dell with my former band, the Underwater, in early spring of 2006. I had been to the Dell one time previously when I was in high school (2002), and thought the house was unbelievably cool and unique. Unfortunately much of the remaining original Dell items were sold at the auction prior to us moving in, so we did our best in keeping the spirit alive with our own retro-esque belongings. The goal for me was to recreate as much as possible what the Dell looked like in its heyday. However, due to the lack of pictures, I was only really able to base this off the different stories I'd heard from those that frequented the spot back in the day. From the cable guy, to the many random baby boomers who came by, it seems everyone of a certain age bracket from the York area is familiar with the Dell. The soda fountain, diner area, men's and women's bathroom, graffiti covered barn, fire pit, and even the old Ettline's sign that was used at the York Fair still exist.”

That sign, which once graced the Ettline food stand at the fair, was discovered in the loft of the barn, according to Toni Deroche. As the family searched the premises, there was more booty waiting to be discovered. “Brandon found a lot of old soda bottles, books, a bottle of sherry that was never opened had to be about 40+yrs (we opened it and slowly took a sip--it was delicious!)”

The sherry notwithstanding, Brandon Deroche probably achieved a greater high from exploring the Dell and uncovering what remains of its forgotten treasures – so much so that he now seems determined to, in a manner of speaking, put the Dell back together again piece by piece.

“I would love to gather as many old pictures as possible,” he writes, “in addition to finding out where a lot of the original Dell memorabilia sold in the two auctions is currently located. “My son managed to find and buy 3 framed food pics," says Toni, "like a pic of a pork chop with a cowboy lassoing and handwritten 69 cents pricing.” Brandon picks up the story from there with an exciting revelation. "We were able to find three poster-sized menus from the Dell. Behind one of them was a membership card stating ‘The Shady Dell - A Private Club.’”

That membership card is an important clue to unlocking the mystery surrounding the earliest years of the Shady Dell. As described by an Ettline family spokesperson, the Dell was a well-known York “in spot” even before John and Helen Ettline took over in the mid-40s. It was reportedly an exclusive members-only club – a classy, white glove type of place that offered fine food and drink, live music and dancing. Who were the members of this private, upscale establishment? Movie stars? Presidents? Kings? Password: “swordfish”?

Today, the Shady Dell, like the ancient pyramids and other wonders of the world, is showing its age. As Brandon testifies, “The house is in decent shape given its age, but could use some repairs such as a new roof and an updated electricity system.” Toni sums up the situation by stating, "it needs a lot of TLC and elbow grease...”

In the fall of 1991, when John Ettline pulled the plug on the jukebox and his Shady Dell, Brandon Deroche was merely a child. To his credit, however, Brandon seems to be channeling the spirits of the Ettlines, imbued with a profound sense of the Dell’s importance. “Although it was before my time, I love the Shady Dell and all it stood for, and would love to see the place preserved for years and years to come. I can feel the history of the place just being there, and we definitely created a lot of our own memories.”

Well put, Brandon. I hereby bestow upon you the coveted title of Honorary Dell Rat!

So, what happens now? Who will be the next owner of the Shady Dell? Will it remain intact? Will it be preserved, restored, or even reopened - perhaps as a bed and breakfast? Or, is the writing on the wall (and I’m not talkin’ about the graffiti in the barn!). Will the Dell soon have a date with the wrecker’s ball and go shady side up? Perhaps she has been granted a stay of execution, albeit only a temporary one, by the sluggish real estate market.

Toni Deroche admits that the Shady Dell didn't mean that much to her family when they first acquired it. It was viewed as an investment. Over time, however, the old place has obviously grown on them. The Dell has gotten under their skin, just as it did for generations of young people who hung out there.

“I think we need to have a 'save the Dell' party,” says Toni Deroche. I second that emotion, Toni. Forget politics. This is one party that we can all support!

Have a Shady day!

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