The story of the little theatre that dreamed of serving the community.
As you may have read elsewhere in our February edition, zoning can be a real snag when an enterprise grows organically, as a labor of love from an unplanned space. This often includes community-centered initiatives, which tend to fly under the radar… until they don’t.
A zoning change begins with a “refusal”, where the City notifies you that you’re out of compliance, and what your options are to proceed. The City then holds a hearing to decide whether your business can stay or not, based largely on neighborhood feedback from at least one public meeting. If you’re lucky, the community won’t have major objections to the new permits you need. If you’re really lucky, they’ll show up with positive comments, and letters of support!
That’s how it all went down in East Falls at January 17th’s Community Council Zoning Committee meeting. Fallser Club founders (and longtime neighbors) Felicite Moorman and Ryan Buchert met enthusiastic approval for their plans for a community space and affordable live music and events venue in the old Falls Theatre building, where the offices of their former software companies used to be.
City land use rules, however, require any “entertainment” outfits on this site to obtain a special exception from the Zoning Board. In a brief, well-organized presentation, Felicite outlined all the reasons why their plans to re-purpose this building would create an asset for the community. The history she included made it seem especially fitting that the space would return, in a sense, to its original use.
Opened in 1914, this theater at 3721 Midvale Avenue has been known alternately as “The Midvale” and “The Falls” theatre. Made for silent movies, it was soon put out of business by the bigger, more modern Alden Theater right up the street (where the bank is now). Abandoned and auctioned off in 1939, this expansive old building at Midvale & Frederick has been a warehouse, a supermarket, a hardware store, and various offices, until STRATIS/BuLogics was acquired in 2020.
For the past year, The Fallser Club has hosted local live music of all genres, and free community Open Mics and Karaoke nights. There’s also been markets, meetings, and film screenings; bingo nights, drag shows, potlucks, and clothing swaps. A fundraiser for Ukraine raised $20,000. Weddings, even! In fact, Ashana Larsen (the Fallser Club’s director), has been on a mission to invite brides and grooms to consider the possibilities their quirky space provides.
“If you’re looking for the ‘pretty princess’ treatment, that’s not what this is,” she told us, “But for the right fun-loving, artsy types, the Club is a phenomenal venue.” The space has a stage, audio/video system, and balcony seating. The floorplan adjusts easily for a variety of seating configurations. Plus a ton of playful perks, like karaoke, party lighting, haze bubbles, acrobatic silks, and a life-size unicorn. 😻🌈✨💃 (You really have to see it in person.)
Despite all these pluses, it’s heartbreaking to know that regardless of its potential as-is, this property is worth much more as apartments or luxury townhomes. Ryan and Felicite are convinced this community-based non-profit model fulfills a needed niche, and now they really need the proper zoning to scale up its calendar and outreach. That’s why they bought back the building in the first place, they couldn’t bear to see it torn down. 💔🏗️
So now what? “We’ve gotten a ton of really touching letters of support,“ Ashana told us. As far as she knows, Community Council is expected to give their thumbs up to the Zoning Board in early February, which usually defers to the RCO in cases like this (unless there are other objections). In the meantime, follow @TheFallserClub and subscribe to the newsletter at TheFallserClub.com.
🤞🤞🤞 Hopefully there’ll be good news soon for live arts and events in the neighborhood! 🎤🎶🎉💍🦄 UPDATE FEB 7, 2024: it’s a win for The Fallser Club! Congratulations on their new zoning. Let the good times continue to roll. 💃💖🌈
Don’t take our word for it! These spontaneous ZOOM comments from the public Zoning meeting speak for themselves:
- I just I just want to say I live right across the street. And being a lifelong Fallser, I think it’s very important to have music in East Falls. And I completely support everything you guys are doing. I’ve had a chance to play a little bit there, it’s an amazing room to perform. So, for me 1000 thumbs up!
- I’ve been to The Fallser Club a few times. Love it. I’m also a proponent for the arts, as well. And I want to attend more events. So I’m in support of the Fallser Club continuing as an entertainment thing. Thank you so much.
- I’m a direct neighbor of The Fallser Club. I’m at 3741 Midvale. I think that the fall of the club has been an incredibly positive impact on the community. I think it actually builds the community up to, you know, to, to do something that rivals some of the well known neighborhoods of Philadelphia. And I love what Felicity and Ryan are doing. So I wholeheartedly support everything that they do. And I think they’re, they’re incredible for the eSports community.
- I am a near neighbor. I live around the corner on Haywood Street. And I found The Fallser Club online and my spiritual community, we do our monthly get-together here, our Sunday celebration. I love the comment “You Belong Here” because that’s how I feel, that’s what we do. It’s just phenomenal. I’ve also been to some other events, the fundraiser for Mifflin School. It’s been a real joy to have the Fallser here.
- So it’s a good venue, it’s a good location, it’s a good community resource. And I’d be surprised if there’s anybody in good conscience, it’d object to having another asset in the Falls. I’m a big supporter, I appreciate your impact in the in the neighborhood Felicite nd and I look forward to the Fallser Club bringing more music and art into the community.