Rescue on Ridge

A historic designation for a favorite landmark at Ridge and Midvale! 

UPDATE: May 11, 2018:  Historical designation for 4200-06 Ridge Ave aka “The Mason’s building” was approved without a hitch. EFF member Carolyn Card Sutton reported from the Historical Commission meeting there was no opposition from Mark Sherman, the building’s owner, and that the process took all of five minutes. EFHS sent a representative, as well, and several individuals also submitted letters of support.

Does that mean we get a marker? “Looks like have to apply for that separately, ” Carolyn told us. But the big hurdle is over: this building at the heart of our business corridor will now be protected and, hopefully, a fixture here for generations to come.

Original post April 13, 2018:

Last fall’s demolition of the beautiful old “Catfish Cafe” building on Scotts Lane sent local preservationists into overdrive. In particular, the stock green Mason’s building in the heart of our riverfront district seemed particularly vulnerable, with its caving roof and rickety fire escape.

Even more troubling, the building’s owner was the same guy who pulled the trigger on the Catfish, claiming it needed too much work to renovate. Many neighbors have feared that the Mason’s building was falling likewise into disrepair, and would meet a similar fate. But no! Thanks to hard work by Laura DiPasquale Zupan of the Historical Commission, the Mason’s building has been nominated for historical preservation (on a recommendation thru Philadelphia 2035 Lower Northwest plan). 

Laura wrote us:

The building has been on our radar for many years, and we finally had the opportunity to buckle down and write a nomination for it. The nomination will be reviewed at two public meetings, which you and any other interested parties are welcome and encouraged to attend (the public will be given the opportunity to speak at both meetings). 

The first is the Committee on Historic Designation meeting, which takes place April 18th at 9:30am in Room 18-029 of 1515 Arch Street (otherwise known as the One Parkway building). That Committee will discuss whether the nomination makes a case for one or more of the Criteria for Designation, and offer a non-binding recommendation to the full Historical Commission.

While the Mason’s building certainly may meet more, the Criteria I chose to focus on are H, I, and J: its significance as an established and familiar visual feature in the neighborhood; its archaeological potential; and its significance as an exemplification of the political, economic, social, and historical heritage of the community. 

The Historical Commission will make the ultimate determination whether or not to designate the building as historic and list it on the Philadelphia Register.  This public meeting is scheduled for May 11th at 9:00am in the same meeting room, 18-029 of 1515 Arch Street. 

Neighbors are encouraged to submit letter of support — you can bring them in person but we welcome them by email, as well. Regardless of how or when they’re received, all letters will be kept in the property’s file with the Historical Commission. 

To stay up-to-date about Historical Preservation in Philadelphia, email me to have your name added to our listserv, where you’ll receive all of our agendas via email (usually ~3 month). People on the listserv also receive updates about the meetings of the Mayor’s Task Force on Historic Preservation, which will operate through the end of this year. 

Laura DiPasquale Zupan
Historic Preservation Planner II
Philadelphia Historical Commission
1515 Arch Street, 13th Fl.

According to the Mason’s building’s nomination, it was built in 1868 for an English fraternity known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. While not technically affiliated with the better-known Freemasons, they two share similar symbolism, values and origins. Here in the Falls of Schuylkill, they shared this “Mason’s” building at Ridge and Midvale, which has also been known as Odd Fellow’s Hall, Prince Hall Masonic Temple, and Palestine Hall.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fraternal organizations were everything and played an important role in American communities — particularly as social centers for community meetings, political rallies, dances, performances, and other gatherings. A program for Redeemer Lutheran Church’s romantic comedy, “Moon Shy” in 1933 is a veritable time capsule of local business with almost 50 advertises including tailors, ice companies, coal yards, shoe repair, hair dressers, and hucksters.

The land itself, too, may also yield information about pre-colonial history and possibly even pre-history — this area where the Schuylkill river meets the Wissahickon creek (and tributaries) would have been a key fishing spot for the earliest Native Americans. The rear part of the property has never been developed, and could offer great archaeological potential.

Read the Mason’s building’s full nomination for more fascinating details about this important historical architecture in our neighborhood:

Send in your letter of support soon, and consider joining us at the Historical Committee & Commission meetings –meet us there, or email us for carpooling info (if the weather’s nice, we may bike down). Looking forward to hopefully celebrating a new East Falls building on Philadelphia’s historic register.

Keep the momentum going with EF Historical Society and East Falls Forward! These two organizations join forces forA Preservation Primer for Fallsers,” a free presentation explaining what neighbors need to know about respecting and protecting our architectural legacy. Monday, May 7th 6:00 – 7:00 pm at Drexel University’s Queen Lane Medical campus (2900 West Queen Lane).

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