Structural concerns shut down the year’s biggest party on a local landmark, while a revered Quaker institution faces neighborhood ire for choosing progress over architectural legacy.
The rumors are true: The Dance on the Falls Bridge has been CANCELLED, EFDC director Kathleen Hogan announced at May’s East Falls Forward meeting. Seems our historic petit truss bridge needs serious shoring up before it can handle those kind of crowds again. Apparently, that dizzying feeling I’d waxed poetic about in my first Dance recap — “the steel girders bouncing with the beat” – was a huge red flag, whoops. The Falls Bridge is not a suspension bridge, it’s not supposed to move. Like, at all.
True story: people dancing on a bridge impacts much more stress on the structure than cars driving over it. Our bridge is safe for traffic, but for hundreds of lively partygoers shaking their groove thangs? Not the best idea.
So the Streets Dept has put a moratorium on events on the Falls Bridge until significant repairs have been made, probably after 2021. No Dance on the Falls Bridge for at least three years. There goes a significant source of exposure and revenue for EFDC, and a unique party that brought a lot of attention to East Falls every year.
No worries! EFDC is working on a replacement. Kathleen informed members she’s in the “investigative stages” of some kind of community event. Probably a daytime thing with EFCC and then something in the evening like the Dance on the Falls Bridge but obviously a lower ticket price, since it’d be the first year. Mid-September, probably. She hopes to have more details soon.
In other news – at the month’s zoning meeting, Penn Charter presented plans to apply for Institutional Zoning and submit a 50-year “Master Plan” detailing a host of updates including new athletic fields, a new school building, more parking, lighting, landscaping, and so forth. They provided some renderings and explained their plan to apply to City Council for Special Purpose INstitutional zoning. EFF chair Felicite Moorman attended the meeting, and recapped the room regarding what she called a rather “contentious” back-and-froth between Penn Charter and The Oak Road Homeowner’s Association.
FUN FACT: The Oak Road is actually named after a specific oak tree planted on a grassy knoll in the middle of the road, close to the entrance to a historic mansion on Penn Charter’s campus called the Timmons House. Careful readers will recall this home was the last East Falls residence for the area’s brewing dynasty, the Hohenadels, who moved here in 1937. The Timmons House isn’t much older, dating to 1901 – but it’s a lovely Colonial Revival that was used for many years as a venue for Penn Charter parties and events.
Recently, the school’s (mostly) stopped using it: the building’s very inefficient, quite hard to heat and cool. And layout is awkward, with tiny rooms and a big driveway no one uses, that’s essentially wasted space. As part of their Master Plan, Penn Charter would like to close off the driveway with landscaping to create a parking lot. And tear down the Timmons House, yikes.
The Oak Road Homeowners Association, of course, feels strongly that this is a bad idea. They’re also not thrilled with Penn Charter’s plans to light their nearby athletic fields for possible night games. From the feedback from neighbors at May’s zoning meeting, Felicite gathers that these community members will likely move to put the Timmons House on Philly’s historical registry, thereby blocking any demo for 30 years.
But just because a building is old doesn’t mean it’s worth saving for posterity. As we learned with the Mason’s Building, a designation requires that the structure is an established and visual feature in the neighborhood, with architectural significance and/or archeological potential or social context….
There are ten criteria that the Preservation Alliance uses to evaluate a property, and the nomination process can be tedious and time-consuming. Certainly not a slam dunk for a building like Timmons House, that’s rather off the beaten track in East Falls, where the neighborhood’s last beer baron spent his final years before selling his brewery in 1953 (and leaving the area soon after).
We cherish our neighborhood’s architectural legacy, and yes ideally we would repurpose all our old buildings instead of demolishing them but realistically a school like Penn Charter needs to be able to change with the times to stay competitive. They are prepared to work with the community to create a thoughtful and respectful Master Plan that supports their growth and mission.
Felicite’s not sure about the whole “SPIn” thing, though. Seems to her that Penn Charter’s plan only requires 2 or 3 zoning variances, which they could probably pretty easily secure with a few community meetings and trips to the ZBA. Institutional Zoning, however, must be sponsored by Councilman Jones for city council to vote on. It’s like a law, which would lock them into a 50-year plan that would likely be quickly outdated.
But EFF VP Ryan Buchert pointed out that with Institutional Zoning, Penn Charter would be green-lit for a whole slew of changes they would be free to pursue on their own schedule, without having to keep going back to the community for input and approval (which adds fees and slows down the progress considerably). For Penn Charter, streamlining their development process appears to be a priority.
In any event — get ready for some fun meetings! Penn Charter expects their zoning refusal soon, which would set them up for a public zoning meeting in June (they’re always the 3rd Wednesday of the month, which would be June 2ost). Follow EastFallsForward on Facebook for info on important public community meetings, including the time/location for June. If you’ve never been to a zoning meeting before, you’ll likely experience some eye-opening revelations and at least one really good “Ah-ha moment.”
Sit with us, we don’t bite! We do, however, tend to film proceedings for documentation purposes so if you plan to participate please be mindful of the camera.
Lastly – scoop on the Trolley Car Café. They’ll be open evenings in the dining room starting this July. Wednesdays and Thursdays will be community days: Thursday would be for kids, with like karaoke and storytime, etc. and Wednesdays will be for comedy shows, performances, and special events. Friday and Saturday they’d have dinner and music.
Oh yeah — CONGRATS to EFFers Felicite Moorman, Paul Furlong, and Kevin Todd for each of their successful runs for Committee Person in East Falls.
REMEMBER: East Falls Forward is the neighborhood’s pro-urban RCO, dedicated to making East Falls a walkable, sustainable neighborhood with attractive places to eat, shop, and do business. FREE to join! Online voting for important issues like zoning, traffic, parking, new business, and more. Over 300 members, since 2015.
Members meet the 3rd Thursday of every month at BuLogics (3721 Midvale) for a community happy hour followed by information and informal discussion about topics affecting the neighborhood. (6:30pm – 8:30pm)