(Take Another Little) Piece of Our Past

As new construction goes up, older buildings come down. What can Fallsers do to save our architectural legacy? 

East Falls and Allegheny West lost more than lovely architecture last month: the old “Catifsh Café” had been a favorite meeting place for folks from both neighborhoods since it was built in 1875. Back in the 80’s/90’s, it was famous for big, juicy burgers and the occasional Charles Barkley sighting. And we were so close to saving it!

In fall 2015, local developer Mark Sherman and chef Arthur Cavaliere (In Riva/Foghorn) requested zoning variances from the neighborhood to subdivide the Victorian pub structure at Scotts & Ridge into a street level commercial space with four one-bedroom apartments in the two floors above.

“The Catfish” bar/restaurant would feature classic pub fare with Cavaliere’s signature upscale twists. Seasonal ingredients. Eggs all day. Even a beer: “Catfish Schuylkill Pale Ale” (on tap). You can read the menu online, it’s heartbreaking. They were going to restore the bar, create a terrace. They hoped to open in summer 2016.

Photo by Philadelphia Salvage

But nope.

After a limp effort at renovations (see our pics on Facebook), the building languished and then this fall came the “DEMOLITION” notice. Such a loss! With so much new residential development going up around Laurel Hill (including the cemetery’s own plans for improvements on Ridge Ave), a cool spot like Sherman & Cavaliere’s “Catfish” could’ve been an awesome anchor for this corner. This building was fascinating run-down, imagine how beautiful it would’ve been restored!

Old City is full of replicated vintage-look construction – we had the Real Thing right here. Did you see that bar? Philadelphia Salvage trucked it away (we hear a bar in DC bought it), along with original wooden detailing from the exterior. At least it wasn’t thrown out, but still. Heartbreaking, to see such lovely Civil War-era’s craftsmanship bulldozed from our streetscape. No word yet on what will replace it, but we’re guessing more boxy apartments/townhomes. Goodie.

Catfish’s vintage bar

More goodie, I guess  – Rose Cooper of the RAH Neighbors Association assures us that the community here is totally fine with losing the Catfish. In fact, days before demolition started, she gave us hell about a link to the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance we’d included with a Facebook photo of the building. She did *not* want us to muck things up for this new developer, “You never cared about the Catfish all this time, why do you care now?” And ya know, she has a point.

Allegheny West doesn’t have a historical society – East Falls does. Saving historic properties requires tons of paperwork, and even more leg work digging up the right documents from schools, libraries, government offices, archives… Record-keeping before the 20th century was maddeningly inconsistent, and proving a building’s historical provenance takes a lot of time & effort. Allegheny West can’t afford that luxury.

In areas like University City, Chestnut Hill and even Germantown, one of the services their Historical Societies provide for the neighborhood is preservation. We’ve got historical markers* for the Grace Kelly House and McMichael Park. Penn Charter… Hmmm… Kinda feels like our Historical Society was sleeping at the wheel for this one. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Right now, we mourn an old friend, a lost opportunity, a beautiful piece of our past we can never get back. Goodbye, Catfish. You could’ve spawned a little neighborhood renaissance, but sadly the community wasn’t ready.

TRUE STORY: Anyone can nominate a building for historic preservation! The Catfish may be gone, but our slice of NW Philly is full of architecture that deserves to be saved for posterity. History buffs, get in here!

Learn more about the preservation process at East Falls Forward’s general meeting/social Thursday November 15th, starting 6:30 pm.

Email editor@EastFallsLocal.com to stay in the loop on our local historical architecture, and what you can do to help keep it around for generations to come.

PEEK INSIDE! See our “Trespass Tuesday” Facebook album.

*historic markers provide *no* protection against demolition

I went by and was really sad too. Kimmy Linke Romano

Spent many a Sunday there in the back with the wait staff while my dad got his beer. Great memories! Kathy LB

Entered through the “Ladies “Entrance.” $.75 shot and a short beer.  Bill Gallagher

Our mom dragged us there many a night.  Patricia A Lattanzio

Looks like it was built by 1875 and perhaps the turret feature in the rear was added later? Listed as a dwelling during the early 20th century.   Aaron Bechtel

That figures! They’ll destroy a piece of history like that to build prefabricated dumps that probably won’t last 50 years. Mike Doyle

That tavern existed long before I was born and was a “go to” for a lot of people. It is a shame they couldn’t revitalize it.  Anna Marie Murphy

So sad when old structures are lost rather than restored. Sharleen Deangelis

My great grandparents lived on this exact property in 1880 (which is when the stone wall dates to, not the brick building). My great grandfather was a “fixer” at Dobson’s. Dave Pickard

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