In Nod To History, A Crumbling Philly Row House Gets A Funeral 3711 Melon St. in Philadelphia is an old house, but not a beautiful or particularly unique one. And that's exactly why historians and artists want to mark its demolition with a community celebration.

In Nod To History, A Crumbling Philly Row House Gets A Funeral

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This weekend, an old, dilapidated row home will be torn down in Philadelphia. That part of this next story is not unusual. It happens all the time in Philly's blighted neighborhoods. What is unusual is that the row home is getting an elaborate memorial service, complete with a eulogy, church choir and a community procession. From member station WHYY, Peter Crimmins reports on a funeral for a home.

PETER CRIMMINS, BYLINE: The address for the house at 3711 Mellon Street is painted on the stucco in a rough hand. It's right next to a bright orange sign that announces this property is condemned. Sheets of plywood are nailed up where the front door and the ground-floor window used to be. But you can see the upper windows still have lace curtains. I walked around to the back wall with Kevin McCusker. He's the demolition guy.

KEVIN MCCUSKER: It's falling over. Both sides are kicked out. The stucco's holding it up right now.

CRIMMINS: The stucco's holding it up?

MCCUSKER: The stucco's holding it right here in the back. It's ready to fall. This couldn't happen sooner.

CRIMMINS: There's nothing particularly exceptional about this house. In fact, it's kind of ugly. But that's why historian Patrick Grossi, of Temple University's Tyler School of Art, says it deserves a funeral.

PATRICK GROSSI: The louse of vernacular architecture is often kind of hidden in plain sight. When a kind of modest house is being torn down, you are erasing a century of lifetimes.

CRIMMINS: 3711 Mellon was built in the 1870s as a classic brick row house to be rented to the many Irish-American immigrants coming to Philadelphia's powerful industrial economy. For about 70 years, Grossi says, it housed a carousel of renters.

GROSSI: In 1946, Leona Richardson purchases this house. She's a single mother. She worked for a time in Baltimore during World War II as a welder. And then moved to Philly and purchased this home with her infant son.

CRIMMINS: Grossi calls her the patron saint of 3711 Mellon. She and her son lived there for the next 50 years watching their block fall apart around them. When the industrial economy all but left Philadelphia, the Mantua neighborhood fell into poverty and gang warfare.

REVEREND ANDREW JENKINS: (Through megaphone) Can we have everyone's attention?

CRIMMINS: That is the Reverend Doctor Andrew Jenkins who gave a walking tour of Mantua as part of the funeral project.

JENKINS: We had seven, eight and nine shootings at night. There were six major gangs in this neighborhood.

CRIMMINS: Jenkins has been on a decades-long fight to bring Mantua back, battling gangs head-on, sometimes inside their own homes, and coordinating low-income housing developments. The neighborhood is now turning around but it still has an employment rate nearly twice rest of the city. A pair of artists called the Dufala Brothers - Steven and Billy - are coordinating the funeral for a home. They had an uphill fight to get the committee behind the idea of memorializing a demolition.

STEPHEN DUFALA: Early on in the project, there was a sentiment that came up, what - like, what is this project? People were just like, we don't have any tears left.

CRIMMINS: That's Stephen Dufala, who the community that the funeral is a celebration of the history and resilience of the neighborhood. He convinced the Mount Olive Baptist Church choir to perform for the funeral.


CRIMMINS: Dufala learned it's not even called a funeral.

DUFALA: It's a homegoing. Homegoing is probably more appropriate anyway, in terms of looking to the future.

CRIMMINS: Once the house at 3711 Mellon is razed, a local developer of low-income housing will build a complex on the entire block. For NPR News, I'm Peter Crimmins in Philadelphia.


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