“Lot 212”: Speculation and Flip, Prewar Style, Part 2 of 2

When we last left off, in 1922, Philip Silverman had just purchased lots 209 through 214 from Sam Seltzer and Harry Feldman. Two years later one of the most curious incidents in 3711 Melon St’s transfer history occurred. On April 28, 1924, transfer of those lots would be recorded four separate times in the span of one day. First, Silverman and wife Fannie transfered lots 209 through 214 to Edward I. Smolen. Smolen in turn transferred the lots back to Seltzer and Feldman, the previous owners, who in turn transferred ownership to Herman S. Levin. Finally, Mr. Levin sold the properties to Anna Flomen (“single”), the first of a series of unmarried women to purchase the properties containing 3711 Melon Street. Why and how five properties can be grouped and sold four separate times in the span of one day warrants some eye-raising. It’s unclear whether any of the aforementioned individuals were business partners or how much they may have profited from each sale. According to the Philadelphia Realty Directory and Service, accessible via the Map Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Branch, in 1928 these homes were assessed at $1,500.

Smolen to Seltzer:Feldman, 1924 (Zoom) Smolen to Seltzer:Feldman, 1924 (Zoom)

Seltzer:Feldman to Levin, 1924 (Zoom) Levin to Flomen, 1924 (Zoom)

Regardless, the carousel of owners continued spinning for a few more years. In January 1925 Ms. Flomen sold lots 211 and 212 to Hanry Landy and his wife Lena. The year 1925 actually marks an interesting year in the dating of the house. Current real estate websites like Trulia or Zillow mark 1925 as the year of construction for 3711 Melon St and the few neighboring properties that remain from the original 1870s row (3705 and 3727 Melon St). Reflected in the building’s design and footprint though, and evidenced by the 1872 Hopkins Atlas, homes clearly stood on those lots long before 1925. There is nothing in the record to suggest a uniform modification to these lots, or a catastrophic blaze wiping out the row. If nothing else, perhaps it’s simply a reminder to take the dates included on popular real estate websites with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, seven years after the home’s popularly recorded “construction,” the Landy’s individually sold lot 212 (3711 Melon St) to the Lanwood Corporation on January 4, 1932. The lot was recorded at 13 feet, 11 ½ inches wide with a depth of 52 feet. Six years later the Lanwood Corporation bundled 3711 and 3713 Melon and sold both to Nellie G. Kelley, who resided at 4015 Lancaster Avenue. Six years later Ms. Kelley then sold both lots to Rose Trachtman and her husband Abe, who one week later sold the single home at 3711 Melon Street to Leona Richardson, a young mother who would live in the home for nearly half a century with her son Roger.

That the home would be subject to such volatile transfer of ownership and a steady transition of renting inhabitants speaks to the stability and care Leona and her son Roger brought to the home in the forty odd years that they lived there. A single mother, newly arrived from Baltimore where she worked as a welder during WWII, and who like so many of her neighbors migrated from the Deep South (Leona’s extended family hailed from Thibodaux, Louisiana), Leona was able to achieve what so many others of her generation aspired to, the symbolic rite of American citizenship through the purchasing and care of a modest, single family home. Whether that dream took place in the Levittown’s of the Mid-Atlantic, the rural communities just outside of Philadelphia’s reach, or the rowhome neighborhoods of South, North, and West Philadelphia, home ownership was intimately tied to the status and amenities of citizenship in postwar America, even while for thousands other, the “City of Homes” was equal parts the “City of Rentals.”

As neighbors recall, Leona and Roger relocated around the corner to 652 N. 37th St sometime around 1990, a home they previously purchased in 1978. From that time forward, 3711 Melon St was occupied by mostly short-term renters until the home was eventually sold in 2011 to a local developer, who in turn sold to home to affordable housing firm and current owner West Philadelphia Real Estate in 2012. Since that time the home has been legally “vacant,” and 3711 Melon had slowly been falling apart. The rear facade is seriously compromised, the kitchen has been stripped of most of its cabinetry and flooring, and there are gaping holes in the second floor bathroom and front ceiling. When the Funeral for a Home team entered the home for the first time late last year, however, it was clear someone had been squatting there and using the home as a quiet, albeit illegal, refuge. The rear second floor bedroom was still somewhat maintained, lovingly depicted below in Jeffrey Stockbridge’s photography. Visiting the house that day was a stark reminder that even though 3711 Melon has sat vacant for nearly two years, and most passersby simply see an eyesore on the chopping block of demolition, for that person 3711 Melon was still a “home,” much the way it was for Leona and Roger, and Marvin and Rosalie, and the McBride’s, the Burgoon’s, and the dozens of men, women, and children who occupied the home for nearly 140 years.

3711 Melon Interior - Rear Bedroom

Second Floor Bedroom, 3711 Melon St, 2013 (Photo by Jeffrey Stockbridge)

Demolition can serve as either a much-needed corrective or a slapdash solution, a painful erasure or a catalyst for positive change. Whatever the case, Funeral for a Home advocates  marrying that moment of loss with a moment of reflection, a recognition of the lives and histories contained within and the personal and civic legacies on view. On June 1, no one will ever again inhabit the home currently standing at 3711 Melon St, City of Philadelphia “Lot 212,” but its memory will live on.