On Saturday May 31, Funeral for a Home came to a close. The crowds had gathered by eleven that morning, an estimated 400 mourners, the seats were filled, and the vacant knoll just west of 3711 Melon St was filled with Mantuan’s and visitors alike. What unfolded over the course of the day marked a moment of celebration, remembrance, and a statement of resilience in the face of adversity. At the conclusion of the service and a moving eulogy by Pastor Harry Moore, Sr. of Mount Olive Baptist Church, Kevin McCusker of Cider Mills Services delicately removed the floral headpiece from 3711 Melon’s failing cornice and placed it into the ceremonial dumpster. As the excavator tore at the remains of the cornice, Mount Olive’s choir graced the crowd with “Precious Memories,” and all in attendance were certain that they were experiencing a moment they would not soon forget.
3711 is now gone. As Mantua navigates its newly designated status as a Promise Zone, and outside interests become increasingly present, homes like 3711 Melon and the histories they contain will become increasingly under threat. After May 31 however, and a year’s worth of programming, it is clear that Mantua already has good stewards on the ground, has in fact for a long time, and they will continue to lend an active voice in the neighborhood’s path toward progress.
The loss of a historic structure is never easy to stomach, even when it must come down. For 142 years 3711 Melon stood, buoyed by its inhabitants and the care they provided. But with the loss of a live-in caretaker the house, like so many others in Philadelphia and elsewhere, fell into disrepair and its brick and mortar was compromised beyond the point of restoration. What happens next remains an open question, for the plot at 3711 Melon, for Mantua, for a city filled with homes very much like it. Current owners West Philadelphia Real Estate have intentions of redeveloping the entire block of Melon St, and in the interim the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society will maintain its vacant lots. This is a success story, though, in which few blocks can share.
If nothing else, Funeral for a Home offered a reminder that when these houses are removed, a Philadelphia legacy is slowly being removed with them. The city may never again claim to be the industrial Workshop of the World, but it remains a City of Homes. It is our hope that those still standing receive the opportunity to remain, that their inhabitants find a voice in a narrative often fixated on Philadelphia’s colonial past, and that those houses that must come down receive a proper burial in the service of their neighbors, whatever form that may take.
We leave you with a selection of images captured by Jeffrey Stockbridge. For those who were with us, enjoy the chance to revisit the day. For those who were not, this is what a Promise Zone looks like.
Patrick Grossi / Project Manager, Funeral for a Home