Posted July 3, 2014

'Funeral for a Home' leads to continued community engagement

Betsy Manning
Video Production: Gina Benigno

The final days of a vacant house in Mantua marked the beginning of continued improvement in that West Philadelphia neighborhood. 

In May, the yearlong collaboration—among Temple Contemporary, the Exhibitions and Public Programs Department of Temple’s Tyler School of Art; the Mantua Civic Association; DB4, a Mantua community organization; the Hub Coalition; the People's Emergency Center; and numerous other civic organizations—ended with a full-scale funeral designed to honor the city’s forgotten homes.

Called “Funeral for a Home,” the community history, art and engagement project culminated in the celebration of the life of a single Philadelphia rowhouse—before it was demolished.

“This project gives us a moment to reflect on these houses and also reflect on the lives that have been shared in those homes,” said Robert Blackson, director of exhibitions and public programs at Temple Contemporary.

Once home to Irish immigrants, an African American seamstress and her only son and eventually squatters, the house was an example of the population shifts in Philadelphia during the turn of the century.

“When you think back to perhaps the house you grew up in, or a bedroom that was important to you, there’s an emotional tie to that place and to those four walls,” said Blackson. “I feel that most of us have cared at one point or another for those places that they’ve lived in.”

Designed by local artists Billy Dufala, Steven Dufala, and Jacob Hellman to reflect the cultural customs of the Mantua community, the final funeral included a full eulogy delivered by Pastor Harry Moore Sr. of Mantua’s Mount Olive Baptist Church, remarks from neighbors and music provided by the Mount Olive Church choir.

When the funeral ended, families and friends sat down at long tables to share a meal and discuss the future of the neighborhood.

Although 3711 Melon St. is no longer a part of the neighborhood landscape, its memory will live on through Temple Contemporary’s ongoing work to help community leaders continue to redevelop Mantua.

Temple graduate student Patrick Grossi, lead historian and project manager for “Funeral for a Home,” plans to continue his work in Mantua. Thanks to a grant to Temple Contemporary, Grossi recently received funding through the Samuel S. Fels Fund Summer 2014 Internship in Community Service to create a preservation plan that will help support the existing Mantua Transformation Plan.

Over the summer, Grossi will work with local community development organizations to secure funding needed to create new infrastructure in the area and develop long-term revitalization goals.

One thing Grossi has his eye on is green space. “There’s a pocket park at 34th and Brandywine Streets that neighbors would like to see revitalized, but they haven’t had an opportunity to do so in recent years,” he said. “It’s a small space, but it’s conveniently located and could be better utilized by the community.”