Historic West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center, Conquered By Demolition

 

Last days of the West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center | Photo: Bradley Maule

Last days of the West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center | Photo: Bradley Maule

In Fishtown and Kensington, a ton of construction is putting a new face on life under the Market Frankford Line. Under the el in West Philly, demolition takes it down. With a couple smaller buildings under the 63rd Street station on Market Street already gone, demolition work is currently taking down the West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center (WPJCC) at 11 Cobbs Creek Parkway (formerly called South 63rd Street).

West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center, circa 1940 | Used with permission of the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center, circa 1940 | Used with permission of the Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA

According to Allen Meyers’ The Jewish Community of West Philadelphia (Acadia Publishing, 2001), the WPJCC formed in the early 1920s, and the building followed other synagogue center models, “with space for athletic(s) in addition to social and religious programs.” Architects Edwin Silverman and Andrew Sauer teamed for the design of the Richardsonian Romanesque building, across the street from Cobbs Creek Park.

Silverman, who had previously worked for Horace Trumbauer and Hoffman-Henon, later partnered with Abraham Levy to form the Silverman & Levy firm (active 1925-49), according to PAB. Sauer, whose work primarily consisted of school and club designs, won a 1905 T-Square Club award for his concept of a “Recreation Park & Pier on the Delaware River Front”–a century-old forerunner to the park piers at Race Street and Washington Avenue–proposed for a pier at Johnston Street between what is now Oregon Avenue and the Walt Whitman Bridge.

Same view as above, January 2014 | Photo: Bradley Maule

Same view as above, January 2014 | Photo: Bradley Maule

At the time of its construction, the $300,000 WPJCC was the most expensive synagogue structure ever built in West Philadelphia. Construction began in 1926, and the building was formally dedicated in 1927. A medal commemorated the dedication with an engraving of the building on one side and “a center for all Jewish activities, dedicated June 12-19, 1927 / Sivan 12-19, 5687” on the other.

When it opened a block and a half south a year later, the Walnut Park Plaza hotel and apartment building often worked in concert to host “bar mitzvahs, weddings, and Jewish affairs.” (Meyers.) The nine-story Walnut Park Plaza still stands in good condition and active use as an apartment building.

The Ten Commandments and the Star of David mark the entrance of the WPJCC, currently being demolished | Photo: Bradley Maule

The Ten Commandments and the Star of David mark the entrance of the WPJCC, currently being demolished | Photo: Bradley Maule

Most recently, the WPJCC facility was home to We Are More Than Conquerors Deliverance Ministries, a small church whose sign still adorns the façade, in between ornate decorations of Jewish iconography: Star of David, Torah scroll, menorah, and Hebrew script; the building is crowned by two tablets bearing the Ten Commandments.

In November 2010, King of Prussia-based Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation (PSDC) purchased the WPJCC for $450,000, only $150,000 more than the building’s original actual cost (i.e. it doesn’t take inflation into account). A 2011 plan was presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals to install a “private and public penal institute” and later withdrawn.

A permit was pulled on November 20, 2013 for the complete demolition of the structure; that permit was modified two weeks ago, on January 9th. The property is listed on PSDC’s web site and includes three-year-old site plans of the building currently under demolition, but it makes no mention of plans for the site after the WPJCC is cleared.

Multiple attempts by this writer and Hidden City Daily staff writer Christopher Mote to reach PSDC for more information on their plans after the completion of the WPJCC demolition were unreturned.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



2 Comments


  1. This has reached an epidemic. The Historical Commission not only has no teeth – they have no reason to exist.

  2. I have frequently driven by this building, admired its handsome architecture, and wondered what role it had played in the neighborhood and in the history of Jewish Philadelphia. Now, a part of that history is lost – a photo archive is no substitute for the actual structure. Folks would never tolerate the deliberate destruction of historical documents, or artwork, or artifacts. Why do they tolerate the continued dismantling of our historic architecture, the most public and compelling expression of our city’s history?

Recent Posts
Seduced By Winterfest

Seduced By Winterfest

November 28, 2014  |  Buzz

Blue Cross RiverRink opens for the season today and this year's Winterfest has been seriously upgraded. Hidden City co-editor Michael Bixler has a preview of the city's newest cold weather hot spot > more

In Search Of The Source

In Search Of The Source

November 26, 2014  |  Vantage

As gorgeous a landscape as the Wissahickon Creek carves through Philadelphia, it couldn't possibly begin its journey to the Schuylkill as an inlet from a shopping mall parking lot. Could it? Brad Maule heads to the suburbs to find out > more

Moshulu Renovation Aims For A More Authentic Design

Moshulu Renovation Aims For A More Authentic Design

November 26, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Barque owner getting design-inspiration from Ralph Lauren, Orinoka Mills a go, holiday display tells of South Philly’s days as a celebrity hotspot, and new work rules really are improving Convention Center’s future prospects > more

Philly Still On The 2016 DNC Short List

Philly Still On The 2016 DNC Short List

November 25, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Philly included in the three prospective DNC cities, planning money for Fox Chase trail, apartment complex changes hands amid redevelopment, and East Falls residents debate where to put a dog park > more

The Gilded Mall Of Market Street: Gimbels Had It

The Gilded Mall Of Market Street: Gimbels Had It

November 24, 2014  |  Vantage

Where the great Gimbels department store once stood a parking lot sits today. With the recent rejection of a casino license for the site, it looks like it may stay that way for now. Shadowbat has the story behind this long gone, cherished Philadelphia institution and the development black hole that is left in its place at 8th and Market > more

On Improving Urban-Suburban Relations

On Improving Urban-Suburban Relations

November 24, 2014  |  Morning Blend

Giving thanks for living in a great Greater Philadelphia, developer promises a catalyst for renewal of one South Philly neighborhood, Waverly Court units to double, and a warehouse-to-residential > more