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?

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Digging Up Vine Street In Search Of Old Skid Row

Digging Up Vine Street In Search Of Old Skid Row

April 26, 2017  |  Vantage

Public health scholar Steve Metraux exhumes the heart of Philadelphia's Skid Row, buried under the Vine Street Expressway by the hands of urban renewal. > more

Khmer Monastery In Kingsessing Enlightens The Schuylkill

Khmer Monastery In Kingsessing Enlightens The Schuylkill

April 24, 2017  |  Vantage

Dan Papa celebrates the Cambodian New Year with a look at the Wat Khmer Palelai Buddhist temple under construction in Southwest Philly > more

How Franklin’s Grave Became A Monument And Philadelphians Were Persuaded To Like It

How Franklin’s Grave Became A Monument And Philadelphians Were Persuaded To Like It

April 19, 2017  |  Vantage

Nearly 70 years after Benjamin Franklin’s death, public outcry demanding honor for the Founding Father transformed a battered, overgrown gravesite into a popular tourist destination. But the real story isn't at all what we've been told. Join Mark Dixon as he uncovers truth and public deception behind the hole in the wall at Benjamin Franklin's grave > more

A Powerhouse Of Footwork And Fitness On Delaware Ave

A Powerhouse Of Footwork And Fitness On Delaware Ave

April 18, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

On the outskirts of Fishtown, a dance club and rock climbing gym keep spirits high inside an old 19th century trolley car power station > more

Engineering & Architecture Ride The Rails At Athenaeum

Engineering & Architecture Ride The Rails At Athenaeum

April 15, 2017  |  Vantage

An exhibition at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia illuminates the history of railroad architecture through drawings, photographs, and more. Michael Bixler has the review > more

Ghost Station At Art Museum Rises From The Dead

Ghost Station At Art Museum Rises From The Dead

April 13, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. walks us through the origins of the mothballed "Art Museum Station," now being renovated at the PMA, and one man's visionary plan for mass transit in Philly that never came to be > more