Preservation

Inside One of the “Coolest” Houses in South Philly

August 26, 2021 | by Stacia Friedman

There is much more than meets the eye at 622-624 Federal Street. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Miles Fischel has lived in South Philadelphia since the 1960s. When looking for his next home in 2001, he had only one requirement. It had to have a garage. Searching for a parking space every night had become a nightmare.

Fischel eventually found the answer to his quest: a For Sale sign at 622-624 Federal Street. The one-story property consisted of just a walk-in freezer and a garage. “It had been a water ice business and previously a butcher shop,” Fischel said. “Before that, in the 1940s, it was a plumbing supply company. I believe it was a originally barn.” The earliest deed for the property is dated 1866. Back then, Fischel suspects that it may have been part of an estate.

An edition of McElroy’s Philadelphia City Directory from the 1800s lists C.F. Iseminger, a plumber, as the owner of properties at 622-628 Federal Street. An atlas from 1875 shows that he occupied the building. | Image courtesy of Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

With tenacity and creativity, Fischel converted the bleak, one-room freezer into a sunny, spacious, two-story home with an upgraded garage. The exterior brick was repointed and the front door custom made. He added a second floor with two bedrooms, an office, two bathrooms, a sunroom, and a terrace. On the first floor, behind the original structure, he added a light-filled, eat-in kitchen overlooking a spacious, 30-by-40-foot garden.

“When I bought the property, the garden was filled with fig and peach trees that had been tended to by a neighbor,” he said. “Unfortunately, blight killed off the trees, but I replaced them with a rose garden.”

A Collector’s Paradise

Most home owners would be flummoxed by the former walk-in freezer, measuring 30-by-16 feet with a 21-foot ceiling, which is now a living room. They might be tempted to lower the ceiling or add a room divider. For Fischel, the immense space is exactly what was needed to display his immense antique collection.

Miles Fischel converted his building’s industrial walk-in freezer into a spacious living room filled with vibrant pieces from his eclectic antique collection. | Photos: Michael Bixler

What does he collect? Um, what doesn’t he collect? Fischel’s living room is filled, floor to ceiling, with a mind-boggling assortment of memorabilia. Large, vintage, French film posters, old clocks, a gargantuan National Cash Register, games and toys, perfume bottles, old film cameras, tobacco pipes, mid-century modern lamps, and, la piece de resistance, a Breyers Ice Cream sign. The overall impression is somehow cohesive and absolutely dazzling.

A modern kitchen opens up to a large backyard and rose garden. | Photo: Michael Bixler

“I started collecting when I was a kid. My parents took me to flea markets, and I bought whatever caught my eye,” Fischel said. The thing is, he never stopped. Even his kitchen is a wonderland of found treasures including a 1940s Formica and vinyl dining set and a huge neon clock. His most recent find? A pair of painted iron chairs that, for now, sit in the home’s entry hall, along with a flotilla of lamps and glassware.

Even the hallways of Fischel’s home command attention. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Where did they all come from? “A lot of it came from a thrift shop that used to be on South Street,” he said. “The French movie posters had belonged to a friend who was moving out of the city, and I snapped them up.” Interestingly, they are not posters of French films, but of famous American movies that were shown in France in the 1950s featuring glamorous images of Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and others. Another source was the flotsam and jetsam left behind by former tenants of rental properties owned by Fischel.

The sunroom on the second floor is Fischel’s favorite room. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Meanwhile, much of his collection is packed away, including hundreds of rock and roll concert t-shirts from Fischel’s former career as a master electrician working at music venues throughout the city. “Kids today are crazy about them because they are all bands from the 1960s,” he said.

Does this mean he is selling stuff on Ebay? No way. Fischel is a true purest. Nothing in his collection is bought or sold online. It is all about the pleasure of the hunt.

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About the Author

Stacia Friedman Stacia Friedman is a Philadephia freelance writer and visual artist who tried New York and LA on for size and came home to roost. Her articles have appeared in WHYY’s Newsworks, the Inquirer, New York Times, Broad Street Review and Chestnut Hill Local. She loves the city’s architecture, history and vibrant arts scene.

4 Comments:

  1. Kathy says:

    Great piece!! I used to live around the corner and always wondered what this house looked like in the inside

  2. A says:

    21 foot ceilings?? Could this be a typo? Looks like 12 feet at the most.

  3. AnJe says:

    The ambiance of this home is inviting and dreamy, love what he did with kitchen and all the vintage pieces incorporated throughout the home. South Philly still is one of the best locations in Philadelphia, Pa. as I am from South Philly!

  4. Joseph Carp says:

    I’ve personally been in this house several times repairing the alarm system. To be honest, these pictures do it no justice. I wish you would have shown the main entrance with the movie posters going up the staircase and the garage and the rear garden. Beautiful home land the owner was always a gentleman’s so a pleasure to work for.

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