Mourners will gather in Philadelphia on Saturday to bid farewell to an old house. The gathering will be a celebration of a life, a “home going,” with drill teams and bands and a meal — all after they’ve carted the shingles, broken window panes and floorboards away.
The house is located in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Mantua at 3711 Melon Street. It’s boarded up, falling down, and scheduled to be demolished. But developers, historians, civic leaders and Temple University’s Tyler School of Art have joined forces to give it a proper send off, to honor the history, decline and gradual rebirth of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.
Interview Highlights: Robert Blackson
On why they decided to give this house a “funeral”
“One of the things that’s remarkable about this project is that, you know, the house is, in a way, so unremarkable. It’s just a small house on a quiet block that, probably like hundreds or maybe of thousands homes now across the country, is scheduled for demolition. And I guess, in a way, sort of, another house slated for demolition in Mantua, isn’t perhaps a news story. But I think what is special, maybe, about this is telling the story of this house and recording its history and talking a little more about the dozens of lives it has sheltered, over what’s now been almost 150 years.”
On what will go in the house’s place
“In a lot of ways, the project, really, is putting private reflection into a deeper historical context. And when we look forward to the future for what 3711 will become, it will be used to make low-income housing for more residents in the neighborhood. As with any college town, you know, Philadelphia has huge universities, and I think one of the things that’s important considering this project and its future is, not only are we taking a moment to record the history of 3711 and the wishes of its neighbors, but it’s also investing into something whereby more residents of the neighborhood, rather than perhaps college students, will be able to continue to afford to live in this neighborhood.”
On whether he thinks it will be a somber event
“I think there will be some sadness. One of the things that’s helped me think through this project is there’s a poet who’s also a funeral director, named Thomas Lynch, and he wrote that, ‘Mourning is romance in reverse.’ And what I think he means by that is you can’t really mourn for something unless you’ve loved it first. And I think part of the strength of this project comes from the fact that, you know, so many of us do love the places we call home. I know that’s true in Mantua and here in Philadelphia. It is the reason we’ve been able to do this project, because people understand, I think here in Mantua especially, what it’s like to say goodbye, over and over and over again, to these simple homes that are on their last legs. So I think that there will be some sadness involved.”
- Robert Blackson, director of the Department of Exhibitions and Public Programs at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art.