East Falls House Tour showcases charm and diversity of neighborhood’s residential architecture

On the day that local homeowners opened their doors to the public, Jim Guaneri took the plunge and signed up for Sunday’s East Falls House Tour to glean a few tasteful tips for furnishing his new home.

Guaneri, a sales representative for Hershey’s Chocolate, moved to his house on the 3400 block of Midvale Ave. two months ago after several years living in the Art Museum area. In this short time, he’s been charmed by both the beauty of the neighborhood and the friendliness of its residents: By Guaneri’s estimate, 21 have introduced themselves to their new neighbor.

“I’ve lived in Boston and Manhattan,” he said, “and have never experienced such a welcoming attitude.”

He was joined on his walkabout by Vince Parlegreco and Joel Renik, both from Annapolis. Parlegreco is a landscape architect, and provided much of the contextual commentary for the trio on the five-house tour.

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3100 block of W. Coulter St.

Two homes from this block were featured on the tour. The first house, located on the south side of Coulter, was built in 1936 by Philadelphia Gas Works as a “show house,” featuring both central heat and air conditioning.

As he walked through the home, scanning the eclecticism of art and antiques, Guaneri remarked, “I’m not ready to put my house tour on the tour.”

The highlight of this house is the recently renovated kitchen, which transformed an odd-shaped room into a warmer space with cherry cabinets and black soapstone countertops. In addition, the original wood floor was noted, which was reportedly covered in four layers of tile and linoleum before being unearthed.

Crossing the street, Parlegreco halts the trio to detail the stonework in front of the next house on the tour. “Notice the integration of the stone into the landscape,” he observed. “This is very nicely done.”

This home dates from the 1920s but tour hosts note that it is “very 21st century.” Elements of the “Arts and Crafts” style kitchen were made out of recycled wood and glass. The house is also heated and cooled by geothermal energy, for which a 200-foot well was dug in the backyard. The results are $5 gas bills and a climate-control system that will pay for itself in five years.

More than two decades of East Falls tours 

The House Tour is part of the East Falls Community Council’s Fall Festival, which encompasses a variety of events throughout the month of October.

Mary Flournoy, a co-chair of the house tour, said the goal of the festival is to celebrate the community, because “East Falls is so unique.”

According to Flournoy, the tour began in 1987 and has been a part of the festival for most subsequent years.

Flournoy has been involved for almost two decades, and shared responsibility for the tour this year with two co-chairs, Connie Gillespie and Betty Miller.

“When we first started,” recalled Wendy Moody, vice-president of the East Falls Historical Society, “we thought we would celebrate each aspect of East Falls. This was a way to highlight the diversity of the architecture.”

Flournoy said pre-order ticket sales were brisk, with more being obtained than in previous years. Between ticket sales, docents, and homeowners, over 110 people participated in Sunday’s tour.

“Almost everyone who goes on tour is a resident of East Falls,” observed Flournoy. “It’s a great way for neighbors to see other neighbors.”

“People get ideas for their houses,” said Moody. “And then you get depressed because they have bigger closets than you!”

A little farther up W. Coulter St.

The third house, located on the north side of Coulter St., is set back considerably from the road, and is accessed by a driveway that runs between two houses that are closer to the street. It could serve as a metaphor for East Falls: set back somewhat, and not immediately visible, it offers riches for those willing to delve a little deeper.

“Nobody wants to share this wonderful secret about East Falls,” observed Guaneri. “When I moved here from Manhattan, the realtor that I had didn’t know anything other than Center City.”

“I asked him, ‘Where else is there?’ and he replied, ‘My son lives in East Falls, but you don’t want to live there, so I never did,” he laughed. “Six years later, I eventually got here. It’s interesting, and I guess it’s by design.”

The design of the Coulter house apparently stems from the desire of a lovelorn builder, who located the two houses at the front of his property so he would never see his ex-fiancée, who lived across the street.

Inside, small touches – like the radiator painted the same “Golden Gate” color to match the walls – caught Guaneri’s eye. “It’s one my favorites so far,” he revealed.

Admiring the rear of the house – where a large, yet unique chimney dominates the view – Parlegreco indicated that the home’s elegance stems from the simplicity of its features. “There’s no embellishment,” he said. “They don’t build houses like this anymore.”

A request for more East Falls representation 

After visiting the final homes on the tour – a stately manor with a sprawling yard and a bedroom-sized walk-in closet on Timber Ln., originally built for Benjamin Gimbel of department store fame, and an extensively renovated colonial located on Warden Dr. – Guaneri was already thinking about next year.

“I think my house could do the tour,” he said, specifically citing his kitchen and his master bathroom, to say nothing of the roof deck and hot tub that also adorn his home. “I think it’s tour-worthy.”

“It’s a shame no houses were shown from Midvale Ave., Penn St., or Queen Ln.,” he concluded. “I’ll have to correct that next year.”

East Falls House Tour policy is not to identify the names of owners. For privacy reasons, NewsWorks is not identifying the exact addresses.

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