Look Up! 20th-Century evolution in East Falls

“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

A section of East Falls on Midvale Avenue, West Penn Street and West Queen Lane was designated a historic district in 2009. The 210 houses that comprise “Tudor East Falls” were developed by Michael J. McCrudden from 1925 to 1931. The rowhomes along the 3400 block of Midvale, in particular, have distinct Tudor Revival windows, stone and wood facades, and landscaping that gives them a unique character.

Other sections of East Falls are not without their own distinguishing features, and two buildings are being nominated to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places this week. The Modernist gem at 3419-23 W. School House Lane was built in 1952 by Norman Rice, a colleague of Louis Kahn, collaborator on the PSFS Building, and adversary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally known as the Dr. and Mrs. Jacoby T. Rothner Residence, the School House Lane home was nominated by its current owners. Mid-century architecture is often unappreciated and in danger of renovation or demolition, said Janet Grace, co-owner of the property since 2009. “If you can and you care, I believe you have an obligation to preserve,” she explained. The owners have restored the exterior of the single-story masonry structure and retained the materials of the interior, except for the vinyl asbestos flooring tile. They also plan to restore the surrounding gardens “to be true” to the original landscaping by Rice, who redesigned the beautiful urban green space Fitler Square in 1954.

Grace also worked on the nomination of the other East Falls landmark, Falls of the Schuylkill Library, 3501 Midvale Ave. The library opened in November 1913, thanks to Andrew Carnegie, who funded construction of dozens of libraries in the city. The English Collegiate-style structure has a handsome cuppola topped with a catfish weathervane, symbol of the life that streamed through the Schuylkill and the former falls for which the neighborhood is named.

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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