It was so windy on Saturday’s seventh annual Philly Spring Cleanup Day that Germantown Town Hall Collaborative (GTHC) leader Charlie McGloughlin used a box of coffee to weigh down the informational flyers he hoped to distribute.
Sure, some of the donuts hit the ground, but volunteers already a bit dirty from cleaning up the building’s West Haines Street side didn’t seem to mind.
“We found a worm!” a participating child cried, thrusting her spade across the sign-up sheet.
According to the Philadelphia Streets Department, 13,000 Spring Cleanup volunteers across the city in 2013 collected 1,014,540 pounds of trash and 23,341 pounds of recycling.
This year, about 20 Northwest Philadelphia residents of all ages gathered at the Town Hall to rake and bag leaves, sticks and winter debris, tossing piles of discarded bottles and cans into blue recycling bins with a clatter.
‘See the dilapidation’
During the event, McGloughlin stopped volunteers who began to clean the curving front stairs, which are covered with crumbles of white debris from the building’s deteriorating façade.
That’s partly because GTHC only had permission to work around the building, not on or inside it. McGloughlin wanted the steps to stay un-swept for another reason, though.
“I want people to see the dilapidation,” McGloughlin explained, hoping the sight would motivate locals to remain concerned about the empty building’s fate.
A history lesson
A historian originally scheduled to address the volunteers fell through, so McGloughlin mounted the stairs and give a brief outdoor lesson on the site’s history.
He spoke about an original building dating to 1854 which was demolished in 1920.
The current building, modeled on William Strickland’s Merchant Exchange building in Old City (and including a memorial for Germantowners killed in World War I), was dedicated in 1925. It still features the 19th century town hall’s original bell and clock.
The last city office that operated there was suddenly abandoned in 1998.
McGloughlin called it the “rapture room,” because of the sense that workers vanished into thin air one day, leaving their calendars, newspapers and secretary’s balloons behind.
According to the 2013 Hidden City Germantown Town Hall website, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation-owned site is on sale for $400,000. Renovation and conversion costs are estimated at $10-$15 million.
Part of what McGloughlin and his GTHC members want to do, even if they can’t get inside the building yet, is raise local awareness for the building’s plight and keep the ear of any potential developer.
A positive tagline
“We don’t think that Germantown needs another group,” McGloughlin said, explaining why Town Hall enthusiasts represent a “collaborative” that hopes to partner with existing organizations like Mt. Airy USA and Germantown United CDC.
He also said GTHC’s original “use it or lose it” tagline is giving way to the nickname “Hall Monitors.”
“We didn’t want to be negative about it. We wanted to be positive,” the self-described “Head Hall Monitor” explained.
The cleanup scene
Saturday’s volunteers included 50-year Germantown resident Denise McClain.
“That would be nice,” McClain said of reopening the Town Hall someday. “It’s an old building. It used to be beautiful.”
Helping her shovel sidewalk debris into a giant paper bag was Central High School ninth-grader Charles Jackson, who lives in Mt. Airy.
He said he decided to come out and lend a hand at the Town Hall because of an announcement at school.
“I like to help the community,” said Jackson, an aspiring police officer or engineer who also volunteers with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, helping to package meals.
At the corner of Germantown Avenue and Haines St., McGloughlin spoke with curious passersby about the work, and got several new names for the GTHC list.
He said the chance to grab neighbors’ attention was just as useful as sprucing up the outside of the building since the Collaborative wants to solicit locals’ hopes and ideas for it.
The group will be on hand for Mt. Airy Day and is planning a 2014 craft beer-tasting fundraiser (location and date TBA).
The public is invited to three upcoming GTHC meetings at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (6001 Germantown Ave.) on April 23, May 12 and June 9, all at 7 p.m.
For more information about Town Hall activities or to join the group’s mailing list, e-mail Charlie McGloughlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated: This story was updated to reflect the fact that the Collaborative reschedule its April 14 meeting for April 23, and corrected with the street address of FUMCOG.