Lancaster Avenue: Community Discusses Future Of Community Landmark

Everyone’s seen it. Just a block into the Lancaster Avenue Commercial Corridor stands a sizable, brick red facade. Inside lay remnants of a rich past that most would never know. This structure, Hawthorne Hall, has been standing since the 1800s and has been vacant since 2010. Last month, local residents and interested parties from around the city came together to discuss potential uses of the building, located at 3849 Lancaster Ave. 

Norman O'Neill explores Hawthorne Hall.
Norman O’Neill explores Hawthorne Hall.

Scheduled tours were hosted by Gray Area, a nine-month long experiment comprised of a group of preservationists, architects and concerned volunteers in the Philadelphia area. The team encouraged a public discussion about how Hawthorne Hall could be renovated and used for the betterment of the Lancaster community. As a way of inspiring the public forum, Gray Area used the tours to educate the public about the vibrant past of Hawthorne Hall. People who attended were encouraged to take the tour, to walk freely around the space and to suggest new ideas for the 9,000 square foot structure.

The open house attracted 87 people, which project director Elise Vider considered a great turnout.

“People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and the local community development corporation are both the building’s owner and an active partner in the Gray Area project,” Vider explained. “Revitalization of Lancaster Avenue as a commercial corridor is a major priority for them and they work closely with local businesses and residents.”

Part of the 2013 art installment created by The Rabid Hands Art Collective, this structure takes up most of the top floor.
Part of the 2013 art installment created by The Rabid Hands Art Collective, this structure takes up most of the top floor.

PEC board member, George Stevens, was pleased with the event.

“I thought Gray Area did a good job as far as educating the public,” said Stevens. “Lancaster Avenue is changing and it’s for the better.”

The hall itself was built in 1895 and is on both the Philadelphia and National Registrars of Historic Places. It was used by a variety of fraternal organizations, including the Knights of Pythias and the Irish National Forrester’s Benefit Society. The two-story theater and hall space was used for community meetings, dances and even boxing matches. From 1962 to 2010, the hall changed hands to a variety of churches. Last year, the hall played host to an art installment created by The Rabid Hands Art Collective called “Society of Pythagoris.” Pieces of that installment are still there.

The hall is now owned by PEC, a prominent organization dedicated to the betterment of West Philadelphia communities.

Text, images and video by Milena Corredor.

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