Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mailbag 12

More from the mailbag:

Yo...how you doing?

Thank you so much for the great site! I'm born and raised Philadelphian and catholic. I love old churches and I'm so glad that I found your site. I have always said that the city (or someone else?) should have tours that take you to the churches of North Philly, West Philly, etc. because they contain some of the most beautiful architecture in Philadelphia and the area. You have done the next best thing. Bravo!

I must tell you that some people might take umbrage (if you haven't heard it already) that you stated that St. Martin de Porres/St. Columba parish is located in Strawberry Mansion. According to my mother who attended St. Columba's and then Hallahan, she would tell you that she grew up in Swampoodle, not Mansion. The parish that was in Strawberry Mansion was Corpus Christi. By any chance, do you have St. Mary the Eternal on your list of churches? That was the Italian parish of the neighborhood and it was located somewhere around 22nd and Clearfield.

I thank you very much for the wonderful photos of St. Martin/St. Columba church. I have heard about that church and the neighborhood all my life. When my grandmother would cross Judson St, she would look down the street at the church, bless herself, then continue to cross the street. She did it for years- lol.
Keep up the good work and I look forward to your next installment. It is wonderful.

Take care, Melissa Nevin

Who else but a Philadelphian would greet the Project with a "Yo!"? Thank you for the kind words. You've summed up why the Project does what it does--church architecture is usually the best around, because nothing used to inspire artistic achievement like the great glory of God. That is, before costs rose, tastes changed and spiritual builders pretty much stuck their heads up their you-know-what.

Rest assured, Melissa, the Swampoodle debate is something that the Project hears over and over. I initially addressed it here, but let me be more concrete this time around.

Other people can take umbrage all they like, but the fact is that the name Swampoodle died out along with the neighborhood's reputation, and the area is now considered Strawberry Mansion. If anybody doesn't like it, take it out on the Planning Commission, not me. Of course, the people most likely to be offended by this are older folks, and let's face it, they're going to be crotchety about something, regardless of what I do.

(Corpus Christi, for its part, is now considered part of Allegheny West. But let's not go there--that's another geographical landmine that people love to argue about.)

As for St. Mary of the Eternal, the parish closed in 1976, making it one of the first victims of the North Philadelphia Swath of Destruction. If you die out 17 years before the Year of Hell, you know it's bad. A map survey of the area reveals nothing that looks remotely like a church, so it was probably demolished sometime over the past 30 years. Interestingly, though, the school building is still standing. And, judging from the last time I was over in the neighborhood, it's still in use.


  1. Corpus Christi's been gone since 1987.

    That was yet another place they looted to deck out some suburban church.

  2. St. Martha's got stuff from Corpus Christi and St. Ludwig which closed in 1975:


  3. The building of St. Mary of the Eternal is VERY much still there. I photographed it for my book back in 2007 and I drove by the area just a few weeks ago and it's still standing. It's a Protestant church now (forget the name) and the school building is attached to the church building.

    As for St. Martin de Porres being in Strawberry Mansion: Not in this lifetime! With all due respect to your hard work on this site, the Planning Commission and the vast majority of city workers know nothing outside of a three-block radius of their neighborhoods in the Northeast, so I disregard what they say. (Besides, as a native Philadelphian, born, raised and still live here, I give up on the neighborhood name thing. It's too much trouble!)

    1. Yes the St Mary Church is now owned and occupied by a protestant church at 22nd and Clearfield St. Named Jones Memorial Community C.O.G.I.C.

    2. i was reading the 2 above messages and since i grew up there also, who you guys are. i certainly know the name DI Giacomo but i am drawing a blank on donna. also, i dont know the name Green but am wondering who "k" might be. i will look back here to see if you guys answer anything at all.

    3. hi this is andy lanzi do you guys know where I can get a hold of aaron rossi

  4. Another source indicated that the church was actually inside the school building. (Kind of like Holy Angels in East Oak Lane.) That would explain a lot, since none of the surrounding or connecting buildings look like an old RC church.

    Re: neighborhood names, I try to stay away from the debate as much as possible. That said, I still need to try to give it some designation, which is where the planning commission guidelines are often helpful. Perfect? No, since no two Philadelphians can ever agree on neighborhood boundaries. But it's the best I've got.

  5. When I attended St. Columba’s in the 1950s, the neighborhood was known as Swampoodle (some called it North Penn). At the risk of sounding like an officious intermeddler, I'd recommend that you consult Bruce Kuklick's "To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia."
    On pp. 22-23, Kuklick locates Swampoodle as west of 22nd below Lehigh. This would place St. Columba’s in Swampoodle.

    He also maps out the various surrounding old neighborhoods which have the delightful names of Goose Town, Irish Town, Gillie Town, North Penn, Stiff Town, Smokey Hollow, and Paradise.

  6. I grew up in that neighborhood and attended both schools. I attended St.Mary's of the Eternal until it's closing in 1976 then I and several of my classmates went to St.Columba with the rest going to Corpus Cristi. St.Mary's was located at 22nd&Clearfield Sts. which is in Allegheny West and St.Columba now St.Martin de Porres is located at 23rd&Lehigh which is in Swampoodle

  7. Corpus Christi held a reunion at Cannstatter's yesterday from noon until 6pm. Over 190, including myself, were in attendance. They meet annually and are looking for folks from both St Mary's and St Columba to attend around this same time next year.

    Joe (graduate of St Mary's of the Eternal, 1964)

  8. Graduated from St. Mary's and must confess that I do not have fond memories of my
    school days at all. I am 65 and still remember getting hit by the nuns. Exactly why I did
    not send my kids to Catholic school I was afraid to. As far as classmates boy did they like to hit me as well. Fond memories, not at all.