TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY EMILY “BIRDIE” BUSCH
I stand inside what was once the home of Louisa May Alcott; then, a Masonic Lodge; and most recently the Cunningham Piano Factory Showroom. The building has recently sold and Cunningham’s is keeping their warehouse space around the corner on East Coulter, but shedding this goliath on Germantown Ave.
A lot of Philly, especially Germantown, is a bit of an examination, however intentional or unintentional, of seeing what happens when things are left to time. Despite the first floors being utilized up to the last few months, the second and third are a time capsule, the other side of the wardrobe through to Narnia. And that’s Philly, the grand theater behind the bodega, the go-go bar under the trestle, the courtyard of surprise horticultural bounty, and onward through to a continued house of mirrors and doors.
I am glad I had this last peek of it in the stillness of a slow, snowy Saturday. Windows look out to Byzantine-esque turrets and turn-of-the-century weathervanes, because it seems in this neighborhood, every block was once given a place of worship and each place was impeccably crafted. You can still take walks and hear a preacher screaming on a Peavey PA through Wissahickon schist walls, a bell tower playing The First Noel, and flutter of sparrows in some old growth shrub, all finding their own sense of spirits in a layered noise track. This city is a grand experiment. My Woolrich jacket is my lab coat and my camera the legal pad taking notes.
The open house for this building was not only a gathering for curious souls but an attempt to raise awareness about zoning issues. The building is currently zoned single family residential and was grandfathered in as the showroom. The current desire of the owner is to create apartments on top floors, retail/restaurant on the first floor. Zoning in general is a wacky territory up this way in the northwest kingdom, and is one of the last neighborhoods in the city that lack a remapping plan. The old Cunningham showroom, in all its dilapidated grandeur, is a case that highlights the tip of this iceberg.
In addition to her writing, Birdie Busch is also a prominent local recording artist. Check out her music here.