Alfred Burk’s Neighborhood: 1922 to Now

On my trip to the Temple University Special Collections Research Center the outstanding archivist Margery Sly found a 1922 Bromley Company neighborhood map of the Burk Mansion block. The picture below is the east side of that block with the Burk Mansion plot near the middle-right of the picture titled “Alfred E. Burke.” The “e” at the end of his name, I believe, is a typo on the part of the Bromley Company considering all of the other documents related to Mr. Burk don’t apply the ending vowel. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that this was indeed the same plot now located at 1500 N. Broad. Looking at the block that runs between Carlisle Street and Broad Street on the right side of the image, I immediately wanted to find the extravagant red brick building north of Burk Mansion that I mentioned in my previous post. On the map, that building was the “Mercantile Club,” which explains its unique and most likely expensive architectural design. I would imagine that Burk was a member and visited the club often considering his prestige in Philadelphia as a successful industrialist. Along with the Mercantile Club, one can find several other clubs on the block including Moose Hall, the Knights of Columbus, Hibernians (referring to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic only club of the time period), the Progress Club (seen on the far left of the image down), as well as a plot named simply “club” conveniently placed across the street from the Columbia Club. My colleagues found evidence that Burk Mansion has tunnels beneath the building and that Alfred Burk was possibly a rum runner during prohibition. Could the “club,” which was located on the same square block as the Burk Mansion, have been a depository for said illegal liquids? Regardless, from looking at this old map I can imagine this block as a Catholic community enclave for Irish and Italians as well as those of the upper-class.

The second image (and more blurry…I apologize for my unsteady hand) is of the western side of Broad Street. Notice the “Incarnation Prot. Epis. Church” plot on the corner of Jefferson and Broad. This is the same plot now occupied by Mt. Olive and Bishop Martin from my previous post. In my interview with the Bishop, he indicated that this neighborhood used to have several schools including one that torn down and made into a Temple athletics practice field. Mr. Martin was talking about a school that existed in the 1970s, but after doing some Google Mapping, I discovered that the building once housing young minds was always a place of learning. Notice the square block at the bottom left of the image below enclosed by Thompson and Master street on the north and south and Watts and 13th on the east and west. There was a “Public Industrial Arts School” and a “H. Josephine Widener Public School” named after the wife of  Peter Arrell Brown Widener, an American Art Collector and businessman.

After looking at these maps and comparing them to the existing block, one starts to understand the transformation that took place in the space around Burk Mansion. The neighborhood used to be one of wealth, ethnic solidarity, and educational diversity. The still has some of these characteristics, albeit, with Temple having a much larger footprint. Certainly the wealth left, but a new kind of wealth is returning, one with a corporate instead of community tinge.


Leave a Reply