The Landscape of Burk Mansion

After reading Cronon’s prescription for reading landscapes, I re-visited the site of the Burk Mansion at Jefferson and Broad. On my end, one of the main takeaways of that article was viewing landscapes with the understanding that “place-making” is a fluid process that evolves over time. This got me thinking about how the Burk Mansion fits within the surrounding neighborhood – one that features churches, similar older-style buildings, as hopping plaza, and of course, Temple University.

The mansion itself shares similar architectural properties with the remnants of the neighboring church –  a building that after a conversation with the pastor of another nearby church apparently fell victim to fire. Furthermore, some of the buildings directly across from the mansion on Jefferson present as Victorian era lavish buildings. This appearance makes the Burk Mansion, and the surrounding buildings, appear as part of a once affluent neighborhood. This city block has clearly transformed over the years as Temple University has expanded down Broad Street and developers, such as the Sullivan Foundation, have bought up nearby real estate to set up a modern shopping plaza. However, the Burk Mansion remains standing.

In a conversation with Bishop Martin – the pastor of Mt. Olive Holy Temple, a church directly diagonal to the mansion – the story of the mansion and the street it lends its address to becomes more clear. The mansion once served as a childcare center, and local knowledge permits that the university (the owner of the building) may plan to absorb the mansion into its administrative or curricular portfolio. Bishop Martin spoke of how his church has changed locations over the years, a development that has occurred in conjunction with the rapid expansion of Temple University. However, the mansion has remained part of this vibrant and ever-changing street. Furthermore, just to the rear of the mansion on Jefferson stands a row of condemned houses mixed in with active residences. The people I saw on the street range in age, suggesting a mixed presence of the older, more situated demographic – like that of Bishop Martin – and the younger student body that seems to be expanding down Broad. These observations lead me to consider Burk Mansion as a “crossroads” between the vestiges of an older community and a community boasting several expanding institutions, such as and that of the church and the university.

These visual observations and oral communications surrounding the mansion and the neighborhood have both given me some perspective on how the landscape of the Burk Mansion has persisted with this rush of development around it. It also has piqued my interest in exploring deeper into how this building has remained a fixture on this ever-changing city block, and how the building, and the people that occupied or owned it, fit into this evolving community picture that has been painted for me.

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