The Burk Mansion and its Community

Historical maps contain myriad meanings of the communities and spaces they depict. As modern observers of these maps, we can get a porthole into how a community looked in the past as well as its social makeup. This is ever more relevant to the 1922 map of the North Broad community by Bromley and Co. and its depiction of the community that surrounded Burk Mansion at the time.

This map was produced by a civil engineering firm for the purposes of insurance assessment. They provide detailed depictions of various geographical phenomena, namely population density, urban planning, and the presence of institutions such as churches, schools, and social clubs. In the 1922 map of North Broad, the Burk Mansion sits prominently at the center of a vibrant community consisting of various multi-ethnic social clubs, educational institutions, and mercantile locations. The close proximity of ethnic clubs to a vast array of residential neighborhoods emits the presence of ethnic diversity. Furthermore, the presence of various garages, stores, schools, hospitals, and clubs in the 1922 map indicate a high degree of vocational diversity within the community that housed the mansion of the leather magnate Alfred Burk.

Perhaps the most profound takeaways from this map lay not in its depictions of the community in 1922, but the comparative framework these illustrations provide us as we work in that very community today. For instance, in viewing this community in juxtaposition with this map, we can see that many churches, social clubs, and schools have since been converted into buildings owned by Temple University, private commercial enterprises, or newer churches. Where densely populated residential blocks once stood, a Rite Aid, shopping plaza, and various condemned buildings mark the landscape. The entire community¬†surrounding Burk Mansion has changed since the map’s production in 1922.

Interpreting this change leads me to want to examine the social fabric of this community even further. What facilitated the vast changes in the residential and vocational makeup of this community? Certainly the encroachment of several institutions, namely Temple University, plays a role here, but the explanations for such change must go deeper than that. Furthermore, the map’s depiction of a vibrant and diverse community right after the death of Alfred Burk – the mansion’s occupant – inspires me to probe further into what relationship the Burk family and the Upholsters’ Union had with the ever-changing neighborhood surrounding their mansion.

 

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