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Funeral for a Home – The importance of a symbolic act


The funeral I attended May 31, 2014, was as much symbol as real — a community forum about a neighborhood’s past and hoped-for future as well as an emotion-charged good-bye.

The Funeral for a Home began a year ago

3711 Melon St., Mantua, with its crown of flowers
3711 Melon St., Mantua, with its crown of flowers

Funeral for a Home, or more colloquially, Memorial Home Going Service, was the culmination of a year-long community project of Temple Contemporary and the Dufala Brothers, which invited the art world and the public and the community of Mantua to study the loss of housing in that neighborhood and its cost to the neighbors and to the city. With discussion sessions, a trolley tour, a neighborhood walking tour, and many community forums, the Dufalas and Rob Blackson, Director of Temple Contemporary, focused attention on issues of history, poverty, crime, development and urban decline. The Funeral,  coming after so much planning and activity, was a great outpouring of love for the place and people. And as with the aftermath of most funerals it left a big question mark hanging in the air about the future.  What comes next for Mantua is not at all certain.

The day was sober and emotional

When I arrived, the choir was in the wings warming up, and near the pulpit the organist played soulful music. The sky was a brilliant cloudless blue and the congregation slowly assembled, a crowd too large for the number of seats.

Pastor Harry Moore Sr. of Mount Olive Baptist Church, giving the eulogy for 3711 Melon St. Notice black "arm band" on the excavator
Pastor Harry Moore Sr. of Mount Olive Baptist Church, giving the eulogy for 3711 Melon St. Notice black “arm band” on the excavator

When Pastor Harry Moore Sr. of Mount Olive Baptist Church spoke, his words were about burial and resurrection but also about symbolism and a wakeup call. Paster Moore talked about the Promise Zone initiative and its possibilities and about new housing to be built. ” This is a start of affordable homes coming into our community.  If I was in church I’d say ‘Amen.'”   He exhorted people to take charge of their neighborhood, saying “Plan, or be planned for.” Later, speakers from the neighborhood echoed that sentiment saying “Don’t agonize, organize.”

The heart of the day — seeing a house demolished

The day’s emotional charge came after the speeches when the Mount Olive Baptist Church Choir sang “There’s a Leak in this Old Building,” and the Cider Mill Services‘ Case Excavator CX210C took its first bite of 3711 Melon’s roof. The Choir’s mournful song welled up as the metal jaws crunched wood, while downwind dust flew in the breeze and people got teary.

The symbolic art project and the activist activities that preceded it were embraced by the neighborhood. For all its ephemerality, this art will most likely stick around in people’s memories a long time.

Funeral for a Home took place May 31, 2014, at 3711 Melon St., Mantua, Philadelphia. More photos at Flickr.