PlanPhilly

Look Up! 20th-Century evolution in East Falls

    • Row houses built in the Tudor Revival style lend East Falls' main thoroughfare its distinctive character.
      Row houses built in the Tudor Revival style lend East Falls' main thoroughfare its distinctive character.
    • East Falls has a sprinkling of Modernist structures, including this home by Norman Rice.
      East Falls has a sprinkling of Modernist structures, including this home by Norman Rice.
    • The entrance to the Norman Rice-designed home in East Falls.
      The entrance to the Norman Rice-designed home in East Falls.
    • The eastern view of the Rice House is a composition in black and white.
      The eastern view of the Rice House is a composition in black and white.
    • The approach to the Rice house on School House Lane.
      The approach to the Rice house on School House Lane.
    • The view of the Falls of the Schuylkill Library from Midvale Avenue.
      The view of the Falls of the Schuylkill Library from Midvale Avenue.
    • The entrance on Warden Drive reflects the grandeur of many of the Carnegie libraries.
      The entrance on Warden Drive reflects the grandeur of many of the Carnegie libraries.
    • The catfish weathervane points toward East Falls' past.
      The catfish weathervane points toward East Falls' past.
  • Previous
  • Next

“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

A section of East Falls on Midvale Avenue, West Penn Street and West Queen Lane was designated a historic district in 2009. The 210 houses that comprise “Tudor East Falls” were developed by Michael J. McCrudden from 1925 to 1931. The rowhomes along the 3400 block of Midvale, in particular, have distinct Tudor Revival windows, stone and wood facades, and landscaping that gives them a unique character.

Other sections of East Falls are not without their own distinguishing features, and two buildings are being nominated to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places this week. The Modernist gem at 3419-23 W. School House Lane was built in 1952 by Norman Rice, a colleague of Louis Kahn, collaborator on the PSFS Building, and adversary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally known as the Dr. and Mrs. Jacoby T. Rothner Residence, the School House Lane home was nominated by its current owners. Mid-century architecture is often unappreciated and in danger of renovation or demolition, said Janet Grace, co-owner of the property since 2009. “If you can and you care, I believe you have an obligation to preserve,” she explained. The owners have restored the exterior of the single-story masonry structure and retained the materials of the interior, except for the vinyl asbestos flooring tile. They also plan to restore the surrounding gardens “to be true” to the original landscaping by Rice, who redesigned the beautiful urban green space Fitler Square in 1954.

Grace also worked on the nomination of the other East Falls landmark, Falls of the Schuylkill Library, 3501 Midvale Ave. The library opened in November 1913, thanks to Andrew Carnegie, who funded construction of dozens of libraries in the city. The English Collegiate-style structure has a handsome cuppola topped with a catfish weathervane, symbol of the life that streamed through the Schuylkill and the former falls for which the neighborhood is named.

Contact the writer at

"Look Up!" Rural retreats in Northeast Philly

"Look Up!" Modernist lines on Haverford Ave.

"Look Up!" Chestnut Hill's modernist gems

"Look Up!" The Art Deco Palace of Mt. Airy
"Look Up! An architect's legacy on Spruce Street
"Look Up!" The French Village in Mt. Airy
"Look Up" and check out the nouveau mansions of North Broad

"Look Up" and check out elegant Southwark
"Look Up" and check out Henry Disston's company town
"Look Up: and check out Spruce Hill
"Look Up" and check out Green Street
"Look Up" and check out West Laurel Hill
"Look Up" and check out Parkside
"Look Up" and check out Awbury Arboretum
"Look Up" and check out Nicetown
"Look Up" and check out Overbrook Farms
"Look Up" and check out Girard Estate
"Look Up" and check out Rittenhouse/Fitler Square

About the author

Alan Jaffe, Contributor

Alan Jaffe has been a contributing writer for PlanPhilly since 2008, focusing on overlooked buidlings and historic preservation issues. He was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”

ajaffe@planphilly.com



blog comments powered by Disqus

Article Information

Recent Comments on PlanPhilly

Powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Which weekly emails would you like to receive?