What could this building be?
April 23, 2015 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I have a photo of my grandfather from the 1930s standing in front of the doorway of a building. I'd like to figure out what the building is and have a few hints that may help narrow it down, but I haven't had any luck just yet.

I came across this photo of my grandfather, probably from the 1930s when he and my grandmother were dating (note the inscription at the bottom):

Photo (on Dropbox)

A few things worth noting:
  • Initially, I thought the "927" was an address, but I think it's more likely the year ("1927")
  • This was almost definitely taken in Philadelphia, PA
  • The brick configuration is unusual in that they're all lined up
  • Perhaps a church, given the cross, but the simplicity of the door may be more indicative of a church-related institution (like a school)
  • My grandfather was Catholic, but that may or may not be relevant
I did some initial searches of Philadelphia buildings built or dedicated in 1927, but couldn't find any images that seemed to match that unusual brick layout.

Anyone have thoughts?
posted by laze to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I agree with all of your conclusions thus far. Probably the year, probably a church-related building, unusual brick configuration. What neighborhood is your grandfather from and what's his ethnicity? That would help narrow things down considerably.
posted by desuetude at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2015

Response by poster: He was Polish (his parents lived in Russia-controlled Lithuania and came over in the early 1900s -- my grandfather was born in 1912 or 1913 (he has two different birth certificates)). I'm not sure where he was living at that time -- the closest info I have at this point is from the 1920 census when he was at 2364 Orthodox St.
posted by laze at 9:34 AM on April 23, 2015

If it helps in your search, that unusual brick configuration is called a stack bond.
posted by ogooglebar at 9:54 AM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

The building reflected in the window might also offer a clue.
posted by Ratio at 10:11 AM on April 23, 2015

Here's a company that does historic brick restoration in Philadelphia. Try contacting them and asking them if they know the building. There is also the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Center that might have some ideas.

You can also find a multitude of links to explore if you google Philadelphia architectural history.
posted by mareli at 10:22 AM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Good call on the reflection! Looks almost churchlike there, doesn't it?

"Stack bond" definitely sounds better than "unusual brick configuration." Thanks.
posted by laze at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2015

I would try the archdiocese, and definitely call that historical center and ask if there's a way you can email someone there. Or, probably easiest, tweet it to this guy (he's a young, internationally-read Catholic journalist living in Philly) and ask if he or his millions of readers know.
posted by resurrexit at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

It could also be a school or rectory across the street from or attached to a church.
posted by mikepop at 11:28 AM on April 23, 2015

That building makes me think it is a school or rectory or some other non-church religious building. With the date right in front it seems to be the main entrance and isn't very grand, for sure.
posted by beccaj at 3:22 PM on April 23, 2015

There is a Polish church in his neighborhood "Frankfort" called St Valentines.

This is from their webpage...That which possesses all the necessary conditions of life will grow and expand in time, and St. Valentine’s Parish was no exception. With every succeeding year the membership grew larger and it became apparent that a larger Church and a Parish Hall were needed. The new buildings were com-pleted during the summer of 1927, for the sum of $82,000. The newly-constructed Church was dedicated by His Grace, Prime Bishop Francis Hodur on October 7, 1928.
posted by beccaj at 3:29 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I've dropped a note to the company mentioned by mareli. Will try tweeting at that guy, too, resurrexit.

beccaj -- Promising lead! I took a peek on streetview and didn't see the "stack bond" bricks (see, ogooglebar!) or a date stone near the doors, though initially I thought it seemed like a good candidate given that the entrances, even now, are not terribly ornate.
posted by laze at 6:02 PM on April 23, 2015

It's no where near his 1920 address, but St. Mary of Czestochowa was a Polish Catholic parish founded in 1927. The church apparently burned down and was rebuilt in the 1930s, and the parish closed in 2000, but records are stored at St. Barnabas parish, so it might be worth a call to see if they have anything on your family. I can't find any photos of the original church online.

Your picture doesn't look to me like a main church entrance. It could be a side door, or a school or rectory building. I don't see anything terribly similar on google street view at St. Mary's location, but that could be a reflection of the original church building from either behind or across the street. If that building is still there, it's too overgrown on street view to see.
posted by Dojie at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2015

Best answer: Hey all! Just wanted to let you know, the mystery of the building has been solved! My guess that it was in Philadelphia proved to be wrong, but when I found a second photo in front of the building, it set off some research that lead to its final identification.

posted by laze at 5:58 PM on July 9, 2015

> Hey all! Just wanted to let you know, the mystery of the building has been solved! My guess that it was in Philadelphia proved to be wrong, but when I found a second photo in front of the building, it set off some research that lead to its final identification.

What a great story of detective work this turned out to be! Congrats on solving the mystery.
posted by desuetude at 11:45 PM on July 9, 2015

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