Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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May 27, 2014

Funeral to be held for decrepit Philadelphia home

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A rundown row house in the impoverished Mantua section of Philadelphia had a colorful, centurylong record of occupancy before its last longtime residents died and it became a symbol of urban blight.

Now, the boarded-up structure is getting quite the send-off.

Hymns and eulogies will mark the last moments of the Melon Street residence before it's knocked down Saturday. A hearse-like dumpster will carry the debris down the block, trailed by a procession of drill teams, bands and local residents. A community meal will follow.

Organizers randomly chose the building for a cultural project called "Funeral for a Home," which aims to honor neighborhood history in a city where officials say about 600 houses are torn down each year and 25,000 others sit vacant.

Wait, they're doing what? For a house?

That was the initial reaction from a local pastor, neighbors and others first approached with the idea by Robert Blackson, an administrator at Temple University's Tyler School of Art.

But all eventually signed on to the symbolic gesture, which Blackson said also could resonate in places like St. Louis, Buffalo and Detroit — other cities whose once vibrant landscapes have been transformed by abandoned eyesores.

"When you see these blighted homes, you forget that they were a thriving part of the community at one point," Blackson said.

The festive nature of the "home-going" service — as opposed to a somber rite — is designed to reflect more on the life of the Philadelphia row house than on its death, he said.

It's unclear when the two-bedroom home was built, though the address has been consistently occupied since at least 1900, according to census and city records examined by organizers.

Researchers used the house to trace the arc of Mantua's population from mostly Irish-Americans in the early 1900s to a mix that included Russian Jews by the 1920s and an influx of blacks from the South over the next couple of decades.

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