Stiffel Senior Center
604 W. Porter Street, Philadelphia
UPDATE: On June 14, 2013, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added the Stiffel Senior Center to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, protecting it from inappropriate alterations and unnecessary demolition. CLICK HERE to view the nomination, which was submitted by the Preservation Alliance in October 2012.
Significance: Constructed in 1928 as the Jewish Education Center #2, this neighborhood landmark has been a fixture of Jewish culture in South Philadelphia for over eighty years. Designed by Frank E. Hahn, whose many other works include the Royal Theater, the building served a dynamic immigrant community which developed along Porter Street in the early twentieth century. The center hosted Hebrew classes, provided recreational facilities, and offered space for neighbors to congregate and entertain—teen idol Eddie Fisher first performed as a student cantor at the center. Between 1966 and 1976, the center evolved to serve the neighborhood’s aging Jewish population with programs tailored specifically for senior citizens. A devastating arson fire in 1985 nearly destroyed the building, but an outpouring of community support led to a complete restoration the following year. The Stiffel Senior Center evolved with the changing demographics of the neighborhood, reaching out to new generations of immigrants to remain a vital part of South Philadelphia life.
Threat: In May of 2011, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia voted to close the Stiffel Center, citing rising building maintenance costs. In November the building was listed for sale, and now stands vacant with no local designation preventing its demolition.
Recommendation: Listing on the Philadelphia Register would help ensure that the building is not lost before a suitable new use can be found. A charter school, senior housing, or community center are all potential new uses which would honor the building’s rich past while contributing to the future of the neighborhood.
For More Information:
View an audio slideshow produced by WHYY documenting the last days of the Stiffel Center.