Unlisted: Overseas Motor Works

Unlisted: Overseas Motor Works

Written and drawn by Ben Leech

Unlisted is a series of portraits highlighting Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.  To learn how to protect a building by nominating it to the Register, click here.

Address: 1501 Fairmount Avenue

Architect: Unknown

Built: Unknown (c.1930s)

What ancient art deco civilization left this Babylonian-looking castle-cum-garage on the corner of 15th and Fairmount?   Carlos, who has operated the Overseas Motor Works in the building for the last thirty years, has no idea.  “It was vacant when we moved in,” he remembers.  “An old man used to pass by here when we first started, said he remembered the place divided up into little stalls, like a market. Places selling parts, appliances, that kind of thing.  But I have no idea who built it or why.  Not much history here that I know of, Ben Franklin was never here, you know?  I did have a guy looked just like him as a customer for many years, though.”

It is an enigmatic building, to say the least.  Adorned with ram’s heads, maidens’ faces, doves in a dovecote, flower-filled urns, and palm fronds aplenty, the walls are made from pink-hued concrete blocks.  The same material was used in another art-deco building a few doors down Fairmount, built in 1932 as a showroom and warehouse for the National Casket Company. With the vaguely funerary aura of its urn-topped tower, its tempting to guess a connection to the casket building, but I couldn’t prove it.  Can anyone help solve this riddle?

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Harry Kyriakodis

    I can’t solve the riddle, but that site has loads of history attached to it:

    Founded in 1826, the Philadelphia House of Refuge opened in 1828 at the northwest corner of 15th Street and Fairmount Avenue in North Philadelphia, and occcupied an entire city block. This was the third residential institution for juvenile delinquents in the nation, after similar places in New York and Boston. The House’s goal was to separate juveniles (males under 21, females under 18) committed for crimes (such as vagrancy or incorrigible or vicious conduct) from experienced adult offenders. Children were committed there from various Pennsylvania counties through the courts upon complaints of their parents or after being seized on the streets by authorities. They rose early, bathed, gathered in worship, and went to school. After a half-hour breakfast at 7 a.m., they were then sent to work until their noontime meal. The children then heard lectures or lessons until 1 p.m. and returned to the shops until 5 p.m. They were allowed one-half hour for supper and recreation before returning to school from 5:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Following prayers, the juveniles were then locked in for slumber. When the House of Refuge’s Board deemed an inmate ready for release, he or she was apprenticed out to a reputable individual who would see to the child’s further development. The Philadelphia House of Refuge moved to larger quarters near its original location in the 1850s, due to the need for additional space. Needing even more space, the institution relocated again in 1892 to a farm in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Known today as the Glen Mills Schools, this is the oldest private, residential school for court-adjudicated male delinquents (between 15 and 18 years of age) in the United States.

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