Delorean Time Machine: Antiquarian’s Delight

The baroque-styled structure at 615 S. 6th St. has long attracted the curiosity of passersby.  Until just this past month, the building housed a modestly-sized mall of antique vendors.  By far the most intriguing relic was the building itself though.  According to Phila Place, the building was built in 1905 as Chevra B’nai Reuben, Anshe Sfard, the city’s first Hasidic Jewish congregation.  Also according to Phila Place, no fewer than 2000 Hasids descended on the spot for its grand opening.  The synagogue is identified in the below photo, taken from G.W. Bromley’s 1910 Philadelphia Atlas.

Chevra B’Nai Reuben synagogue, 1910

The congregation called this building at the intersection of 6th & Kater their home for the next fifty years.  However, as Phila Place points out, the 1950s saw a large portion of the city’s Jewish population move out to the suburbs.  This is likely what led to the end of Chevra B’nai Reuben’s residency in 1956.  The photo below, taken from the Philadelphia Department of Records, shows 6th Street in 1961.

Looking South on 6th St. in 1961, the recently deserted synagogue on the left hand background

Limited information is available on the building’s usage over the next thirty years.  The photo below, from “The Jewish Community of South Philadelphia” by Allen Meyers, shows the synagogue in the 1970s, looking decidedly unused and well on its way to disrepair. 

Where have all the Hasids gone?

Then, following years of neglect, the old synagogue became a shared space for a host of antique vendors under the name Antiquarian’s Delight.  The 1985 rehab effort included naming the place the Antiquarian’s Delight and hanging up a sign saying the same.  For much of the next 20 years, it was a quirky mainstay in the South Street area, attracting visitors both by way of the building’s distinctiveness and the trove of vintage clothing, jewelry and forgotten objects within.  The Chevra B’Nai Reuben’s detailed stone-work and Hebrew lettering remained always visible on the building.

In spite of its distinction, the vendor offerings, the building and the shopping experience collectively deteriorated in extreme fashion across recent years.  Busted windows, a rotted rooftop and what Yelp reviews suggest was actually an extremely hostile customer service experience, foretold the inevitable demise of the antique market.  The picture here below, also taken from Yelp, shows the antique business hanging on by a thread.

The increasingly less delightful Antique mall in the 2000s

In July of 2013, the Antiquarian’s Delight shuttered its already-shuttered-looking doors.  Recently purchased by the Fetfafzes family, owners of nearby Bainbridge Street Barrel House, the spot is rumored to be slated for residential repurposing.  Whether this will be in a renovated synagogue or an entirely new structure is not yet clear.

The Antiquarian’s Delight, closed for business in 2013

–David Tomar