We were up near Temple the other day, and a vacant building caught our eye and not for the first time. Located on the northwest corner of Broad & Jefferson, just on the edge of Temple’s campus, this building sticks out like a sore thumb. Architecturally, it’s wonderful, and you can tell that it was built a long time ago at considerable expense. Now, however, it sits vacant and sealed, quietly wasting away as the surrounding neighborhood continues to improve.
When was this building built? By who? And why does it look like it does today? Looking at the 1910 Philadelphia Atlas from G.W. Bromley, we were able to find some answers.
At the corner in question, the name Alfred E. Burk floats over a couple of buildings. According to the Preservation Alliance, which placed the building on its Endangered Properties list in 2010, the Burk Mansion was built in 1907 and was acquired by Temple University in 1971. The book Temple University: 125 Years of Service to Philadelphia, the Nation, and the World tells us that Burk was the president of Burk Brothers, the company that led the world in production of glazed kid leather in those days. Not sure who’s leading that charge today, but we’re guessing that Burk Brothers is no longer in the biz.
According to an article from the Temple News from a couple of years ago, the mansion hosted the Upholsterers International Union between World War II and 1970, with Temple buying the building the next year. For two decades, Temple used the building for its School of Social Administration, its Center for Social Policy and Community Development, and a daycare. A fire in 1993 caused smoke damage to the building, and it was closed down in 1995. It hasn’t been used since.
Another Temple News story indicates that the University has no immediate plans for the building. A couple of possible uses have emerged in recent years, but nothing has come to fruition to bring this historic building back into active use. We can only imagine the expense that would be incurred to do so. Hopefully, either Temple will find the money and the will to make something happen at the Burk Mansion, or they’ll sell it off to a developer who can. It’s a real shame that this building has sat vacant for nearly twenty years- hopefully it won’t be twenty more before it makes its return.