Last summer, the Stiffel Senior Center, located at 604 W. Porter St., closed its doors due to high operating costs as well as costly but necessary repairs. According to the Preservation Alliance, the building was constructed in 1928 and designed by Frank E. Hahn, the guy who designed the Royal Theater on South Street West. Originally dubbed Jewish Education Center #2, this building was an important hub for the large South Philadelphia Jewish community, which numbered over 100,000 at its peak.
By the mid-1970s, as this community had shrunk dramatically, the building became a senior center for the few thousand who didn’t want to leave the old neighborhood. In its later years, the Center not only catered to Jewish seniors, but to seniors of other religions, races, and creeds as well, offering classes, activities, and a sense of community. Unfortunately, this all came to an end about a year ago.
Earlier this year, the building was put up for sale for just under $500K. According to the listing, the building has about 15K sqft of interior space, with a working kitchen, a stage, multiple bathrooms, and plenty of storage space. Depressingly, the listing refers to the two cell phone towers located on the roof and the monthly income they produce as the “true kicker” in the deal for this historic structure. The listing also indicates that the building requires some serious upgrades, but has a “very solid foundation.”
Who would be interested in this structure, and for what kind of use? Could this building convert into rental apartments without losing much of its historic character? Or would a developer demo the building, and build new homes in its place? With the price lowered to $450K and still no signed agreement of sale, we wonder how much lower the price will have to fall for a buyer to emerge. Time will tell, of course, we just hope that the building that did so much for so many people over the years will find a suitable use in the near future.