At the corner of Camac & Wallace in the West Poplar (sometimes called Spring Arts) neighborhood stands a somewhat out-of-place building that doesn’t seem to fit in with its surroundings. Its glass block windows, strange cornice decoration, and unusual shape seem to want to tell a story. Would you like to hear it?

View of the building
Closer look
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From the east

The origin of this building begins in the mid 30’s, when the Northside Lithuanian Republican Alliance of Philadelphia learned that their clubhouse at 1011 Fairmount Ave. was going to be demolished to make way for the Poplar Project, later known as the Richard Allen Homes. In November 1939, they purchased 1218-20 Wallace St. from one Anna H. Suplee for $2,500. Founded in 1908, this club for Lithuanian immigrants was founded “believing that the best interests of citizens and prospective citizens of the United States are to be found in club life and that these people are naturally inclined toward fraternalism.” We’d be hard pressed to disagree.

They bidded out the project in December 1939 and eventually hired Anthony F. Wecnick of Camden and contractor Vincezo Mangiamele to build it under the designs of architect Frank Carr Watson. The architect, not to be confused with prolific Philadelphia architect Frank Rushmore Watson, most often designed additions and alterations of older buildings in Chester, Berwyn, and Brookhaven. Among his few ground-up commissions still standing are a few houses in the burbs, a business school building in Chester, and this, quite possibly his only Philadelphia building design.

The new clubhouse was complete by the middle of 1940 and served the Northside Lithuanian Republican Alliance until 1956, when it was sold to the First Spanish Baptist Church. This was the first building ever owned by this church, which started as a bible study group for Spanish-speaking Protestants in 1929. This church served the community of Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican newcomers to the city that arrived after World War II.

First Spanish Baptist ended up moving out only 12 years later and sold the building in 1968 to another church, the Green Pastures Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal-Holiness denomination. This church was the longest single user of the building, lasting 45 years. In 2003, yet another church came to own and use the building; Greater Harvest Evangelistic Church. This church only lasted 7 years at this location– after an unsuccessful attempt to list the property for sale, in 2010 the building was sold via Sheriff Sale for $11K to an entity related to a collections agency in Fairport, NY. The new owner listed the building for sale again, this time at a much lower price. The current owners purchased the property for $320K in February 2011.

For the next five years, the building was leased by a daycare use, the Little World Learning Center. For two years after that, it went back to being occupied by a house of worship, the Liberty Church. Just last month, the Zoning Board of Adjustments approved a new daycare, which should occupy the structure rather soon.

–Dennis Carlisle