BUILDINGS Feed

We build a mudhif

Mudhif building sarah and mohannad
Your correspondent joined U.S. military veterans, Iraqi refugees and other volunteers from the community to break ground on Memorial Day and start work on a traditional Iraqi structure dating back thousands of years called a “mudhif“ on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, Philadelphia. More photos here. Watch a video about the first day ceremony and building start of an Iraqi mudhif.

“Al-Mudhif” is the brainchild of Seattle-based artist Sarah Kavage and Mount Airy based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi who, after attending a lecture Kavage delivered a year ago at Moore College of Art during which she displayed a photo of a mudhif, suggested they build one! It is, perhaps, the first in the United States. The project, sponsored by the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River, is one of fifteen site-specific installations, six already completed, extending as far north as the Delaware Water Gap and as far south as Wilmington, west to Reading and east to Trenton, all within the Lenapehoking watershed, the home of the native Lenape people.

Building a mudhif, which your correspondent can attest to firsthand, is overlaying and binding together reeds into long columns. These columns are then placed in 32-inch deep, 2-foot wide holes to provide the vertical supports. They are then bent toward one another to form an arched roof. In upcoming days, mats will be woven and set in place to form a thatched roof. Air and sunlight will come through lattice panels to be constructed and attached. Adjacent to the structure, Kavage’s husband, Rob has been busy installing the structure for a large bench for seating and a view from just outside the mudhif.

On day one, we divided into two large teams- the first tasked with digging 10 large holes, 5 opposite 5 to form the length of the rectangular structure. I opted to work with volunteers assembling the columns. We used phragmites, reed grasses, harvested previously. (A non-native form of phragmites is considered invasive and it is likely a plus-side of the project was some invasive control)

From the sidelines, an older man from Iraq who went by “Kam” vividly recalled his father’s large mudhif in Nasriyah near the Euphrates River. His family would welcome guests and travelers to rest, stay, eat and drink coffee or tea in the mudhif, set apart from the main home. At that time, Kam said, people traveled distances by horse and would go from mudhif to mudhif to rest along the way.

A younger man, Hadi al-Karfawi, who left Iraq at the age of nine spoke of his strong emotional connection with the mudhif his grandfather, a tribal leader, had built . As a boy, he was tasked with preparing and serving the strong coffee to guests. He absorbed that the mudhif was community place where people would come to resolve disputes. Everyone was given a chance to speak without interruption. The disputes might be inter-tribal or among families  of one's own tribe.

As your correspondent spoke with al-Karfawi, Mohaned Al-Obaidi, the lead builder and Yaroub’s brother, was having some trouble bending the first two columns of reeds to form the arch at the entrance. Traditionally, al-Karfawi said, the reeds, of a different variety in use here, might be more moisture-filled, perhaps more freshly cut, which would make the bending easier. (The arch is not going to be the traditional rounded one; Yaroub has designed it to be more angular  so winter snow will more easily slide off and not weigh down the roof.) al-Karfawi spoke of helpers being divided into groups, just like us, with specific tasks and he demonstrated how he and others would stomp on mud mixed with hay to form the “cement” to applied inside the roof. He had brought along two of his young children and, as the project was about to get underway, they stood by with child-sized shovels at the ready.

In his opening remarks, Al-Obaidi spoke of how emotional this undertaking has been- recreating a traditional community structure from his homeland. He suspected many of us have only associated Iraq until now with war and suffering. He hopes this welcoming mudhif will bring about a better understanding of Iraq’s ancient and rich culture.

The grand opening of the mudhif is planned for June 24th and according to a Schuylkill Center blog many activities are planned. “We will activate the installation Al-Mudhif with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural encounters from June to October 2021.”

Your correspondent asks, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dispute resolution aspect of a mudhif could be "activated”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if representative native Lenape could settle ongoing claims in this mudhif with representatives of the long dominant immigrant community? Descendants of former slaves with descendants of former slaveholders? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Israeli and Palestinian representatives could forge a just and lasting peace in this mudhif? And isn’t it fitting that this peace and justice-making take place on land taken from the Lenape, now in the safekeeping of environmental non-profit, in a traditional structure of a people who themselves experienced recent devastation to their own culture- the swamp Arabs of Iraq? A structure built for community, hospitality and peace-making. Inshallah.

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More videos here

Building Al Mudhif - short version

Mudhif groundbreaking ceremony

Docent tells about Iraqi mudhifs and ancient Sumer

Schuylkill Center Director acknowledges land belonging to Lenape people at mudhif groundbreaking


Rainfall increases, basement waterproofing jobs too!

Cu waterproof basement

Pete Golascewski and a workmate from David Brothers Landscape Services brothers were about to clean off a lower wall of a house and patch and seal it after excavating a 3 foot deep trench alongside it. Water had been coming into the house. An engineer suggested the project to stop the infiltration. The trench will be filled with a clay soil which is less penetrable than the naturally existing soil. The soil will be put down in layers, sloping away from the house. The work crew will also install new window wells. Golascewski says these jobs have become ever more frequent in recent years because of very heavy rain falls. He doesn’t profess to be a scientist but nevertheless believes the heavy rainfalls contributing to the burgeoning demand for this type of landscape construction work can be attributed to climate change. Watch video interview of landscaper describing basement waterproofing construction job here.


Chestnut Hill Library Friends open bookstore to public (softly)

Hilltop books royal table
Today, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library opened their new bookstore, “Hilltop Books” at 84 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim. A handful of the 100 some volunteers were on hand to welcome customers. Trading as “Hilltop Books”, the beautifully restored, high ceiling-ed space offers rooms and bookcases divided by subject area, many curated by subject specialists! Initially, books are being sold at 1/3 of the price on the jacket. Today’s opening was to give people who had ordered “blind date” Valentine’s Day/“Galentine’s” Day books another chance to pick them up. Until the expected official opening in mid-March, the store will be open by appointment only. The Friends bookstore has big hopes. An outdoor patio is planned to accommodate 50 people and the store wishes to offer coffee and pastries. And there are all sorts of book clubs in the works- murder mystery, cooking, garden, storytelling, family game night, birthday..Something for everyone. Photo album here.

(The British Royalty collection is being curated by a subject of her Majesty)


Real estate heirs plan big apartment building on former Sunoco station lot

Real estate heirs 10 Bethlehem Pike
Brothers Max and Zachary Frankel are scions of E J Frankel Enterprises started by their great grandfather. (Grandfather shown in picture courtesy of Legacy.com/Inquirer. ) The firm developed the Philadelphian and other properties of note and has diverse interests in Florida. They plan a dense development at the site of the former Sunoco station at the highest point in Philadelphia, Bethlehem Pike and Summit Avenue just off of Germantown Avenue in the tony Chestnut Hill Neighborhood. Doing business apparently as TPM LLC or 10 Bethlehem Pike, they plan a 4 or 5 story 34 unit luxury apartment building which their architect Sergio Coscia says will preserve sight lines of the historic Baptist Church of Chestnut Hill. Neighbors expressed alarm at the size of the project at a well attended community meeting on February 16. Chestnut Hill’s major property owner, Richard Snowden of Bowman Properties whose own multi-story residential complex a few blocks away had met similar community push
back, expressed reservations about the aesthetics. See photos of building and site plans, elevations, schemes etc here.

10 bethlehem pike participants

 

 


On boarded up Chestnut Hill storefronts, store owner writes messages of hope

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, most businesses along the Germantown Avenue business corridor (excluding some of the vacant ones ) had been securely boarded up in the wake of widespread protests and looting elsewhere in the city. The Weavers Way Coop market, which has a wide expanse of windows, was a notable exception. (The Coop's General Manager, Jon Roesser, explains its decision not to board up below.) When asked why he was boarding up the Wells Fargo Bank a workman replied "It's a job. Do you think I like doing this? It's sad."

No boards pie paintsJoe Pie of McNally's Tavern, was putting a new coat of dark green paint on the entrance door (No boarding up to do because the tavern hasn't had windows on the narrow facade for more than fifty years.) He said that businesses along the Avenue had been "cased" the day before and was very alarmed should any photos be posted on social media. Bohemian Pink owner Monika Schermer said her store was boarded up based on the advice of the Chestnut Hill Business Association and the 14th District Philadelphia Police. Schermer directed questions to the Business Association. Its Executive Director Phil Dawson could not be reached for comment.

Boarded fresh marketOutside the Fresh Market at 7 pm, a market employee stood outside watching two workmen prepare to board up the doors. He relayed that the CVS, farther down the street, had been broken into. Talking on the phone, one of these workers could be heard saying he would be back at the store in the morning to take the boards off so the store could open for business. "Hopefully I'm going to be putting these boards on and off for a couple days."

Boarded black lives matterLarge, delicately lettered chalk messages have already appeared on some of the boards. "Love lives here" on one and "Community" on another. Hillary O'Carroll proprietress of Isabella Sparrow, captured in a photo in the below tweet, is behind the heartwarming words. She says she wanted to add non-political messages of love and home by writing on the the boards. The one shown above "Black Lives Matter - donate: NAACP.ORG & phillybailfund.org" she attributes to an employee of Caleb Meyer.

Ocarroll chalking boards

On the Tailored Home store, O'Carroll's message is simply "This is home"

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Comments of John Roesser, GM of Weavers Way Cooperative Association

Driving down Gtown Ave this morning, it seems we're part of a vanishing minority of businesses who've chosen not to board up; lumber yards must be rejoicing.  
 
For starters, please know I don't question the motives of other business owners.  Whatever drove them to decide to board up, I'm sure it made sense for them.  I understand PPD recommends boarding up businesses as a precaution.  PPD would have no reason to recommend anything different.  And they are busy and hard pressed and I'm sure not just a little tired by now.  
 
Our principal reason for not boarding up was consideration of our staff and customers.  Still in the midst of the pandemic, grocery shopping is already a stressful activity (working in a grocery store is even worse).  The masks and the hand sanitizer and the social distancing and the 15 person customer cap, it's all disconcerting enough.  Boarding up our windows would aggravate the stress.  Our Chestnut Hill store is small.  Boarding up the windows would block out the natural light and make it feel even smaller.  Who wants to work in a plywood box?  
 
In making this decision I had 100% support from the Co-op's management team and 100% support from our Chestnut Hill employees (at least the 25 or so with whom I spoke on Sunday and Monday).  Last night I received 100% affirmation of the decision from our board of directors who, as you know, are democratically elected by the Co-op's 10,000 member households.  
 
Having spent much of yesterday in Chestnut Hill chatting with customers (masked and 6 feet apart!) I received thumbs up from all of them.  Many expressed dismay at the acres of plywood along the avenue.  One out of four households in Chestnut Hill are member-owners of the Co-op.  They patronize other businesses on the avenue too.  
 
Yesterday's demonstrations were largely peaceful.  Things could change but the folks who are out protesting the murder of George Floyd and demanding the end of institutional racism are not vandals or looters.  PPD is as always hard at work tracking down the bad actors who are taking advantage of the demonstrations (and undermining the demonstrator's message) by causing mayhem.  It is too early to say but we can perhaps be hopeful that the worst of the looting is over.  
 
I have to say, again not questioning the motives - or the politics - of other business owners, the sight of all those boarded up buildings along the avenue is unnerving.  And it can't be good for business.  I do hope the other businesses along the avenue will consider taking the boards down sooner rather than later.  
 
It will take one hooligan, armed with a brick and a strong arm, to make us look like fools.  Maybe we are fools. "

Slave Tour of Mount Vernon Evolves

Carruth mount vernon
Historical interpreter Reba Carruth who led a group including your correspondent on the "Enslaved People of Mount Vernon Tour" says that before her time, the tour was called "Slave Life" and focused on Washington's use of slave labor. She explained that the current format makes a distinct change in terminology from "slaves" to "enslaved people" and not only focuses on Washington's dependence on them but how they were transformed when Washington breaks with tradition by bringing in skilled tradesmen from Europe and requiring them to train the enslaved people to practice these trades at the same high level as their own. Carruth gestured toward the wide swath of field sloping down from the mansion and gave a shout-out to George, a slave who had acquired the skills of a master landscaper to maintain the grounds.

Washington inherited slaves from his father when he was only eleven years. Washington's marriage to Martha Custis brought many more slaves to the Mount Vernon estate. But he had a fraught relationship with slavery and shortly before his death provided in his will that the 123 slaves he directly owned be freed.

As the Washington family intermarried with the Lees and Custises, families of standing both in England and the colonies, by the time of the civil war, many family members had become Confederates. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the slave cemetery down by the Potomac River had been destroyed and planted over. It was here that Carruth concluded the tour with a short service and wreath laying at a large stone memorial set amidst ongoing restoration of the cemetery. Some of us accepted her invitation to read aloud short biographies of some of the slaves known to have lived and died on the estate.

According to the official website, "Mount Vernon is owned and maintained in trust for the people of the United States by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization." According to Carruth, this group and others with very close associations to Mount Vernon have scrutinized and had to approve of the tour contents which now includes acknowledging that there were [sexual] liaisons between the gentry and the enslaved women, hitherto held hush. Watch video tour of George Washington's Mount Vernon and interview about the nature of the tour here.


1902 motorized buggy greets visitors to Quakertown visitors center

Quakertown history visitor center
Upper Bucks Chamber and Visitors Center
Executive Director Danielle Bodnar treated your correspondent to a little tour of the Center's museum. A 1902 motorized buggy is one of the many treasures on display. The Chamber partners with The Quakertown Historical Society which provides historical artwork, memorabilia and binders of old newspaper clippings and photographs and more for the center museum. Bodnar says people like to come in and take a trip down memory lane by searching the archived Quakertown High School yearbooks for, say, pictures of their grandparents or to research some family genealogy. Outside the Center, she pointed out historic Liberty Hall across the way where the Liberty Bell was temporarily hidden on its way from Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War to keep it safe from the British. And Bodnar added that the Richard Moore house on Main Street will be honored this September 14th for keeping escaped slaves safe during civil war times. A historical marker will be placed at the building which served as an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Watch highlights of Quakertown visitor center tour here.

For more photos of the visitor center, click here.


Now for sale: luxury home next to Chestnut Hill Library

Bradley new luxury germantown ave home
Berkshire Hathaway realtor Tyler Bradley points to the newly laid marble floor of 2 E Chestnut Hill Ave Unit #3 during an open house in this picture. The nearly completed 4 bedroom, 3.5 bathroom, 4500 square foot house next to the Chestnut Hill Library is listed at $2,495,000. Bradley led the way through the house pointing out its prime location and elaborating on its luxurious amenities.
 
The exterior is local schist stone and hardy plank siding which will be painted a shade of gray selected by the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, Bradley says
 
Off to the left as you walk in the front door is a large light filled corner kitchen with a large black island and black oven hood with contrasting white shaker cabinets.
 
In the center is a large flexible space which could be used as a dining room. Through an archway to the right is a spacious living room with a coffered ceiling, fireplace and large windows offering views of Germantown Avenue and the Chestnut Hill Library.
 
As new construction, the house qualifies for Philadelphia’s generous, and controversial, 10 year tax abatement, the subject of current reform efforts by some City Council members . Bradley estimates the yearly taxes at $2000 (By comparison, a Chestnut Hill home currently listed at $800,000 less comes with over a $17,000 yearly tax bill)
 
Upstairs are a guest suite, 2 bedrooms, a laundry room, and a luxurious, expansive master bedroom. The marbled bathroom has a walk-in shower and a soaking tub. There is a linen closet and a large walk-in closet. At the south end is a sitting room which is plumbed to potentially accommodate a wet bar or eating area. This opens out onto an L shaped balcony.
 
The finished basement has a laundry room, large bathroom and could accommodate a fifth bedroom, au pair suite or in-law suite. There is additional space which could serve as a media room, playroom, or office. A doorway at the south end leads to a two-car garage. The relatively steep curved driveway is graded. And it is heated to allow snow or ice free access.
 
When asked about some neighbors' perception that the structure is disproportionately large in relation to the lot size, Bradley acknowledged that perception but expressed the view that as with any new construction, once it is painted and landscaped, it will appear to have been there for decades.
 
Who might want to live here? Families who raise their children in Chestnut Hill, Bradley says. And he reports an influx of empty nesters from the suburbs who want to be close to “Main [street] and train."
The future inhabitants will have an easy walk down the avenue to cafes, restaurants, markets and gyms or to either of two Septa stations for a 30 minute commute downtown. "One of the biggest trends in real estate now is walkability.”
 
 
2 east chestnut hill luxury home
 

Fish fresh from Jersey's Atlantic Ocean trucked to farmers market in Chestnut Hill

Fresh jersey fish
A New Jersey van packed with fresh Atlantic seafood did a brisk business its first time out at the Chestnut Hill Farmers Market last Saturday. They plan to come every other week, alternating with the market they do in Bryn Mawr. Justin Hetrick introduced eager new customers and your correspondent to the fresh fish operation. "We are called Local130 Seafood [A large patriotic painting on the side of the van shouts it out] We are out of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The "130" stands for the amount of New Jersey coast line. All the fish that you see here today, with the exception of halibut which comes from New England, is coming right off the coast daily. Sea scallops out of Point Pleasant. You know Barnegat Light, Long Beach Island? We are Asbury Park, only 20 minutes from Point Pleasant and we can go the day they come in off the boat and get everything fresh that day. There’s a fleet of commercial boats that run out of there. Arguably, I think it’s the third largest port in New Jersey next to Barnegat Light and Cape May. They go out in all kinds of weather to catch us the fish that we need. We are pretty lucky and blessed to have that. Nothing here is ever frozen. Nothing that we sell in the shop is frozen. We pack it fresh and we put it on ice so it keeps the temperature nice and cold without ever actually freezing it. So it’s still soft to the touch. Here are some of the information cards that I didn’t put out yet - we have skate wings, the black sea bass, sea scallops, weakfish, fluke, A lot of people know it as flounder but we like to call it fluke. The only thing I don’t have a card for today is cod.” Watch video interview of fishmonger
at Chestnut Hill farmers market in Philadelphia of fish caught fresh from Atlantic Ocean here.


City workers grind down tree stump

Stump grinder
A severe storm earlier in the summer uprooted a large maple tree on our street and it fell on the roofs of our neighbors’ houses. Some weeks after the tree was cut down and removed, a city work crew and contractor Scott’s Tree Service arrived to grind down the stump. City worker Ed Jardell described how the stump is ground down in sweeping back and forth passes of the grinder’s large rotary blade. The machine takes off more or less two inches at a time depending on the species and hardness of the tree and whether there is any sponginess or rot. Watch video of workers grinding down tree stump and interview of worker describing process.