When potters put down roots in a neighborhood, they can make a lasting impact on the community.
Our studio building is located in a historic district in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, close to the art museum, and right across the street from the Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison that is now a museum and site for art installations. When we purchased the building at 2034 Fairmount Ave. in April of 2000 to relocate our studio closer to where we lived, the neighborhood was a very different place. We immediately set about improving the interior, and with our classes and art exhibits, the business became a neighborhood anchor.
We have been active and engaged civic business owners and neighbors. For many years we volunteered to run and organize the Fairmount Arts Crawl, which is now a major yearly event in the neighborhood. We are members of the Fairmount Civic Association, The Spring Garden Civic Association, Friends of Eastern State Penitentiary Park, and The Spring Gardens. We love our neighborhood and we want to continue to help it thrive.
In 2013, we learned about and applied for grant opportunities to help businesses improve their storefronts. With funding from the Merchant’s Fund, The Spring Garden Community Development Corporation (CDC), and the Storefront Improvement Program (TSIP) run by the Philadelphia Commerce Department, along with money (and sweat equity) of our own, in 2015 we put a new façade on our studio. The project’s overall cost was $65,000.
We worked with KSK architects to create a historic storefront based on an existing storefront on our block. We removed the stucco, and replaced the underlying brick with historic brick. The aluminum siding and small window on the first floor were replaced with a large Queen-Anne style display window and wooden cornice and molding. The cornice dates from the 1850s, and was donated from a building in Old City Philadelphia, a few miles away.
Our excellent contractor, Walnut Tree Construction, did the work with a great deal of pride in craftsmanship, which we as potters really appreciated. We loved when the man who had lathe turned the window details stopped by to see how his work was integrated into the façade.
This improvement positively affects both the neighborhood and our ability to run our business from our space, as it is highly visible due to its location at an intersection. The new window works really well as a display for our finished pottery, and we love the increased daylight in our workspace.
The new façade has helped us create multiple new links to our community. Through the process of seeking funding (and historical commission approval) we grew much closer to the leadership of the Spring Garden CDC. They were extremely helpful with this project, as were the Merchants fund and the Philadelphia Commerce Department TSIP program. We felt that everyone who saw our plans was rooting for us and genuinely wanted to help.
Then the neighbors started to stop in and tell us how much they liked the renovation. Total strangers were stopping just to thank us! The ribbon cutting was attended by many local business owners, city representatives, and our state representative. We were also honored to be recipients of a 2016 Preservation Alliance Grand Jury Award.
To learn more about Neighborhood Potters, visit http://sandiandneil.com.