Unlisted: Overseas Motor Works
Written and drawn by Ben Leech
Unlisted is a series of portraits highlighting Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. To learn how to protect a building by nominating it to the Register, click here.
Address: 1501 Fairmount Avenue
Built: Unknown (c.1930s)
What ancient art deco civilization left this Babylonian-looking castle-cum-garage on the corner of 15th and Fairmount? Carlos, who has operated the Overseas Motor Works in the building for the last thirty years, has no idea. “It was vacant when we moved in,” he remembers. “An old man used to pass by here when we first started, said he remembered the place divided up into little stalls, like a market. Places selling parts, appliances, that kind of thing. But I have no idea who built it or why. Not much history here that I know of, Ben Franklin was never here, you know? I did have a guy looked just like him as a customer for many years, though.”
It is an enigmatic building, to say the least. Adorned with ram’s heads, maidens’ faces, doves in a dovecote, flower-filled urns, and palm fronds aplenty, the walls are made from pink-hued concrete blocks. The same material was used in another art-deco building a few doors down Fairmount, built in 1932 as a showroom and warehouse for the National Casket Company. With the vaguely funerary aura of its urn-topped tower, its tempting to guess a connection to the casket building, but I couldn’t prove it. Can anyone help solve this riddle?