Make way for Fete Day at Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth's Alley is the oldest residential street in the country. | Albert Lee
Albert Lee

Imagine being asked by a tourist if your bathroom was redone. Not exactly the type of question you would expect from a visitor but then again, Neil Frauenglass doesn’t represent your typical tourist attraction. Neil is the president of the Elfreth’s Alley Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit educational organization that helps to preserve and promote Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the country. Of the 32 homes that make up the Alley, 29 of them are private residences. The remaining three serve as a museum, an office space and a potential future exhibition.

Residents are currently gearing up for their annual fundraiser, “Fete Day,” on Saturday, June 3, where they will open up their houses (including Neil’s) for locals and tourists alike to see, as he puts it, “how everyday Philadelphians are living 21st century lives in these 18th century homes.” A native New Yorker, Neil, and his partner came to visit a friend in Philly in 2015 and were amazed to see so much energy, art and commerce in the area. “I was in Philly 15 years ago and I didn’t love it. I don’t really remember Philly looking like this!”  During their visit, they saw a house for sale on Elfreth’s Alley and toyed with the idea of reverse commuting from Philly to NY. “Let’s get this house and if it doesn’t work, we can rent it or sell it.” Neil said. They will be celebrating their two-year anniversary of living in the Alley this July.

The tradition of Fete Day was started by Dorothy Ottey who moved into 115 Elfreth’s Alley in the mid-1920’s. She had run a small kitchenette named Hearthstone out of her home and as the story goes, she had spoken to a group from city government and was told they had plans to demolish this area to make way for new construction. Dorothy knew this block had a storied history and wasn’t ready to see it all torn down. So in 1934, she formed the Elfreth’s Alley Association with her fellow neighbors and created “Fete Day,” (short for festival), a carnival atmosphere with arts, crafts, musicians and of course, open houses.

Residents are not required to participate but Neil believes he and his fellow neighbors take great pride in showing off their homes. “To live in a national historical landmark where people from all over the world come and visit every day, that’s amazing.”

He’s right. Tourists can be seen marching up and down this cobblestone street from sunrise to sunset testing doorknobs, taking selfies and peeking through the curtains.

Eric Silverman, treasurer of the Elfreth’s Alley Association, says they offer a very unique experience not available anywhere else. “When you normally tour homes, you’re seeing the inside of these opulent mansions. Mount Vernon, Graceland and so forth. But very rarely do you see the homes of people that made America. These were the tradesmen and artisans of the day. They are often forgotten and not written in the history books. People are really getting in touch with their roots.”

See you at Fete Day.

If you go:
Fete Day at Elfreth’s Alley
June 3, 2017, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
124-126 Elfreth’s Alley
Adults: $25 Children: $10 Families: $60

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