CIHD: Former City Morgue

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

According to PlanPhilly, the former City Morgue was, “built by Philip Johnson in the 1920s in the Mission Revival style.” By David Lynch’s own admission, the influence of this building is seen throughout his body of work:

“The house I moved into was across the street from the morgue, next door to Pop’s Diner. The area had a great mood – factories, smoke, railroads, diners, the strangest characters, the darkest nights. The people had stories etched in their faces, and I saw vivid images-plastic curtains held together with Band-Aids, rags stuffed in broken windows, walking through the morgue en-route to a hamburger joint.”

Emanuel Levy writes in Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film:

Deep-seated anxieties goaded Lynch into art, growing out of his fear of big cities—first New York, then Philadelphia. Like the human ear that Blue Velvet’s hero finds in a littered field, a visit to a Philadelphia morgue impelled Lynch to go beneath the surface of things.

The careful observer can even see images of a similar building appearing repeatedly in films as late as Inland Empire.

Now serving as an annex to Roman Catholic High School around the block at Broad and Vine, this building remains mostly unchanged in appearance. Presumably the youth attending this school whisper of the history of their annex, sharing that delicious chill only those who still retain innocence can truly enjoy.