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EFFF: East Falls’ Frank Furness

Come to the Castle for East Falls Oktoberfest! This historic boathouse is one of the few remaining buildings by Frank Furness, a gun-toting, spear-stabbing Civil War hero with a flair for mad design. 

You’ll see this September 30th — Frank Furness was one sassy architect!

When the rest of Philadelphia (and the US, really) was still copying Europe, he looked West to define a bold new style unlike anything seen before. He’s also the only famous architect ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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As a Civil War “lancer” with the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry, he’d charge into enemy gunfire armed only with a long sharp pole. Furness’ horse was once shot dead under him, but Furness survived the largest & bloodiest cavalry battle in history. (He earned his medal for bravery under heavy fire.)

The Furness family has a long history of liberal political causes — perhaps young Frank’s imagination for design was stimulated by the hidden rooms and secret doors of the Underground Railroad? His father was a local Abolitionist, after all (and close friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Frank Furness was a true trailblazer in design, an early adopter of steel frames & Industrial-Age technology. Gears and pulleys weren’t just functional — to Furness, they could add decorative flair, too. He’d incorporate these with leaded glass, Gothic towers, Victorian gingerbread… Furness loved mixing contrasting styles for architectural impact.

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Frank Lloyd Wright once called his designs “bold, unabashed, ugly, and yet somehow healthily pregnant architecture.” Furness’ crazy mish-mosh worked, by gum!

For awhile, he enjoyed wild praise and constant commissions. By the time he was 50, he’d designed 600+ buildings (most in the Philly area), including some major city landmarks, banks, train stations, churches, offices, and even residences.

But like all fads, Furness’ style fizzled with the next generation. Early modern American architects saw Furness as gaudy Victorian flash. He died penniless in 1912, hopelessly out of fashion. In the decades following his death, many of his most beautiful buildings were demolished.

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But our Frank was no flash-in-the-pan! By the 1960’s, historians and architects re-discovered his unique New World genius. These days, Furness is celebrated as a pivotal figure in architecture — a “proto-modernist” who foresaw a new age of design before it dawned. He lit the torch that Louis SullivanLouis Kahn, Robert Venturi, Frank Lloyd Wright and others carried into the 20th Century.

Our own Castle Ringstetten is one of Furness’ earlier works, built in 1875 for $1,70o, which would be about $40k today. A modest sum, it was first just a resting spot for their oarsmen, coming in from a floating dock out front (across where Kelly Drive is now). The one-and-a-half-story boathouse sits on 2 acres — there were once carriage sheds and horse stalls here, too, on the wide green open lawn.

Photo by Joseph Minardi

The Castle is for the most part a vintage entertainment hall with a giant industrial kitchen attached (you should see the old ice box — still in use!) Stepping inside, the main room feels Victorian-lodgey, with dark wooden beams, ornate furniture, and a well-used brick fireplace. Every wall is a collage of old photos, trophies, and memorabilia.

And the bar! Photos cannot possibly convey the quirky fun of this snug little nook, glittering with vintage bar flair.

Photos by Joseph Minardi

And the ornate banquet and huge brick fireplace! Leaded windows, yet! And a wrap-around porch! Even the yard is pretty spectacular, a wide grassy expanse from Kelly to Ridge.

Get up close ‘n personal with Castle Ringstetten this September 30th! In addition to seasonal menu & Billy Murphy’s Beer Garden, this year features live music with the Duke Brothers plus East Falls’ own RawkU Bluesbreakers.

Just $10 gets you all access to this fascinating landmark. Proceeds benefit Carve 4 Cancer and also fund EastFalls’ 2nd sculptural bike rack we can all use and enjoy. (Thanks already to East Falls Development Corporation for contributing $500 to get the ball rolling with artist Sandra Webberking).

Party’s getting started at last year’s Castle on Tap

Explore one of the few remaining showpieces of this legendary architect, right here in our own back yard! Tented tables plus BYOB chairs and blankets on the lawn. Plenty of room to spread out & dance.

More surprises on the way, meanwhile get your tickets now for a unique chance to party on the river in style. Hope you can join us!

BUY TIX NOW & SAVE ($10 online, $15 at the door). Thank you for fighting cancer and supporting the community!

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2 Comments

  1. jim wuller

    is this the Undine Club-between Ridge and Kelly dr ?

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