Bur Bur Levy
Style: 2,200-square-foot 19th-century row home.
Though Eastern State Penitentiary hasn't been a prison for decades, its presence is still strongly felt in the homes that surround the massive structure. Bur Bur Levy's magnificent old row home appears to have at one time been a boarding house for guards who worked at the facility. But after years of hard work tearing out the walls and doors that had separated the house into three apartments, the once dark and claustrophobic home is now open, airy and extremely welcoming.
How long have you lived here?
"My late husband, at the time my husband-to-be, and I moved here in 1979."
What made you choose this particular house?
"I love the Queen Anne windows in the living room and the ornamental pear trees on the street outside. In the spring they have lovely white blossoms. There used to be so many of them they created an arch down the entire street. But over the years a lot split and had to be removed."
How many bedrooms do you have?
"There are six rooms upstairs that could be bedrooms. We used only three for that purpose. It must've been a rooming house before, because when we moved here, two of the rooms were kitchens. Also downstairs was a private apartment that was blocked off from the front hallway. When you walked into the house, you couldn't even see the dining room. We opened all that up, but it's why you see the pillars in the dining room. It was a lot of work."
The cabinet in the dining room is wonderful.
"My grandparents used to own a drugstore, and we got it from there. Back then pharmacists had to put the capsules together themselves, and the cabinet has a surface for cutting and measuring the medicine. It was covered with several layers of paint. I spent an entire summer stripping it."
Where did you get your other furniture?
"Here and there, really. The piano we got from a man in Germantown. My husband was a piano player and a composer. He always thought the keys were too light."
You have a great kitchen. I love the icebox. It must be more than 100 years old.
"The kitchen was all redone. I used to keep food in the icebox, but then I realized mice could get in."
Were you able to imagine it would ever be this nice when you first moved in?
"I have to give my husband credit for the imagination. I really didn't like it when I first saw it. It was all closed in, and the wallpaper, which was everywhere, made the house very dark. And the kitchens that were on the second and third floors dated back to the '30s and were pretty horrible."
What about the room upstairs with the bay window? It looks cozy and quiet.
"I love this room. It used to be my study, but now I use it as my plant hospital. They enjoy all the sun."
The back deck off the kitchen with the roof over it is great.
"We built it on the remains of an old shed. I was sitting back there one day sketching the back of the house, and I started making a porch that instead of rectangular would echo the shape of the bay upstairs. It's our little bit of Cape May."
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