Philadelphia opera singer Mario Lanza’s childhood Philly home is being demolished to make way for a new residential development project.
Lanza, a famed opera singer who died at age 38 in 1959, was born and spent the first part of his life at 636 Christian Street in South Philadelphia. The two-floor rowhome, along with several other adjacent properties, was to be replaced with two 43-foot-tall buildings that will share a gated driveway, according to proposed construction plans.
Plans for the new units were revealed earlier this year, and faced opposition from area residents and the Bella Vista Neighbor’s association. In a letter to the Zoning Board of Adjustment in April, the BVNA officially opposed the construction, which it called “inappropriate” for the area due in part to its private driveway, as well as the proposed height of the multi-family dwellings.
“The height of the proposed structure is excessive, the lack of open space adversely affects the future dwelling residents and current neighbors, and the applicant did not demonstrate a hardship with respect to the physical conditions of the lot itself,” BVNA Zoning Committee co-chair Lawrence Weintraub wrote in the opposition letter.
The proposed two-building project was shelved as a result of community opposition, Weintraub said. A revised design variance may be filed with L&I, or that the developer may build a single multi-unit building. The BVNA Zoning Committee has not heard from the developer in several months, Weintraub said.
The home was awarded a historical marker commemorating Lanza’s time there in Nov. 1993, but state historical markers do not provide protection for historical structures in the city. A mural of Lanza currently stands at Broad and Reed Streets. There’s also a Mario Lanza Park on Catharine Street between Second and Third streets, as well as a Mario Lanza Institute & Museum at 7th and Montrose streets, near Lanza’s birthplace.
Born in 1921 as Alfredo Cocozza, Lanza got his start in music after receiving a scholarship to study music with the Boston Symphony Orchestra as a teenager. After a three year stint in the army during World War II, Lanza continued his opera career as part of the Bel Canto Trio with singers George London and Francis Yeend.
By the late 1940s, Lanza was playing sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, according to Explore PA History, and signed a deal with MGM to appear in films. He would go on to star in films like The Midnight Kiss, The Toast of New Orleans, and The Great Caruso.
Lanza rode his film career in America through the mid-1950s, and moved to Rome with his family in 1957, where he released his two final films — Seven Hills of Rome and For the First Time — and performed concerts throughout Europe. In Oct. 1959, Lanza died of a heart attack.