The three-story rowhouse that current Sun Ra Arkestra bandleader Marshall Allen has lived in since 1968 partially collapsed in 2020. The house, which is located in Philadelphia, has also been the headquarters for the extraordinary jazz group for over 50 years. Allen is currently 96 years old and took over the Sun Ra Arkestra following Sun Ra’s death in 1993.
It was the floor joists that collapsed, causing the basement floor to fall into the sub-basement area after the many years that the basement has been deteriorating. “Water had dripped on it, and probably termites had eaten the sub-basement,” Allen stated. “One day it just — schlkup — fell in.”
A plumber reportedly came to fix the boiler this past year and found that he couldn’t get to it because there was a pit where the basement used to be, and it was filled with the junk that had previously filled the basement. “So many people come through here. If they leave anything, it’s in the basement,” Allen commented.
When film director Cornelia Muller discovered the state the house was in this January, she contacted the Robert Bielecki Foundation, a philanthropist organization focused on helping artists. Bielecki promptly pledged Allen $7,000 to repair the damage.
“The Foundation’s ethos is ‘redefining reciprocity,’” Bielecki told WHYY. “The idea that audiences, artists, and presenting organizations form a virtuous circle that requires shared responsibility for the health of the commons. It is sad and outrageous that Marshall Allen and some Arkestra members are living in these conditions. Sun Ra’s legacy, the Arkestra, and the house are American Treasures and deserve to be treated as such.”
Bielecki reached out to Ars Nova Workshop’s Mark Christman for help finding a contractor. Christman obliged, commenting that the Sun Ra Arkestra rowhouse was just as important as other Philadelphia jazz landmarks such as the John Coltrane House in Brewerytown and hard bop saxophonist Hank Mobley’s burial site in Eden Cemetery.
Christman stated, “These are important places that need to be considered, need to be preserved, they provide a significant role in the community. They’re history, and history is alive and well within them. Think about the ideas and contributions that were incubated in here, and continue to be incubated in here.”
The contractor they found was a local named Frank Reis who had visited the house six years before and was saddened by its current state. Reis was more than willing to help, stating “For Germantown, music is one of the big factors that bring us together. Sun Ra, Marshall Allen, and the whole crew has been part of Germantown for as long as I can remember. I’m volunteering my efforts. We’re paying the contractors who are actually doing the work, but all my supervision and coordination I’m doing as a volunteer.”
There’s reportedly about a week left of work on the basement, but there are other non-urgent repairs needed as well, regarding the general wear the house has sat through. Reis also helped Allen get his COVID-19 vaccination during his time working on the project.