A Home for Retired Actors

This summer, I spent some time going through the Edwin Forrest Home Records to identify items for digitization.  This collection documents the Home, its operation, its residents, and its dissolution. The Edwin Forrest Home was founded after the actor Edwin Forrest’s death to provide a place where retired actors could live comfortably and be cared for during the last years of their lives.  Residents were required to have been in the theatre for a proscribed period of time, and needed recommendations to be accepted to live in the Home.  Upon entry, the residents turned their incomes over to the Home, which agreed to feed, clothe, and pay for medical care for each resident for the duration of their stay at the Home.

The Home’s first location was Forrest’s country estate “Springbrook” in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia.

springbrook

In the early years of the twentieth century, it became clear that this home was no longer sufficient to serve the needs of the residents.  Among other limitations, Springbrook only had one toilet.  The board of the Edwin Forrest Home contracted the construction of a new facility, which would have modern conveniences and provide guests with everything they needed to fully enjoy their retirement.  This new Home at 4849 Parkside Avenue opened in 1928.

parksideparksidehall

Some of the most interesting records in the collection are the “Guest Books,” which are essentially small files on the residents of the Home.  In some cases, the guest books are simple trascriptions of guests’ names and basic information.

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In other cases, these guest books are more elaborate affairs, including photographs, newspaper clippings, obituaries, details about the actors, and contact information for friends and relatives.

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The residents ranged from minor local actors to popular stage and screen stars.  Many of the actors played in silent films, and later, talking movies.  Some of the more prominent residents included Marion Abbott, Lois Arnold, Jack Amory, Florence Averell, George W. Barnum, Charles Canfield, Frank Chapman, Dallas Tyler Fairchild, Hal Forde, Herbert Fortier, Clarence Handyside, Bertram Harrison, Helen Van Hoose, Julia Stuart Mackay, Josephine Morse, Wedgwood Nowell, Fanny Addison Pitt, J. Barney Sherry, Bennet Southard, Marie Taylor, William H. Turner, and Ann Warrington.

Some of the correspondence in the collection illustrates the “dramas” that sometimes ensued in this home, but primarily the residents’ letters express their sincere appreciation for the care they received at the Edwin Forrest Home.  When the Home closed in 1986, it merged with the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home of the Actors’ Fund of America in Englewood, New Jersey.  This home is still in operation.

10 thoughts on “A Home for Retired Actors

    • If you’re referring to the large statue in the center of the third image, then yes, it’s the same one that’s now at the Walnut Street Theatre. (It depicts Forrest as Coriolanus, not Caesar.) It resided in The Edwin Forrest Home until the 1980s when it was given to HSP. It was transferred from HSP to Walnut Street in the late 1990s.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Thank you very much Cary. I admire it every time I’m at the Walnut. I live a couple miles from where Springbrook was located (all rowhomes today). The Edwin Forrest School is nearby, as is the Forrest Hills Athletic Club, so he is not forgotten up here. For years, I worked as a cop in North Philly and daily got to see his magnificent mansion at Broad & Master, one of the last left on that stretch, sadly. This is a great site. Thanks for your work.

  1. Thank you so much for limning this wonderful, almost-forgotten piece of Philadelphia history. Herewith my choicest memory of the E.F. Home on Parkside. In the early sixties, the eight-voice University of Delaware Madrigal Group (I sang first tenor) was invited to perform for the residents, and we were very well received. Our last selection was the Orlando Gibbons’ piece, “The Silver Swan”, which ends, “…more geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.” As the final notes were dying away, an appreciative ripple of laughter went through the house. They were the only audience that “got it” and the best audience we ever had! I also own a delighful drawing of Forrest himself as “The Gladiator” with the line: “Wretch! Doth earth still hold thee?” at the bottom.

    My question is… Is the building on Parkside extant (or demolished). If still there, what is it used for today?

    –Russell Fulton, Philadelphia

    • Dear Mr. Fulton–

      Thanks for reading! I don’t know the current state of 4849 Parkside Ave., but perhaps another reader might? Google searches suggest that it is or was the site of a modern nursing home, so I imagine that the building is at least still standing.

      Cary

  2. while visiting the grave of my husband’s great aunt, I saw this huge headstone directly across from hers. i was never in this cemetary before. it was for the Edwin Forest actors. there must be about 25 or so names, etched on both sides of headstone. the first from 1922 up until 1928. The cemetary is at Frankford Avenue right above Bridge St. this is a fascinating piece of history, thank you for the information.

    • You are very welcome! Apologies for this very late reply: HSP’s Fondly PA blog has moved to our new website: http://hsp.org/blogs/fondly-pennsylvania, and we do not regularly check this WordPress site any more. You can see all our old and newest posts there. But we’re glad to have provided you with more information, and thank you for reading.

      Sincerely,
      Cary

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