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Carefully laid brickwork making up the facade. Cornices marked by fleur de lis designs. A trio of marble steps at the front door. Though just a couple feet tall, the mosaic that sits at eye level in a South Philly alleyway is a pretty accurate representation of a Philadelphia rowhome.
The dollhouse-sized tilework appeared last summer. For several months, no one was sure who’d created it.
“I know not who made it or why but it’s so cool and so Philly and I think you should go see it,” Eric in Philly, a street art tour guide, posted on Instagram. “That street is turning into a real art corridor!”
Known as “The Electric Street,” the semi-hidden alley begins just south of Pat’s King of Steaks.
Curving to connect 9th Street to Reed in parallel to Passyunk Avenue, the stretch gained international renown last year as home to the Percy Street Project, a series of abstract murals that light up in neon after dark.
The LED artwork by David Guinn and Drew Billiau is funded by Mural Arts and the Knight Foundation. It’s meant to increase safety and walkability while also beautifying the neighborhood. Several other murals now flank the “electric” design, and plans call for the entire block to be covered, with artists paid for their creations.
The tiny tile house doesn’t quite fit in with the overarching plan — exactly as its creator intended, they told Billy Penn.
“There’s kind of a dichotomy with the art on this block,” said tile artist, who goes by the pseudonym Klapaucius Frink. “There’s the planned stuff, and then the more spontaneous stuff.”
Frink is on a mission to encourage more people to contribute to the spontaneity.
The artist, who said they own the property, has plastered the rest of the wall near the little house with action figures and plastic dinosaurs. (It’s reminiscent of a similar installation at Philly Aids Thrift, part of which was also Frink’s handiwork.)
Each toy is arranged perpendicular to the building exterior so it can cradle a large chunk of sidewalk chalk. Serendipitously — or really, because Frink convinced a couple of neighbors to go along with the idea — a few nearby walls are covered with chalkboard paint, leading to an ever-changing array of pastel drawings and messages.
With its earth tones and intricate details, the petite rowhome also contrasts with the bright murals at the other end of the alley, offering a bonus for visitors who walk the loop.
It came about when Frink happened on some found materials that begged for it, they explained.
The marble that showed up first, and “I realized it was just like a stoop!” Frink said. Then came a set of thin clay tiles, which could be easily carved to look like miniature brickwork. Add an etched slab for the doorway, some delicate pieces for the windows, and the miniature house was born.
Per the artist, it’s likely to stick around for a while, offering plenty of chances to check it out next time you’re in the neighborhood.