Kevin Riordan: Arts venture brightens commercial strip in Haddon Township

At the new gallery and studio space for artists in Haddon Township are the building's owner, Dom Flamini, and Christine Hopkins, who is his partner and owns a hair salon at the site.
At the new gallery and studio space for artists in Haddon Township are the building's owner, Dom Flamini, and Christine Hopkins, who is his partner and owns a hair salon at the site. (CAITLIN MORRIS / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 04, 2011

You may not have heard much about SoHa.

But your chances of hearing more about it just got bigger.

A major exhibition space and new studios for 10 artists opened last month at 1001 White Horse Pike in the "South of Haddon Arts and Business District," the promotional name for a section of Haddon Township most folks call Oaklyn.

A potters' collective, a sculptor, and a mixed-media artist already occupy the rear of the landmark building, where a sleek street-level hair salon offers its own brand of artistry.

"This is the new gallery space," says Christine Hopkins, who owns the salon and formerly headed the township's business-improvement district. She's also partners with building owner Dom Flamini in the expanded arts venture, which easily doubles exhibition and studio space for artists in the neighborhood.

I'm standing in what, less than two months ago, was a humdrum second-floor warren of offices, now a stylish aerie with 12-foot ceilings; shiny pine floors; and big, bold paintings by local artists on all-white walls.

"This is my baby," says Flamini, who bought the building - once home to a sporting-goods store known for its batting cages - in 1985. He leased space to a number of retail and office tenants; the first artists arrived in 2002.

Maria Christopher is the first to occupy one of the new studios.

"This building is really positive and bright," says the painter, whose former studio was near Philadelphia's Italian Market. "It has great energy."

"When space is very expansive, you feel things in a more expansive way," says sculptor Ted Warchal, who moved his studio from Merchantville to 1001 four years ago. "I think the new [studios] are really wonderful. . . . They will help create a sense of community in the building."

The working-class stretch of the pike where Haddon Township, Oaklyn, and Collingswood blur into one another lacks the coolness factor of Philly's edgier, art-centric neighborhoods. I know; I lived on the 1100 block of the pike for 26 years.

But this old-fashioned commercial strip has a bit of urban grit and a surprisingly diverse residential and business blend - soul food, lingerie, new-age books, tuxedos, and tattoos are all available within a few blocks of one another. And if you still need some Philly edge, NJ Transit buses can get you into Center City in 20 minutes.

"I love the unpretentiousness," says Fran Gallun, a mixed-media artist, who moved into Flamini's building in 2002.

The down-to-earth quality also attracted Jocelynn Tice, a portraitist and teacher who owns My Studio.

That's down-to-earth, as in, low rent, for the storefront where she opened her business in 2002.

"Some people come in and say, 'What the hell are you doing here?' " Tice laughs. "I tell them, 'Making money.' "

One way she does this is by painting props and other items for the Ritz Theatre, which transformed a former White Horse Pike porn palace into a legitimate stage venue 26 years ago.

Adding more artists to the neighborhood can only help, says producing artistic director Bruce Curless, whose organization was first to put the district on the cultural map.

More recently, across from the Ritz, musician and teacher Sara O'Brien launched her eclectic and lively Studio LuLoo performance space on the Oaklyn side of the pike.

Located in a house that served for decades as a dry-cleaning shop, the studio offers open-mike nights as well as concerts by local bands. It will soon move to nearby West Clinton Avenue, and a gallery will take over the space on the pike.

Despite such positive signs, the neighborhood still misses the Newton Diner, which burned to the ground last year and remains an empty lot. Vacant storefronts dot both sides of the strip as well.

"People here are really dedicated," O'Brien says. "They really care about the arts and the community. But it's tough. It's going to take time."

Flamini, of Moorestown, says he's in it for the long haul.

"I used to be a teacher," he explains. Owning a building full of artists offers a chance for a landlord "to be creative."


Kevin Riordan:

Watch artists, businesspeople, and boosters talk up SoHA, Haddon Township's rising arts district, at www.philly.com/soha


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq

 

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