Author Archives: Steven Ujifusa

The Butler Family Feud (Part II)

Pierce Butler II did not reform his ways after his wife left him. Rather, he drank, gambled, and philandered his way through his remaining $700,000 fortune. To pay his debts, he sold nearly 500 slaves at auction in 1859.  According to one observer: On the faces of all [the slaves] was an expression of heavy […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part I)

Although outlawed after the Revolution, slavery continued to be a critical part of the Pennsylvania economy virtually up to the Civil War. In an era before joint stock corporations, businesses were family affairs. A successful merchant or landowner would pass along his enterprises directly to his descendants, not to trained professional executives. Many prominent Philadelphia […]
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It’s a Gas! Mayor Dilworth Extinguishes Philadelphia’s Last Municipal Gas Streetlight

On April 15, 1959, Mayor Richardson Dilworth, resplendent in a three piece suit, mounted a ladder and extinguished Philadelphia’s last gas streetlight.  The frilly fixture, dating from the early 1900s, was located at 45th and Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Residents smiled and applauded, glad that this vestige of the Victorian era was gone.  In […]
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Preservation to Demolition: Why Lancaster Mews Matters

Yet another high rise student housing complex going up, billed as “luxury” apartments? At a community meeting last night,  residents of the area expressed their concern at the possible loss of an historic anchor structure at the corner of 36th and Lancaster Avenue.  The building entered the spotlight a few weeks ago, when Inga Saffron wrote in […]
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“Where Are You From?” Frank DeSimone’s South Philadelphia (Part 2)

Note: this article is Part II of a series.  Click here for Part I.   Two months ago, as we stood in front of St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church, Frank DeSimone recalled one of his fondest childhood memories: the annual visit of the Joseph A. Ferko String Band. In the 1950s, Philadelphia was defined not by […]
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A Drive Through Overbrook Farms

In 1876, as Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition was in full swing, the Pennsylvania Railroad quietly bought up the trolley rights on Lancaster Avenue from 52nd Street to the western city limits.  The PRR shrewdly sought to control as much development as possible along its Main Line to Pittsburgh, which paralleled Lancaster Avenue — also known as […]
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Gentlemen and Wise Guys in Girard Estates

  Stephen Girard, the French-born Philadelphia shipping tycoon, was famous for his hard driving work ethic.  He came to America as a teenager, an orphaned cabin boy from the city of Bordeaux, and quickly established himself as a merchant who sent his ships to China and the Caribbean.  Along with John Jacob Astor of New […]
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Frank DeSimone’s South Philly (Part One)

  Frank DeSimone is seventy years old, and is a successful trial Philadelphia attorney who at one time served as assistant district attorney. He is short of stature and slight of build, with a soft, gravely voice and warm, open smile. Born in 1945, Frank is the grandson of immigrants from Naples.  His grandfather came […]
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The Rittenhouse Club: Henry James’ Favorite Perch

Only the discreet letters “RC” on the brass doorplates identify 1811 Walnut Street as the former home of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious clubs. The Beaux-Arts facade remains, but the building behind it is gone. Paneling from the club still survives in the bar of Rex 1516 restaurant on South Street. The remaining furniture — […]
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Powelton Avenue: The First Stop on the Main Line?

Footage of the last steam trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1954. For those who regularly ride the Main Line trains: have you ever wondered why there are no stops between 30th Street Station and Overbrook?  After Overbrook, however, the train stops nearly every two minutes. There’s an old  – and very politically incorrect — mnemonic device […]
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