Category Archives: Neighborhoods

A Brief History of St. Francis de Sales – The Cathedral of West Philadelphia (Part II)

St. Francis de Sales was formally dedicated and opened for worship on November 12, 1911. Originally consisting of about 600 families, the parish swelled to 1,500 by the mid-1920s. Pastor Michael Crane’s power and influence grew so great in the Philadelphia archdiocese that in the early 1920s Pope Benedict XV elevated him monsignor to auxiliary […]
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A Brief History of St. Francis de Sales – The Cathedral of West Philadelphia (Part 1)

In 1980, Eugene Ormandy was ready to retire from his long tenure as Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  For his last recording with the “Fabulous Philadelphians,” the octogenarian conductor decided to make a big splash with a rendition of the Symphony #3 in C major, opus 78 by Camille Saint-Saens. Instead of using Academy […]
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The PRT and the Upwardly-Mobile Bricker Family

My fiancee and I have just purchased a c.1905 twin house in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia.  It is a typical house for what was originally an upper-middle class streetcar neighborhood (according to the National Register of Historic Places, West Philadelphia contains America’s largest intact collection of Victorian housing stock): three stories (four […]
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Tony Drexel Goes for a Walk (Part II)

Although born a Roman Catholic, Drexel migrated to the Episcopal church and helped fund the construction of the Church of the Savior at 38th and Ludlow, today’s Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral.  To honor his patronage, a stained glass window was installed in his honor. He purchased and developed vacant land with homes as the streetcar lines […]
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Clarence Siegel’s Garden Court: The Rowhouse Meets the Automobile

By the 1920s, American city planners and developers were forced to confront the exploding popularity of the automobile. Automobile ownership tripled from 8 million in 1920 to 23 million by the close of the decade. The price of a Model T had fallen to a mere $260 for an open touring car, or the equivalent […]
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The Ginkgo Tree of Chestnutwold

The present day Penn Alexander School was once the site of one of West Philadelphia’s great estates: Chestnutwold, built by Clarence H. Clark. In its time, Clark’s banking concern was one of the most powerful in the nation. And like many businesses in Philadelphia, it was a family affair. Clarence Clark was the son of banker […]
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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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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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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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Philadelphia’s Sears Tower

When Americans are asked about the Sears Tower, they normally call to mind the recently renamed Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois. However, if asked about a Sears Tower when in Philadelphia, you’re likely to get a different answer. In Northeast Philadelphia, where Adams Avenue meets Roosevelt Boulevard, the 14-story Sears clock tower stood for over […]
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