Category Archives: Uncategorized

Philadelphia Architects on Fire(houses)

As the city heated up, pushing outward in all directions, so did its fire department. As we’ve seen in more than one post, architect John Windrim stepped in and supplied an array of new and eclectic designs for the expanded municipal footprint, making up for lost time. As director of Public Works Windrim had a natural […]
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John Windrim and the Eclectic Engine House Boom

The newspaper headline confirmed what everyone already suspected. Philadelphia’s “Boom in Building” of 1889 had more structures going up than during any other year in the entire history of the city. On the streets, that translated into the city pushing noisily in every possible direction. On the books, that meant 70 new factories, 65 additional […]
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Firehouses Acting Out: An Exuberant, Stylistic Storm in the 1890s

“The most intriguing element” on the façade of Engine #29 on 4th Street near Girard,” Inga Saffron wonders, is “the vaguely Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs embedded between the handsome truck doors and the German-style pattern in the ribbon of flowery tiles just below the cornice. Why those motifs?” Yes, we agree: What the hex? Might this […]
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Taming the Fight in Philadelphia Firefighting

Philadelphia endured six riots in the 1840s. The city’s streets were seething and dangerous. But they also could be glorious. “Grand beyond description,” is how the Inquirer described the May Day display put on by the city’s sixty-six volunteer fire companies in 1849. “The gorgeous banners of every hue and shade, the beautifully decorated engines and hose […]
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Vanna Venturi House: Inspirations from Philadelphia of the 1930s

“The city is the place of availabilities,” declared Louis Kahn. “It is the place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.” If the small boy was Robert Venturi and the city was Philadelphia in the 1930s, that something […]
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Seafood Scandal in Society Hill

All Don and Peggy Kleinschmidt wanted was a nice family dinner. The last thing they wanted was for their three-year-old son, Dale, to become the poster child in a frenzied food-tainting scandal. On Tuesday March 24, 1959 Peggy went shopping at her local supermarket in Haddon Heights, New Jersey and arrived home with two pounds […]
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A Gorilla in the Gallery

There’s a lovely little installation about the German Society of Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia History Museum. In addition to books and manuscripts and steins and photographs and Revolutionary War pistols and Civil War swords, there’s an 800-pound gorilla. Unlike the other artifacts, the giant gorilla has no label. The German Society of Pennsylvania has been […]
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Monumental Complications in Germantown

German-Americans found 1933 to be a very tricky year. An elaborate 250th anniversary celebration of Philadelphia’s Germantown settlement would again converge at the Pastorius monument. And just as Philadelphians with German ties had done ever October since the 1880s, they celebrated German Day with marches, speeches and song. But for the 15,000 paying respects in […]
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When Public Art Becomes a Hot Potato

In a day of “impressive” and “picturesque” celebrations, and “probably the most elaborate demonstration ever undertaken by the Germans of this city, Philadelphians unveiled a monument to Major General Peter Muhlenberg, Colonial Preacher and Revolutionary hero, statesman and scholar, on the south plaza of City Hall.” “Preceded by a monster parade,” with “detachments of marines from League […]
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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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