Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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The Quaker City and the Second Empire

In 1851, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte had the audacity — some might say hubris — to crown himself Emperor of France, just as his uncle had done half a century earlier.  He took the title of Napoleon III. French progressives such as author Victor Hugo despaired.  They had just overthrown another king — this time the bumbling, […]
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Taking to the Streets with the Philadelphia Police (Singing and Dancing)

Philly’s Finest got into the big band business while the getting was good. Only three years after 1912, when bandmaster Lieutenant Joseph Kiefer (formerly of the U. S. Navy) started up his talented squad, he expanded its ranks to 72 musicians. He then spent the better part of the next decade riding the rising tide […]
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When Mechanization Took Command

Great 20th-century cities demanded forward looking solutions. When Philadelphia announced its intentions to join the City Beautiful Movement, grandiose cleanups would call for something more than the pith-­helmeted army of “White Wings.” Marching, uniformed  broomsmen were more reminiscent of 19th- century colonial conquests than 20th-century urban efficiency. The new solution would be a machine, and […]
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West Philadelphia Italianate

According to The Architectural Review of 1870, an Italianate home was a friendly structure, an anti-castle of sorts: “The Italian style is well adapted to many parts of our country, and is known by the absence of acute gables, buttresses, embattlements, and clustered columns. Instead of these are found: the hip-roof; in place of the […]
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Rogue Abattoirs and the Plight of Philly’s Meat Men

“If we do not want to eat the stuff ourselves,” declared veterinarian Charles Allen Cary in 1887, “we had better bury or burn it.” Experts of the American Veterinary Association called for more inspections of dairies and slaughterhouses to reduce the amount of tubercular meat and milk reaching consumers. At the turn of the 20th […]
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Cleaning Up In Philadelphia

What with coal ash, horse droppings and the refuse of day-to-day life, cleaning the early 20th-century city proved no small task. But for South Philadelphia pig farmer turned politician Edwin H. Vare, cleaning up in Philadelphia proved to be quite a lucrative operation, both literally and figuratively. Back then, the city didn’t clean its streets—private […]
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South Street Squeegee

In the 20th century, people came to love their cars, so long as they could drive them on smooth, flat, clean asphalt. In rush hour traffic, cobblestones quickly lost their charm; Belgian blocks got old fast. Asphalt, also known as bituminous paving was as flat could be, providing those who laid it kept it clean […]
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Saving (and Stretching) Devil’s Pocket

“I have seen a pope, I have seen Julius Erving at the top of his game. I have seen a city administration burn down a neighborhood. I watched Randall Cobb slowly realize he would never become a heavyweight champion, of the world. One night I almost saw myself die.” Pete Dexter was saying his long, […]
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A Permanent Slice of Piazza on South Street?

South Street’s civic temperature – and Philadelphia’s by degree – can be measured by checking in at the triangular intersection at South Street, 23rd Street and Grays Ferry Avenue. This pizza-shaped- piazza continues to change with the times, proving, once again, that what goes around comes around. About a century ago, Christopher Morley (who resided […]
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