Campo’s Delicatessen and Our Lady of Loreto (Part II)

Campo butcher shop 1954.ashx

Campo’s Butcher Shop, intersection of Carpenter and 9th Street, August 3, 1954.

To read Part I, click here

In the 1930s, Ferdinando’s son young Ambrose went to work at his uncle’s butcher’s shop in South Philadelphia, which he would eventually take over. Because few families owned cars during the lean years of the Great Depression, most Philadelphians still shopped for food in their neighborhoods, bringing home only what they could carry. Meat was expensive. Housewives would usually pick out a live turkey, chicken, or goose, have the butcher do the slaughtering, and then take the carcass home to pluck and dress themselves. “The animals were our pets all year,” remembered Ferdinando’s grandson Michael Sr. “Well, until Eastertime.”

In 1947, joining the postwar exodus of second and third generation Italians out of South Philly, Ambrose Campo set up a new establishment at 2401 S.62nd Street in a squat, two-story brick building decorated with pressed-tin bay windows and cornices. Like countless Philadelphia business owners, the Campos ran their butcher shop on the first floor and lived in an apartment on the second floor. Everyone in the family was expected to help out, whether it was mixing meatballs, manning the cash register, or sweeping up at closing time.

By the 1970s, as supermarkets squeezed family butcher shops out of business, Ambrose’s son Frank decided to remake Campo’s as a delicatessen. The delicatessen was originally a German concept: it served sandwiches and other prepared meals to sit-down customers, and also catered meals for family events and local fraternal organizations. Jewish delicatessens served only kosher meats (pastrami, corned beef, brisket) and sold no dairy products, while Italian and German ones served plenty of pork products (salami, prosciutto, soppresata) and specialty cheeses such as provolone. “Butcher shops were becoming a thing of the past,” said 33-year old Frank Campo, grandson of Ambrose, “and after some years of decreased sales my father started making sandwiches with the shop’s steaks and sausages.”

Campo's Deli at 62nd and Grays Avenue,

Campo’s Deli at 62nd and Grays Avenue,

Ambrose Campo holding a slaughtered calf, 1956. Image courtesy of Michael Campo.

Ambrose Campo holding a slaughtered calf, 1956. Image courtesy of Michael Campo.

Yet despite this adaptation, the old Italian-American community in Southwest Philadelphia that had sustained Campo’s Deli continued to disperse. Many of the residents moved to newly constructed automobile suburbs in South Jersey and Delaware County, a pattern followed in other mostly-Catholic neighborhoods such as Grays Ferry. In 2001, Campo’s Deli closed its 62nd Street location and moved to a new site at 214 Market Street in Old City, and also opened concession stands in Citizens Bank Ballpark. Not long after that, the Philadelphia Archdiocese announced that Our Lady of Loreto parish was to be shuttered. “Yes the area has become somewhat economically depressed and church attendance has declined,” wrote Damian D’Orsaneo to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003, “but is that any reason to close a church? I’m not a biblical scholar, but one thing I remember from 12 years of Catholic schooling is that Jesus’ followers were, for the most part, the poor and downtrodden. If this church provides peace and comfort to even a few, isn’t that a good enough reason to keep its doors open?”

The church thankfully did not meet the wrecking ball, and continues to serve local worshipers as Grace Christian Fellowship. Its colorful murals and Art Deco facade still attract the attention of airport-bound motorists hoping to avoid traffic on I-76.


Campo family history provided to Steven Ujifusa by Michael Campo, June 23, 2016.

Email correspondence, Michael Campo to Steven Ujifusa, June 23, 2016.

Email correspondence, Michael Campo to Steven Ujifusa, October 18, 2016.

Anna Maria Chupa, “St. Joseph’s Day Altars,” Louisiana Project, Houston Institute for Culture,, accessed October 16, 2016.

Damian D’Orsaneo, “The Sad Fate of Our Lady of Loreto,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 2003,, accessed October 14, 2016.

Interview of Ron Donatucci by Steven Ujifusa, January 26, 2016.

Natalie Hardwick, “Top 10 Foods to Try in Sicily,” BBC Good Food,, accessed October 14, 2016.

David Rosengarten, “The Cuisine of Abruzzo: Easy to Love, Not So Easy to Describe,” The Huffington Post, August 6, 2014,, accessed October 14, 2016.

Inga Saffron, “Good Eye: This Catholic Church Celebrates the Miracle of Flight Two Ways,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 14, 2016,, accessed October 15, 2016.

“Puglia,” Rustico Cooking,, accessed October 14, 2016.

“The Best Food of Calabria,” Walks of Italy,, accessed October 20, 2016.


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Philadelphia’s Scarlet Streak

Police Department – 750 Race Street (

1966 Plymouth Fury Patrol Cars at Police Headquarters, 750 Race Street (

Even though he despised the color, as long as Frank Rizzo carried a badge the patrol cars of the Philadelphia Police were lipstick red. Rizzo snapped at officers who spoke of them as “red cars” and one can only imagine what he said when he heard them referred to as “rotten tomatoes” or “red devils.”

As soon as Rizzo rose to the position of police commissioner in 1967, he announced a plan to replace the red with a less strident blue and white. But Mayor James H. J. Tate made it clear: such decisions were above Rizzo’s pay grade. Traditional red would reign five more years.

The order came down Tuesday January 4, 1972—Rizzo’s first full day as mayor. He barely minded the ribbing that his brother Joe, the fire commissioner, would be able to tell them apart from vehicles in his department. For the newly inaugurated mayor, “Blue Tuesday,” as the newspapers called it, was a Red Letter Day.

Why, exactly, was red so objectionable?

Philadelphia’s scarlet streak dated back to 1929, a time when color, let alone bright colors, were rare on your basic, Henry-Ford-black automobile. And 1929 was anything but an ordinary year for the Philadelphia police. The department was in a tailspin, having been documented as systemically corrupt.

Historians tell us that “spreading gangland warfare” and simmering scandal “exploded” into “a spectacular grand jury investigation” in August 1928. The city’s annual, underground, Prohibition-era economy of alcohol and other “amusements” had soared to $40 million. Nearly 1,200 bars remained open. Across the city were 13,000 speakeasies and 300 “bawdy houses.” And half of the total proceeds were skimmed off for “protection.” Investigators learned that much of that $20 million passed through the hands of police officers and district captains handpicked by ward leaders. The Philadelphia Police Department wasn’t part of the solution; it was the city’s crime problem.

Mayor Harry Mackey ordered a complete, city-wide “clean up” of the department, including redistricting. In the shakeup, 4,500 officers were transferred; at least 85 were dismissed. Precautions assuring visibility and accountability of the reconfigured force were put in place.

Red had long been associated with Philadelphia, usually in a positive way. S. Weir Mitchell titled his Philadelphia-based historical romance The Red CityElizabeth Robbins Pennell waxed in Our Philadelphiaa book-length love letter, how “peace breathed, exuded from the red brick houses with white marble steps…” But there was also a distinct downside to Philadelphia red. Gothic novelist George Lippard considered the infatuation excessive. “The eye is wearied by one unvarying sameness of dull red brick” he noted in The Quaker City, observing that “the man who paints a house blue or yellow or pink or white, or any other hue…than this monotonous red, is…set down by his neighbors, as slightly weak minded or positively crazy.”

And then there was the notable role for the color in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s popular American classic, The Scarlet Letter, where red stood out as Hester Prynne’s badge of public shame after being found guilty of adultery.

When reform-minded leaders instituted the “Red Car System” in 1929, it almost certainly was not an allusion to Hawthorne’s tale. But less than a year after revelations of deep, widespread, systemic corruption, the choice of scarlet for patrol cars would have been at the forefront of any attempt to increase visibility and accountability. Years later, some might well have considered the color as a vestige, a residual echo of a precaution aimed at introducing transparency for a disgraced police force. They could still feel the punitive stridency of red.

As commissioner in 1969, Rizzo took delivery of 255 new, red Ford V-8s with air-conditioning, power brakes, power steering and bucket seats. From the city’s point of view, Pacifico Ford’s $911,802 price tag was the lowest of three required bids. This would be among the city’s last orders for red cruisers.

Public reaction was largely positive a few years later, when the city shifted to blue and white. “I like it,” said a woman on Market Street. “It doesn’t scream at you.” But a cabbie worried: “It just didn’t stand out like the red.”

Absolutely right.

After 43 years, Philadelphia’s scarlet streak had come to an end.

[Sources: “Huge Rum Bribes to Police Bared in Philadelphia,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 1, 1928; William G. Shepherd, “The Price of Liquor,” Colliers, December 1, 1928; “Graft Findings Hit 85 Philadelphia Police,” The Washington Post, March 14, 1929; Albert C. Wagner, “Crime and Economic Change in Philadelphia, 1925-1934,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 27, Issue 4, Winter 1936; “Police Cars to Stay Red, The Bulletin, May 22, 1968; City Gets Low Bid of $2530 Apiece for 255 Red Cars,” The Bulletin, November 11, 1969; “Rizzo Gets His Way on Police Cars,” The Bulletin, January 4, 1972; John Clancy and Don McDonough, “It’s a Blue Tuesday for Police Red Cars,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 5, 1972; William A. Lovejoy, “Phila.’s Blue “Red Cars ” Draw Favorable Comment,” The Bulletin, February 17, 1972.]

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Campo’s and Our Lady of Loreto (Part I)

The oldest surviving cookbook, De re coquinaria (On Cookery), was compiled by Marcus Gavius Apicius in the first century A.D., the high water mark of the Roman Empire.  Each region of Italy has been reveling in its own favorites ever since: “pane con la milza” (open-faced pork spleen sandwich) from Sicily, coretello (minced lamb and lamb innards) from Abruzzo, ‘Nduja (spreadable sausage) from Calabria, and penne with arugula and tomatoes from Puglia.

For Italian immigrant families who came to the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s, village recipes were crucial parts ties to their familial and regional pasts, and they died hard in the American urban melting pot.  The Philly cheese steak, supposedly “invented” by brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri, did not come along until the 1930s, and originally called for an Italian roll and provolone cheese, not the Americanized orange cheese product.

To Ronald Donatucci, the current registrar of wills and native of the Girard Estates neighborhood, the Jews and the Italian-Americans of Philadelphia shared many common cultural traits, among them a love of food, a focus on education, and (more often than not), a strong mother figure. “They’re so similar,” Donatucci recalled. “My father instilled education in myself and my siblings.” Like the Jews, with whom they often coexisted in tightly-packed rowhouse blocks, Italian immigrants quickly applied the trades they learned back in the old country to the streets of Philadelphia, especially in culinary and the building trades.  And they kept these businesses in the family. Bakeries, cheese shops, and confectionaries flourished in Italian neighborhoods. Older women in various neighborhoods would go to the early Sunday Mass at their local parish church, then do their grocery shopping for the week.  Young boys were expected to help them with their bags.

Food was not just central to regular family gatherings, but also to the myriad feast days and festivals of the Roman Catholic calendar year.  Each village had its own patron saint.  One of the biggest, of course, was the Festa di San Giuseppe (Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of Sicily), celebrated every March 19 with limes, wine, fava beans, cookies, breadcrumbs (representing the sawdust from Joseph’s carpenter shop), and zeppole cakes.

1106-1114 South Street 5.3.1930ashx

Campo Butcher Shop on the 1100 block of South Street, May 3, 1930.

One such culinary family was the Campo clan–friends of the Donatuccis–who settled in Southwest Philadelphia in the parish of Our Lady of Loreto.   In 1905, the three Campo brothers (Fernando, Francesco, and Venerando) arrived in Philadelphia on the Red Star liner SS Friesland.  They were natives of the Sicilian village of Cesaro. According to Ferdinando’s great-grandson Michael Campo, the family had been butchers for generation: there were at least seven men named Campo operating butcher shops in Sicily in the early 1900s.   Most likely through family help and local Italian-American banks, Venerando raised enough capital to open his own butcher shop at the intersection of Carpenter and South 9th Street in Philadelphia. In the meantime, his brother Ferdinando opened a similar establishment in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Eventually, Ferdinando’s son Ambrose opened another butcher’s shop, this one at 62nd and Grays Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, and joined a brand new parish that had opened its doors in the neighborhood.  The church, finished in 1938, was the anchor of a neighborhood of tidy brick rowhouses surrounding the main thoroughfare leading from West Philadelphia to the new Philadelphia Municipal Airport.  When aviator Charles Lindbergh dedicated the airport shortly after his epic 1927 transatlantic flight, Philadelphia’s city fathers named this arterial street in his honor. Designed in the fashionable Art Deco style by local architect Frank L. Petrillo, Our Lady of Loreto was a radical departure from the baroque and Byzantine revival popular with church architects such as Henry Dagit and Edward F. Durang.  Inside and out, Our Lady of Loreto (the patron saint of air travel) looked more like a 1930s airport terminal than a church.  According to Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, “Petrillo’s design cleverly links that story with the great technical advance of the 1930s: commercial air travel. Because streamline moderne’s strong, horizontal lines evoked speed, it was a favorite architectural choice for new airports’ terminals.” The airplane theme didn’t stop with the building envelope.  According to church teaching, on May 10, 1291, a flock of angels flew the house where the Virgin Mary was born from the Holy Land to the comparative safety of the Italian village of Loreto.

The mural on the church’s facade depicted this miracle as propeller-driven planes swoop around the heavy-lifting angels.

Feast of St. Anthony, c.1985. Image courtesy of Michael Campo.

Feast of St. Anthony, c.1985. Image courtesy of Michael Campo/Our Lady of Loreto Facebook group.

The modern style of the church reflected the forward-looking aspirations of the 1,200 or so families who belonged to the parish,  They saw Southwest Philadelphia as a step up from cluttered old South Philadelphia.  For the members of this parish, the most important festival was the feast of St. Anthony, which took place on the first week of June. “I remember being a kid and my parents giving me a dollar to pin on the St. Anthony statue, for which I would get a blessed roll,” remembered Michael Campo. “The roll was from Mattera’s Bakery, which was the neighborhood bakery, and located on the same intersection of 62nd and Grays Avenue, as the Church and Campo’s.”  Following the parade was a carnival, complete with fireworks and a dunk-the-clown contest.  “Looking back on it, it was probably a couple roman candles,” Campo said of the fireworks dislay, “but when I was 10, It felt like I was at Disney World.”


Campo family history provided to Steven Ujifusa by Michael Campo, June 23, 2016.

Email correspondence, Michael Campo to Steven Ujifusa, June 23, 2016.

Email correspondence, Michael Campo to Steven Ujifusa, October 18, 2016.

Anna Maria Chupa, “St. Joseph’s Day Altars,” Louisiana Project, Houston Institute for Culture,, accessed October 16, 2016.

Damian D’Orsaneo, “The Sad Fate of Our Lady of Loreto,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 2003,, accessed October 14, 2016.

Interview of Ron Donatucci by Steven Ujifusa, January 26, 2016.

Natalie Hardwick, “Top 10 Foods to Try in Sicily,” BBC Good Food,, accessed October 14, 2016.

David Rosengarten, “The Cuisine of Abruzzo: Easy to Love, Not So Easy to Describe,” The Huffington Post, August 6, 2014,, accessed October 14, 2016.

Inga Saffron, “Good Eye: This Catholic Church Celebrates the Miracle of Flight Two Ways,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 14, 2016,, accessed October 15, 2016.

“Puglia,” Rustico Cooking,, accessed October 14, 2016.

“The Best Food of Calabria,” Walks of Italy,, accessed October 20, 2016.



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Philadelphia Politics and the Presidential Campaign of 1932

Reception to President Hoover-Reyburn Plaza, October 31, 1932 (PhillyHistory,org)

Reception for President Herbert Hoover at Reyburn Plaza, October 31, 1932 (PhillyHistory,org)

Herbert Hoover wasn’t in Philadelphia long during his campaign swing for re-election in October 1932, and he didn’t have much to say. In fact, Hoover’s entire visit lasted only 30 minutes. Still, Philadelphians turned out in a major way for the Republican incumbent—an estimated 30,000—“the biggest assemblage massed in the central city district in years” reported The New York Times.

Proof positive that “William S. Vare, the…still powerful leader of the Philadelphia Republican organization, really had determined…to send his machine all the way down for the President.”

“It was Mr. Vare’s show,” wrote The Times. “His political henchmen were there in person and had enough support to throng Reyburn and City Hall Plazas and nearby streets.” The crowd cheered Vare when he rose to introduce the President. Then “boos” echoed across the plazas as Hoover rose to speak and continued throughout his very brief remarks. (Hoover “took no notice” of the “boos” and the next morning they were explained away as the handiwork of Communists.)

He looked over the crowd, paused, and then took a few moments to praise William Penn, the Liberty Bell, and “the greatness of this city and of this Commonwealth”—anything to avoid acknowledging the fact that the Great Depression had left at least one in four Philadelphians unemployed. Anything to keep from reminding the crowd that only two months earlier, police attacked 1,500 jobless “hunger marchers” in an incident come to be known as the “Battle of Reyburn Plaza.”

The President turned away from the podium and with his entourage walked back to Broad Street Station to take a train to New York City were a crowd at Madison Square Garden—only 21,000 this time—heard Hoover’s major speech. This was no ordinary presidential campaign, he said. Americans were in the midst of “a contest between two philosophies of Government.” Hoover’s opponent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was “appealing to the people in their fear and their distress…proposing changes and so-called new deals which would destroy the very foundations of the American system of life.”

“We are told that we must have a change, that we must have a new deal.” But this, Hoover declared, would “alter the whole foundations of our national life;” it would undo “generations of testing and struggle.” This new deal, he stressed, would rock “the principles upon which we have made this Nation.”

Roosevelt would be risky. “Be safe with Hoover,” implored the campaign slogan.

Meanwhile, Roosevelt’s “brain trust” crafted a campaign strategy around not committing “any gaffes that might take the public’s attention away from Hoover’s inadequacies and the nation’s troubles.”

Three years into the Great Depression, Hoover was deeply unpopular, even in Philadelphia, with 553,435 voters registered Republicans and 85,236 Democrats. By summer, Roosevelt had developed a strong lead in the polls. But by late October, that lead had shrunk and Hoover had a narrow chance of winning Pennsylvania, If only he could dominate in its most populous city.

That’s where Vare came in. Come election day, only 39% of the nation’s voters got behind Hoover; Roosevelt won by a landslide with 57%. His command of electoral votes was even more stunning: 472 to 59. Roosevelt carried 42 states, earning 206 more than the 266 electoral votes needed to win. But he didn’t carry the Keystone State. Of Hoover’s 59 electoral votes, 36 were from Pennsylvania.

Thanks to the Vare machine.

By the time of Roosevelt’s inauguration day in early March 1933, more than 9,000 American banks had failed, industrial production had been cut in half and at something like 13 million wage earners were without jobs –more than 280,000 in Philadelphia.

What could the freshly minted president possibly say?

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Now that would be a speech worth getting out for.

[Sources: Lawrence Davies, “Vare Gears Machine To Win Philadelphia,The New York Times, November 6, 1932;  “Reds Blamed for Boos At Philadelphia,” Associated Press, Philadelphia October 31, 1932;  “Great Depression,The Encyclopedia of Greater PhiladelphiaUnited States Presidential Election of 1932, The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica; The American Presidency Project, Papers of Herbert Hoover; Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address, March 3, 1933.]

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The Walnut Lane Bridge: Poetry in Poured Concrete

Walnut Lane Bridge 4-12-1907 (

Walnut Lane Bridge 4-12-1907 (

Sauntering in the deep recesses of Fairmount Park a century ago, Christopher Morley and his know-everything guide were just about “to sentimentalize upon the beauty of nature and how it shames the crass work of man” when they came upon “what is perhaps the loveliest thing along the Wissahickon – the Walnut Lane Bridge.”

“Leaping high in the air from the very domes of the trees, curving in a sheer smooth superb span that catches the last western light on its concrete flanks, it flashes across the darkened valley as nobly as an old Roman viaduct of southern France. It is a thrilling thing, and I scrambled up the bank to know down the names of the artists who planned it. The tablet is dated 1906, and bears the names of George S. Webster, chief engineer; Henry H. Quimby, assistant engineer; Reilly & Riddle, contractors. Many poets have written versus both good and bad about the Wissahickon, but Messrs. Reilly & Riddle have spanned it with the poem that will long endure.”

As Chief Engineer of the Department of Public Works and Bureau of Surveys, Webster “had long argued that a high-level bridge between Roxborough and Germantown would eliminate a hilly five-or six-mile detour into the Wissahickon Creek valley.” He considered proposing “a steel viaduct with a wooden floor,” but thought better of it. Webster envisioned a bridge more appropriate for the “natural park scenery of rocky and wooded slopes.”

In 1905, City Council grated Webster his wish, authorizing construction of an elegant arched bridge, and allocated funds to unite the two neighborhoods “at the narrowest point of the ravine, along the line of Walnut Lane.” The project would begin July 5, 1906 and lasted two dramatic years.

Walnut Lane Bridge 1910 (

Walnut Lane Bridge 1910 (

When complete, Walnut Lane would be the largest concrete bridge in the world, inspired “structurally and aesthetically” by the Pont Adolphe over the Pétrusse River in Luxembourg, completed only two years before.

Forty thousand tons of concrete never looked so much like a line of poetry. Giant arches stretched across the ravine providing a path more than 145 feet above “the most picturesque portion of the Park.” It seemed as if the bridge was “literally springing from out the foliage of the tree tops.”

Reilly & Riddle poured concrete arches atop a gigantic falsework of steel and lumber that, “for the sake of economy” was used twice, once for each rib. In a demonstration of skill, faith and engineering finesse, “four temporary concrete piers in the stream bed supported the falsework and provided a glide path for shifting it from under the first finished rib to where the second one would rise. To move the falsework, thirty men operated a massive ball-bearing jack at pier level, nudging the 900-ton falsework 34 feet, inch by inch. The operation took three days. At the conclusion of the job, Reilly & Riddle demolished the concrete piers with dynamite, returning the creek bed to nature.

“It is the greatest bridge of its kind in the world,” glowed Mayor John Reyburn at the dedication, where school children from Roxborough, Manayunk and Germantown sang in unison. “It was conceived and executed by our own men,” he boasted, proudly suggesting that fact alone made it worth the price. Never mind that it’s status as the largest concrete arch in the world was quickly surpassed by the New Detroit-Rocky River Bridge in Cleveland and the Grafton Bridge in Auckland, New Zealand. In a city of makers, Philadelphians had made more than a bridge, they had created “one of the wonders of the world.”

Whatever became of all that construction debris, in particular the 900 tons of lumber used to build the temporary falsework? On March 29, 1908 an advertisement in the Inquirer put out the word: 300,000 feet of new pine lumber, “all sizes and lengths to 30 feet long” was available at the bargain rate of $14 per thousand feet. Come to the bridge, take your pick, haul it away. The advertisement didn’t bother to specify which side of the bridge, Germantown or Roxborough. But since the bridge had opened, that detail no longer mattered. East and West were almost one and the same.

[Sources: Walnut Lane Bridge. Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project -II, Historic American Engineering Record, (PDF); The Walnut Lane Bridge;J. A. Stewart, “The New Bridge Over the Wissahickon at Philadelphia,Scientific American, November 30, 1907; George S. Webster and Henry H. Quimby, “Walnut Lane Bridge, Philadelphia,” Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Vol. 65, 1909; The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Mammoth Arch to Span Wissahickon,” March 20, 1906;  The Philadelphia Inquirer, “New Walnut Lane Bridge is Dedicated to City’s Use,” December 17, 1908.]

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

St. Francis de Sales Philadelphia 1.14.1963

St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church, January 14, 1963.

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 bishop, or assistant to the Cardinal, which made his church into a cathedral (Latin for “throne of the bishop”). He died at the St. Francis de Sales rectory in 1928, but his chair remains in the sanctuary to this day. In the ensuing decades, St. Francis de Sales served not just the neighborhood, but also the students of the nearby universities such as the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and the University of the Sciences.

Dagit, who lived only a few blocks away from his masterpiece, was the founder of an architectural dynasty. His sons continued designing churches under the moniker of Henry Dagit & Sons, and his grandson Charles Dagit Jr. studied at the University of Pennsylvania under Louis Kahn before starting his own successful firm of Dagit-Saylor. Shortly before his death in 1929, the Dagit patriarch designed another West Philadelphia church, the Church of the Transfiguration at 55th Street and Cedar Avenue, also inspired by the Byzantine style. “Aided by a large corps of draughtsman, artists, and engineers in his office,” the firm’s brochure stated, “no detail has been slighted, and the entire work has been pushed with a promptness that has delighted both pastor and congregation, who take great pleasure in saying, ‘Well done!'” Membership in St. Francis de Sales parish became a Dagit family tradition: generations of the architect’s descendants were baptized and married under its honey-hued tiled dome.

The dome of St. Francis de Sales. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

The dome of St. Francis de Sales. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Yet like so many other grand liturgical structures in urban areas, by the second half of the twentieth century it began to suffer from years of deferred maintenance, especially as the congregation shrank in the 1970s and 80s. The grand dome leaked almost as soon as the building was consecrated, and the dripping water caused salt to leach out of the sanctuary walls. In more recent years, vandals spray-painted the facade with graffiti, including the statue of St. Francis de Sales, which was taken down and lent to another parish for safekeeping. In the late sixties spirit of Vatican II, the parish commissioned postmodern architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown to design a modern Plexiglas altar and neon lighting system. The outcry among the congregation was so great that it was taken down within a few years. The architects were furious. “It was like watching your child die and not being anything to do about it,” steamed Scott Brown. The original gilt-and-marble main altar donated by James Cooney was restored to its former grandeur, and is still in use today.

A decade ago, the parish faced a true emergency: the facade had pulled eight inches away from the main structure of the church. Without any intervention, the front of the church was in imminent danger of collapsing onto Springfield Avenue, taking the two towers with it. To fund these emergency repairs, the Archdiocese made the tough decision to close another West Philadelphia parish: the Most Blessed Sacrament at 56th and Chester Avenue. According to Michael Nevadomski, sacristan at St. Francis de Sales, the sale of MBS and its attached school (once advertised as the largest Roman Catholic school in the world) raised $1.2 million, much of which went to pay for the urgent restoration needs of St. Francis de Sales. Workers erected scaffolding in front of the facade and meticulously removed and replaced each of the stones. The bas-relief of the Virgin Mary above the west doors is still undergoing restoration and sits under protective wraps.

South doors of St. Francis de Sales. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

South doors of St. Francis de Sales. Photograph by Steven Ujifusa.

Today, although it has only has about 500 registered parishioners, St. Francis de Sales reflects the diversity of its West Philadelphia neighborhood. There are masses in Vietnamese and Spanish, as well as traditional and “charismatic” services. Its parochial school is one of the best and most affordable educational options in the Cedar Park area.  Restoration of St. Francis de Sales continues “on a shoestring budget” notes Nevadomski, but the most serious structural repairs are over, ensuring that the gold-and-pearl Byzantine dome will gleam over the rooftops of West Philadelphia for decades to come.


Ron Avery, “Their Tradition Is Built to Last Dagits: A Family of Architecture,” The Philadelphia Daily News, October 30, 1995.

1890-2015, St. Francis de Sales Parish, United by the Most Blessed Sacrament, pp.10, 12, 14, collection of St. Francis de Sales Parish, courtesy of Michael Nevadomski.

Henry D. Dagit, Architect, collection of Paul H. Rogers, p.43.

Interview of Michael Nevadomski, Sacristan, St. Francis de Sales Church, September 6, 2016.

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A Brief History of St. Francis de Sales – The Cathedral of West Philadelphia (Part 1)

St. Francis de Sales, 47th Street and Springfield Avenue, January 14, 1963.

St. Francis de Sales, 47th Street and Springfield Avenue, January 14, 1963.

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 of Music as his recording venue, he chose a grand church in West Philadelphia: St. Francis de Sales at 47th and Springfield Avenue that was renewed for its fine French-style C.S. Haskell organ and its magnificent acoustics. Known also as “The Cathedral of West Philadelphia” and named after the patron saint of writers and journalists, St. Francis de Sales had the second largest pipe organ in the Delaware Valley, surpassed only by the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Center City, arguably the largest musical instrument in the world.  The instrument was also of the 19th century French type, which made it well suited to the flamboyant French Romantic repertoire of Saint-Saens and his contemporaries.

Why a French organ?  The church’s original choir director, Albert Dooner, was a close friend of the French-Belgian organist Cesar Franck, and its music program had long been one of the best in Philadelphia.  It took several days for technicians to prepare the instruments for the demands of Saint-Saens’ masterpiece, including retuning the pipes to standard pitch. The police closed the surrounding streets so that the “Fabulous Philadelphians” could work their magic without the distraction of honking cars and squealing trolleys in the background.


St. Francis de Sales parish was founded on May 14, 1890 by a group of Irish and German immigrants seeking a foothold in what was then suburban West Philadelphia.  After several years of residing in temporary quarters at 49th and Woodland Avenue, the parish’s second pastor, Michael J. Crane, declared that he would build a church where “the soul would be lifted up to exultation; an edifice in which the liturgy would be carried out in all its mystical beauty.”

In 1908, Archbishop Edmond Francis Prendergast laid the cornerstone for the new building at the intersection of 47th Street and Springfield Avenue.  Designed by prominent liturgical architect Henry Dandurand Dagit (1865-1929) – who had made a name for himself as a church designer for the Archdiocese of Trenton–the Byzantine Revival structure took three years to complete.  It was topped a dome of Guastavino tile (known today as “subway tile”) that had no system of internal bracing, and its nave was illuminated by stained glass from the D’Ascenzo studios.

St. Francis de Sales was arguably Dagit’s crowning achievement.  He lavished uncommon care on its design and construction, in no small part because he and his family lived within the parish boundaries.  Although well versed in historic styles, Dagit wanted to give a modern twist to his churches.   St. Francis de Sales, although inspired by the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, was not a slavish copy of an historical model.  Along with the traditional glass mosaics and marble statuary, Dagit added modern touches such as rows of electric light bulbs along the cornices and archways, as well as an ornate “electrolier” light fixture that hovered above the altar. By using modern construction techniques such as reinforced concrete, Dagit created as open a floor plan as possible, to ensure maximum visibility of the altar for the congregation.  “Some will no doubt criticize the author for the liberty taken in rendering Churches free of the obstructing columns in the nave,” Dagit wrote, “but this is necessary eight hundred years ago to design a church with a long nave and interior columns…Certain it is that we are a people of strong convictions and that we must stamp upon the world’s history progress and not imitation.”

The building’s grandeur was made possible by both the size and the wealth of the parish.  The original boundaries of St. Francis de Sales stretched from 42nd to 52nd Street east to west, and from Market Street all the way down to modern-day Lindbergh Boulevard north to south. Some were successful first and second generation businessmen and professionals, who lived in the big Victorian twin houses that lined Springfield, Chester, and Baltimore Avenues.  Among the well-to-do parishioners were oyster house owner James Cooney of 4814 Regent Street, who donated the imposing main altar in memory of his wife.  Jean-Baptiste Revelli, the assistant manager of the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and resident of 4609 Cedar Avenue, donated the funds for one of the stained glass windows. James P. McNichols, who resided with his extended family in a clutch of three story houses on the 4600 block of Hazel Avenue, was owner of a construction firm that built the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Market Street subway tunnel.  He paid for an altar dedicated to St. Anastasia, the namesake of his late wife.   There was at least one figure of national prominence who assisted in the construction effort: General St. Clair Mulholland, an Irish-American Civil War veteran and first Catholic police chief of Philadelphia, who resided at 4202 Chester Avenue. Yet most of the parishioners were the tradesmen, mechanics, and shopkeepers who occupied more modest dwellings on the side streets, as well as the domestics (mostly Irish) who did the cooking and cleaning in the neighborhood’s big houses.

The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, 1904.

The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, 1904.

After facing decades of discrimination and violence, by the early 1900s Philadelphia’s burgeoning Roman Catholic population had truly arrived in terms of power and influence. St. Francis de Sales was the brick-and-mortar manifestation of a Gilded Age confidence.  The human manifestation of this spirit was Pastor Michael J. Crane (1863-1928), who spearheaded the construction of this magnificent church soon after he took charge of the parish.  Crane knew Dagit’s work well: he had served as rector of St. Malachy’s Church in Trenton, also designed by the architect in his trademark Byzantine revival style.  An imposing, dark-haired man with bushy eyebrows and a piercing gaze, Crane insisted that no expense would be spared on his new church. “The design is Romanesque with Byzantine details,” he wrote in a book published by the Dagit firm. “The exterior will be of marble with Indiana limestone trimmings.  On either side of the main doorway will be two corner towers with large doorways flanked by polished granite columns.  The interior of the church will be imposing. The nave will be sixty-two feet wide and will be vaulted with faience polychrome sculptured terra cotta arches, on which will rest the Gaustavino (sic) vaults.”  He specified an elaborate ornamentation and sculpture plan: a glass mosaic of the “Resurrection” under the rose window, a marble mosaic of Saint Francis de Sales just above the main altar, and emblems of the four evangelists floating above the main crossing.

 To be continued…

For a look into the life of the MacMurtrie family and St. Francis de Sales Parish in the 1920s, click here for a article dated June 28, 2010.


Ron Avery, “Their Tradition Is Built to Last Dagits: A Family of Architecture,” The Philadelphia Daily News, October 30, 1995.

1890-2015, St. Francis de Sales Parish, United by the Most Blessed Sacrament, pp.10, 12, 14, collection of St. Francis de Sales Parish, courtesy of Michael Nevadomski.

Henry D. Dagit, Architect, collection of Paul H. Rogers, p.43.

Interview of Michael Nevadomski, Sacristan, St. Francis de Sales Church, September 6, 2016.



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Cracking America’s Ice Addiction

Near 21st and Hamilton, December 17, 1898 (

Keystone Setting, East Portal of the Tunnel near 21st and Hamilton Streets, December 17, 1898 (

Because they could, the American Ice Company encased Old Glory in a 5-ton slab of ice, propped it up on a wagon and hauled it down Broad Street. Delighted spectators at the Founder’s Week Industrial Parade cheered the chilly float, awed at the impressive chunk from the same glacier that supplied their own kitchens. Many customers would buy as much as 5 tons before the year was out—50 pounds at a time—and they’d buy as much again in 1909. And yet again in 1910.

America had an ice addiction.

A good place to start: 6th and Market Streets in the 1780s, where the Presidents House had an 18-foot-deep, stone-lined, octagonal ice pit providing the elite with pristine river ice, all year round. By the late 1820s, Philadelphia’s appetite had grown to more than 19 tons per day, or about 7,000 tons every year, more than could be cut from the Schuylkill River, even venturing as far upstream as Norristown. In the 1830s, the city’s major ice harvester, Knickerbocker, searched out sources along the Perkiomen Creek, up the Lehigh River, anywhere cold met water. And when those sources fell short during unseasonably warm winters, they packed ice in schooners and shipped it down from Maine.

By the 1840s Philadelphians used 30 tons of ice—every day. Ice harvesters cut as much as they could, imported the rest and stored aggressively, anticipating warm winters and hot summers. Knickerbocker’s icehouses in Maine held 400,000 tons from the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers.

Delaware Avenue - Knickerbocker Ice Company Whaft, September 29, 1899, detail. (

Delaware Avenue – Knickerbocker Ice Company Whaft, September 29, 1899, detail. (

The addiction grew even more intense. In 1880, each and every Philadelphian consumed 1,500 pounds. Eighty-one companies employed nearly 1,300 who kept the city chilled with 500 ice-filled, horse-drawn wagons. Still, demand outgrew supply.

Until “artificial ice.” Pennsylvania had five plants by 1889. Thirty years later, it had over 200.

Knickerbocker’s at 22nd and Hamilton and 9th and Washington were said to be the largest in the world. And they had another facility along the Schuylkill at Spruce Street. There seemed no end to the supply or the demand. Between 1880 and 1914 American ice consumption more than tripled.

What an opportunity for a monopoly, for the creation of an “Ice Trust” merging Knickerbocker and others into the grandly-named American Ice Company in 1899. The following April, American Ice doubled prices in New York City, paving the way by bribing elected officials. Distraught citizens heckled their mayor with cries of “Ice! Ice! Ice!” Next election, they froze him out of office.

As Philadelphians awaited the announcement of their price hike, an Inquirer reporter interviewed an American Ice official. He hedged: “Prices for the coming summer have not been fixed yet, and if I were to hazard a guess I would not know whether to say they were going up or going down.”

“‘But that is all bosh,’ declared the ice factory superintendent,” who saw no reason to increase prices in Philadelphia: “In New York there is practically no competition. Here in Philadelphia there is plenty of it. Outside of the Knickerbocker Company there are four independent natural ice companies capable of furnishing an almost unlimited supply if called upon to do so. … I can name no less than twelve artificial ice companies already in operation… having a capacity of 360 tons per day, almost ready to begin. Of the artificial ice companies output the trust controls probably thirty per cent. So you see, the trust hasn’t everything its own way here, as it has in New York, and there will be no doubling up on prices, I assure you.”

Haddonfield Ice Plant Wagon at Finnesey & Kobler, Brown and 27th Sts. (The Library Company of Philadelphia).

Haddonfield Ice Plant Wagon, Finnesey & Kobler, “The Model Shop,” Brown and 27th Streets (The Library Company of Philadelphia).

But prices did rise. It wasn’t so much a matter of supply as it was a matter of power. The Ice Trust and its successors had it, would keep it and would wield it. That is, until the electric refrigerator short circuited their vast, frozen empire.

[Sources: Vertie Knapp, “The Natural Ice Industry of Philadelphia in the Nineteenth Century,” Pennsylvania History, Vol. 41, No. 4 (October, 1974); Jonathan Rees, Refrigeration Nation A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); “No Advance in Price of Ice – Philadelphia Will Not Follow New York’s Example,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 12, 1900; “New Ice Making Plant in the “City of Brotherly Love,” Industrial Refrigeration, Vol. 6. Nickerson & Collins, 1894, pp. 13-16.]

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The Iceman Leaveth

Frigidaire Electric Refrigerator Exhibit at the Sesqui-Centennial, 1926. (

“This Modern Ice Man Calls Once with Frigidaire,” Frigidaire Electric Refrigerator Exhibit at the Sesqui-Centennial, 1926. (

Frigidaire wanted to freeze the iceman out of America’s kitchens. To accomplish this, they literally took him on, appropriating the folksy icon of home delivery as the centerpiece of their lavish Art Deco display at Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Exposition. But instead of ice, this giant iceman statue had on his shoulder the final delivery – a new, compact electric refrigerator.

Four years earlier, the Inquirer had predicted the iceman’s demise, happily looking forward to relief from years of mopping up footprints and spill from overflow pans. The new, electric, “iceless refrigerator,” they said, “spelled doom for the iceman.” Soon he would be “an [extinct] species; a veritable Dodo…”

Dethroning Big Ice wouldn’t come fast, or easy.

In Philadelphia, one major ice company, Knickerbocker, had massive plants, one with 125 employees and storage capacity for a million tons throughout the city. With the help of 1,200 horses and mules, Knickerbocker drivers kept more than 500 delivery wagons mobile on the streets. At the start of the 20th century, America seemed to need every last one its 1,320 ice plants. And the nation’s iceboxes multiplied. Between 1889 and 1919, the the value iceboxes manufactured in the United States increased from $4.5 million to $26 million.

Eventually, electric refrigeration would become bigger, but not as long as their cost remained high and their performance poor. In 1920, a household refrigerator cost $600 (more than $7,500 in today’s dollars) and broke down about every tenth week.

Then the price point dropped and reliability increased. In addition, utilities recognized the potential goldmine in household refrigeration. Since units were always running, and consumed far more electricity than any other appliance, home refrigeration could more than double their revenues. Realizing that, electric utilities didn’t leave marketing and sales up to the manufacturers. By the mid- 1920s, they were selling nearly a third of all new electric refrigerators.

Caption (

Frigidaire Electric Refrigerator Exhibit, Sesquicentennial Exposition, 1926 (

That’s the decade Frigidaire, a subsidiary of General Motors, also engaged in aggressive, creative and even whimsical marketing—and became America’s refrigerator of choice.

“How do you do, Mrs. Prospect?” Frigidaire’s door-to-door sales script began in 1923. Once in the kitchen, the salesmen would take the temperature of the family’s ice box. “Mrs. Prospect,” continued the pitch, “we find that the average ice box maintains a temperature of about 55 degrees, and I think you will agree with me that this will keep food properly for only a short time.” But, the salesman proceeded, now sharing his thermometer with the housewife, “the temperature in your refrigerator is —— degrees. This is slightly warmer than I expected. If you had Frigidaire, the temperature would certainly be —— degrees colder than you now have in your icebox. . . . Won’t you please talk this matter over with your husband tonight as, in all probability; I or one of our men will call upon him tomorrow afternoon and tell him the benefits of owning a Frigidaire.”

Between 1920 and 1925, the number of refrigerators in American kitchens rose from 4,000 to 75,000. In 1926 they boomed to 248,000 units and by 1928, 468,000. The following year, Frigidaire manufactured its millionth refrigerator. By 1930, the sales of electric household refrigerators surpassed those of iceboxes.

In the middle of the Great Depression, Americans still cleaned up after 350,000 ice boxes. They had also grown accustomed to to the hum and chugging of 1.7 million plugged-in refrigerators. By 1940, 63 percent of all households had refrigerators—13.7 million of them. Four years later, 85 percent of America’s kitchens were equipped. As Jonathan Rees, author of Refrigeration Nation put it: “the electric household refrigerator symbolized modernity. When filled with food, it symbolized abundance.” And after World War II, when just about every kitchen had one, the increased size of the American refrigerator conveyed another prized status—prosperity.

By 1953, when the last U.S. icebox manufacturer went out of business, the young, virile delivery man carrying dripping, often dirty, blocks of ice into millions of clean American kitchens, the man whose proximity to wives and daughters fueled countless rumors, would-be scandals and jokes on stage and screen, that man, the iceman, finally found a new home—and new purpose—in nostalgia purgatory.

[Sources: Jonathan Rees, Refrigeration Nation A History of Ice, Appliances, and Enterprise in America, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013); “The Newest Ideas of Invention and Industry: The Passing of the Iceman,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 17, 1922; Frank Hamilton Taylor, The City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, 1900); W.C. Fields, The Dentist, (Film, 1932).]

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Philadelphia’s Spiral Standpipe: A Monument to Industry, Innovation and . . . History

West Philadelphia Standpipe near 33rd St. and Fairmount Ave. (

The Standpipe at its second location at the Spring Garden Water Works, near 33rd and Master Sts., after 1882. (

Standpipe Rease (LCP)

Standpipe for West Philadelphia Water Works, (35th St. and Fairmount Ave.) Lithograph by Rease & Schell, ca. 1853. (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

In a quirky burst of engineering, aesthetics and memory in the middle of the 19th-century, Philadelphia built itself a great, 130-foot spiral column. The idea was complicated and ambitious: provide water pressure for the emerging neighborhood of Mantua with a standpipe wrapped in an ornate, circular staircase topped off with a 17-foot wide public viewing platform and, above that, a 16-foot statue of George Washington. Everything would be custom engineered, locally-manufactured, and, except for the base, in cast iron.

Engineers Henry P.M. Birkinbine and Edward H. Trotter drove the scenario that saw the “fairy like” Gothic structure to completion. “Eight cluster columns opposite each angle of the stone base support…a railing of Gothic scrollwork,” read one official report. “The upper platform, surrounded by a Gothic railing, is sustained by ornamental brackets springing from the columns; these are continued above the platform, where, by flying buttresses, they are connected together, and to the standpipe, which is surmounted by a spire and a flag staff, the whole of iron except the base.” In the Fall of 1854, the 8-foot Gothic doorway at ground level was thrown open for the public to venture up the 172 narrow steps, following “the continuous Gothic scroll railing” and enjoy the spectacular view of the growing city.

By then, the Washington statue had fallen by the wayside.

The Father of His Country was being taken care of elsewhere. Philadelphia long had its wooden Washington at Independence Hall, carved by William Rush in 1815. Baltimore installed its statue-capped column in 1829. Congress commissioned Horatio Greenough to sculpt a 12-ton, white marble, bare-chested emperor, installed at the Capitol rotunda in 1841. Washington, D.C. also had its long-in-progress Washington Monument, which had declared bankruptcy the year Philadelphia built its standpipe. (The national monument wouldn’t be completed until 1888.) All of these were done, more than less, in the classical style, with classical materials. Philadelphia’s standpipe had its models in ancient Rome’s venerable columns for Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, monuments with spiral stone steps on the inside and spiral stone friezes on the outside. But something in addition to the Classical Revival was in play here.

Philadelphians of the mid-19th century recognized technology and expansion afforded an unprecedented opportunity to leap beyond Old World models and explore up-to-date materials—and ways to deploy them for grand effect. Above its 35-foot stone pedestal, the standpipe reached new heights utilizing “modern” cast iron. Here, expressed in honest and contemporary forms soon to become part of everyday life, was evidence of Philadelphia’s burgeoning engineering culture.

By the 1850s, Philadelphia’s engineers had come to appreciate “excellence of material, solidity, an admirable fitting of the joints, a just proportion and arrangement of the parts, and a certain thoroughness and genuineness.” These are the qualities, wrote Edwin T. Freedley, “that pervaded the machine work executed in Philadelphia, and distinguished it from all other American-made machinery.” But in the standpipe we see more than pure engineering, we see an engineering aesthetic spilling over into the mainstream.

Sure, the London-published Civil Engineer & Architect’s Journal profiled the standpipe. But so did Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, a popular national magazine of the day, whose editors presented an illustrated feature in the Spring of 1853. “When completed,” they promised, “the structure will form one of the most notable curiosities… an object of much scientific interest.” For both engineers and the general public.

It would take a few more decades before this sort of thinking would collide with the imagination of an architectural genius. As we noted previously, Frank Furness grabbed ahold of Philadelphia’s “industrial repertoire” and conducted daring feats of “structural panache.” A glance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher Fine Arts Library of 1890 confirms what Philadelphia’s leaders, engineers in body and in spirit, had come to relish in the world they manufactured.

That world, history constantly reminds us, was very much an everchanging one. Meant to be a stand-in, the standpipe became obsolete after a reservoir that took more funds and time, came online in another 15 years. (See the nearby Belmont Pumping Station.) The standpipe sat abandoned until the early 1880s, until, in yet another display of derring-do, engineers moved it in a single piece to the opposite side of the Schuylkill River, to the Spring Garden Water Works. There, too, permanence proved fleeting and fickle. Philadelphia’s spiral column, its monument to industry, innovation (and, yes) history, was last seen somewhere at the end of the 19th century. Its ultimate demise came without fanfare.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the standpipe’s ancient progenitors remain standing—two millennia and counting.

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