Parapets, Pinnacles and Perpetuity

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos Monument Cemetery Gatehouse just before demolition, Broad Street at Berks Street, March 3, 1903.

Philadelphians were dying to get out of town in the 1830s and 1840s—and so were city dwellers just about everywhere. Parisians started the trend, opting for a rural burial at Le Père Lachaise Cemetery before Americans caught the bug. Soon, the living from Boston to Baltimore, Detroit to Dayton, Pittsburgh to Philadelphia transformed romantic rural landscapes into perpetual theme parks for the dead. Or so they thought.

Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery overlooking the Schuylkill River opened in 1836. The following year Monument Cemetery on Broad Street started up. Then came Woodlands in West Philadelphia and the business model took off. Cemeteries selling families plots of picturesque real estate with mellow names like Cedar Hill, Glenwood, Greenwood, Mount Moriah, Mount Peace, and Mount Vernon cropped up all over the unbuilt landscape. Fashionable folk anticipated spending eternity in the peaceful Philadelphia countryside.

One of the founders of Monument Cemetery, the artist John Sartain, planned to reside there after his long and productive life as an engraver. Sartain enjoyed the memory of Broad Street in the 1830s when it was only a lane “narrowed in still further by a ditch on either side, behind which was a post-and-rail fence, the boundary of adjacent fields.” He sketched a design for a Gothic gatehouse to welcome both permanent residents and short-term visitors.

But Broad Street was no country lane. Anticipating that its boulevard-like width should carry northward from the built-up city as far as the eye could see, cemetery managers agreed to set back their gatehouse “provided the other land owners on both sides of the street would do the same” and plant “a double row of trees along each sidewalk.” And Broad Street, Sartain later recalled, was “widened to its present breadth…extending this noble avenue thirteen miles in length, straight as a ray of light.” There, behind his “Gothic parapet and pinnacles,” Sartain expected to reside for eternity.

“Chapel and principal entrance to the Monument Cemetery, Philadelphia,” 1850. (Library Company of Philadelphia.)

But as long as there is life, there are compromises.

While away in Europe, Sartain’s gatehouse was “spoiled by a member of the board of managers…a carpenter…who considered that every building must have a projecting cornice.”  Away went Sartain’s Gothic roofline and up came Italianate woodwork. As Sartain bluntly put it in his memoir titled, The Reminiscences of a Very Old Man, “my original design is now travestied.”

That would hardly be the least of it—or the last of it. Only six years after Sartain was buried beneath his brownstone monument topped by a sphinx, the city extended Berks Street and demolished the gatehouse—after documenting it front (illustrated) and back. Now transected by a tree-lined Berks Street, Monument Cemetery filled with up with Sartain’s relatives and about 28,000 others. In 1929, the last lot-holder was laid to rest.

Rest in peace? Not on your life. At Monument Cemetery, there would be irony in the mourning. By the 1950s, as we’re graphically informed here and there, Monument Cemetery’s real estate would be reclaimed for parking by the adjacent, expanding Temple University. Cranes lifted caskets and coffins which made their way to Lawnview Cemetery in suburban Rockledge. Headstones and monuments, however, including the one Sartain had designed for himself, were carted off to another form of finality, as landfill on the banks of the Delaware River at Brideburg, not far from where the Betsy Ross Bridge would soon rise.

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Andrew Jackson Downing on Tulpehocken Street

People’s pride in their country is connected to pride in their home. If they can decorate and build their homes to symbolize the values they hope to embody, such as prosperity, education and patriotism, they will be happier people and better citizens.

                                                                                                            -Andrew Jackson Downing

Back in the fall of 2003, I took the R8 Chestnut Hill West train to visit a friend who taught history at Chestnut Hill Academy.  I had just started graduate school at Penn. Being the ignoramus I was, I stupidly thought that I was on my way to the famed Main Line suburbs that my  late Philadelphia-native step-grandfather mentioned when I was young.

Was I wrong.  I learned from Dmitri that confusing this part of Northwest Philadelphia and the Main Line was a major faux-pas, to say the least.

During that train ride, remember one name standing out as the conductor bellowed the the station stops.  ”Tulpehocken!”

It means “Land of the Turtles” in Native American dialect.*

Several years later, I explored West Tulpehocken Street myself.  Even though this neighborhood has declined economically since its heyday in the early twentieth century, it immediately struck me as one of the most beautiful parts of Philadelphia.  The houses on here were not just big — they were bona fide mansions.  Some, like the Ebenezer Maxwell house, were Gothic or Italianate confections.  Others were big, craggy Victorian behemoths of gray Wissahickon schist, bristling with turrets and carved wooden balconies. Tall shade trees arched lazily over the street.

This late nineteenth century residential area, known as the Tulpehocken Station District, sprang from the vision of designer Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1853), the so-called father of American landscape architecture.  Largely self-taught, Downing was a Jeffersonian at heart, who felt that the geometric, formal gardens of Europe were incompatible with the democratic American landscape. He argued that American houses and gardens should avoid the monumentality and symmetry, and aim for the informality and harmony with their natural settings and plantings.  In his watershed book The Architecture of Country Houses, co-authored with architect Alexander Jackson Davis (designer of the  famous Jay Gould “Lyndhurst” estate in Tarrytown, New York), Downing argued that the country, not the congested, industrialized city, was best suited for happy family life, and that “perfect architecture no principle of utility will be sacrificed to beauty, only elevated and ennobled by it.”

Although he died young in a steamship fire, Downing’s influence was profound. His commissions included landscaping for White House and the Smithsonian Institution.  He also trained a young British artist named Calvert Vaux, who went on to partner with Frederick Law Olmsted in the design of New York’s Central Park.   By the Civil War, Downing’s philosophy of  laying out walkable, picturesque communities had spread to numerous new developments along the East Coast, including the Philadelphia commuter suburb of Germantown.

According to the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places, the Tulpehocken Station District is, along with the tony planned community of Llewellyn Park, New Jersey, among the first suburbs in the country to “put Downing’s theories and designs into practice.” The neighborhood was the result of the subdivision of rural parcels owned by the old Germantown Haines and Johnson families, who had owned property in Germantown since the 18th century. In the 1850s and 60s, residential development of West Tulpehocken Street remained within walking distance of the horse-drawn Germantown Avenue trolley line.  By the 1880s, electricity powered the trolleys, speeding up commuting times between Germantown and Center City Philadelphia. These homes for city commuters, although substantial, were built according to Andrew Jackson Downing’s principles of picturesque simplicity and charm. They were asymmetrical in composition and were built in either the Italianate or Gothic Revival styles.  At least one design has been attributed to Samuel Sloan, who also designed the Italianate twin houses of Woodland Terrace in West Philadelphia.

In 1884, the Pennsylvania Railroad opened a new commuter railroad line running parallel to Wayne Avenue, and a new crop of even grander homes was constructed within walking distance of the new Tulpehocken Station.  These new homes, located on Wayne Avenue and fronting the greenery of Fairmount Park, were designed by notable architecture firms such as Hazelhurst & Huckel (Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church), Cope & Stewardson (the Penn Quadrangle), and the Hewitt Brothers (the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel).*  These new homes reflected the growing prosperity of industrializing, Gilded Age Philadelphia, built to impress visitors, as well as to comfortably house large families and domestic staff.

Despite some physical neglect and subdivision of many of the large homes into rental units, Tulpehocken Street is remarkably intact today, an overlooked example of a golden age of American suburban development.

Andrew Jackson Downing. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

6141 Wayne Avenue, c.1960.

258-266 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

231 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

233-35, 231 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

154 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

128, 120, 112, 136 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

128, 120, 112, 136 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

258-266 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

Carriage house, rear of 258 West Tulpehocken Street, c.1960.

*Tulpehocken Settlement Historical Society,

**Tulpehocken Station District, National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form,


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Never a Dull Moment: The Rough and Tumble History of Philadelphia Newspaper Publishing

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos The Evening Telegraph at the Lincoln Building on Broad Street, South of City Hall. Photograph by
N.M. Rolston, October 4, 1916.

When Philadelphia boomed so did its newspapers. The city’s population, about 81,000 in 1800, expanded fifteen-fold over the next century to 1.3 million. This did wonderful things to make Philadelphia a robust newspaper reading and publishing town.

No less than a dozen dailies started up in Philadelphia between 1836 and 1880. During the Civil War, Charles Edward Warburton and James Barclay Harding thought afternoon readers could be better served and launched The Evening Telegraph, a newspaper with a name that actually meant something. Utilizing the telegraph, editors transmitted news from the first national political convention after the Civil War held at “The Philadelphia Wigwam” directly to their offices. The Evening Telegraph compiled and ran editorials from newspapers across the United States and Europe. It commissioned translations and serialized Jules Verne’s novels, including his popular Tour of the World in Eighty Days.

By the mid-1890s, then run by the second generation of leadership, The Evening Telegraph built a promising  future. While conducting research for his book American Journalism From The Practical Side, Charles Austen Bates toured the paper’s new quarters at 704 Chestnut Street and sat down the owner/publisher, the thirty-year old Barclay Harding Warburton. Bates came away impressed, finding The Evening Telegraph “in every respect a model newspaper’s home.” He recognized that the young Warburton needed to maintain the paper’s appeal “to the millionaires, solid business people, and the society people” but he also needed to broaden the paper’s popularity. This Warburton accomplished with an array of new features including a woman’s page, “an amateur sporting page,” pages devoted to art, literature, theater, “the secret and colonial societies,” and, on Saturdays, a “ministerial page.” The Evening Telegraph, Bates noted, “seems to appeal very strongly to both the classes and the masses.”

“At Broad Street Station and the Reading Terminal,” wrote Bates, “more copies of The Evening Telegraph are sold than of probably all other papers put together.” Warburton had increased circulation by 300%. He had increased advertising by 60%, selling to every last one of Philadelphia’s 44 banks, 28 trust companies, as well as getting “all the legal business there is.”

The Evening Telegraph at the Lincoln Building on Broad Street, South of City Hall, 1916, detail. (

The Evening Telegraph thrived on Chestnut Street in a remarkable district, a complex, competitive, journalistic community. By the late 19th-century, eleven of the city’s dailies could be found between 6th and 12th Streets, Chestnut and Market Streets. To Bates, the neighborhood appeared to be thriving; he couldn’t quite imagine how fragile the state of Philadelphia journalism really was. In the first decade of the 20th century, three newspapers would fold. By the Great Depression, ten were gone.

In 1911, perhaps sensing the seachange, Warburton sold out to Rodman Wanamaker, his wealthy, dilettantish brother-in-law. Wanamaker may have bought The Evening Telegraph as a plaything, or possibly as an investment. To run the operation, he installed John T. Windrim, an architect with no experience in journalism or publishing. The paper left its 7th and Chestnut Street office for the high-priced, ostentatious Betz Building, a stone’s throw from both City Hall and Wanamaker’s Department Store. Many things were different on Broad Street, but a few remained the same. Journalists at The Evening Telegraph continued their longtime practice of “transmitting” the latest news by scribbling it on blackboards hung at street level. On October 4, 1916, this was the latest bloodletting from the front lines of World War I (the Battle of the Somme) and the score from the last baseball game (Phillies lost to the Boston Braves, 1-6).

Two years after Wanamaker’s bet on The Evening Telegraph, Cyrus Curtis, an even wealthier Philadelphian, started on an ambitious newspaper acquisition and consolidation spree. Between 1913 and 1930, Curtis, who had been hugely successful as a publisher of magazines, purchased five Philadelphia dailies, three of which he would fold. Curtis’s second target, The Evening Telegraph, acquired for its wire services, was bought and closed on June 28, 1918—after 54 years of publication.

As it turned out, Curtis’s publishing acumen didn’t quite translate to the world of daily journalism. His last acquisition, a $10.5 million purchase of the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1930, was meant as a savvy final stroke in Curtis’s plan. It was final, but not terribly savvy. After Curtis died in 1933 his company was forced to sell the Inquirer at a loss.

It wouldn’t be the last time such a thing could happen.

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Le Corbusier Dynamites the Drexel Block

The intersection of 40th and Locust Streets, 1953.

Locust Street, looking east from 40th Street to 39th Street, 1953. Almost all of these structures were demolished.

39th and Spruce in 1912, when Hamilton Village was a prosperous commuter neighborhood.

In his writings on architecture and city planning, the Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1967) was fond of using the “royal” we:

We must create a mass-production state of mind:
A state of mind for building mass-production housing.
A state of mind for living in mass-production housing.
A state of mind for conceiving mass-production housing.

In the 1930s, Le Corbusier (born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) devised a plan to level the center of Paris and bring “reason” and “order” to what he saw as complete urban chaos.  Baron Haussmann’s 19th century low-rise apartment buildings and triumphant boulevards would be replaced by tall, concrete cruciform towers set in green, wooded parks.

Le Corbusier had nothing but disdain for historic architecture, lambasting Gothic cathedrals as hideous to behold.  In his view, commercial, residential, and industrial districts had to be separated from each other, eliminating multi-use structures that housed both apartments and “mom-and-pop” stores.  Enamored with the automobile, he argued that cities needed to be reoriented around arterial expressways, and that people should surrender the street to the car.

“We must kill the street!” he declared.

He called this vision “The Radiant City.”  He hoped it would not only bring order to the urban form, but would also eliminate class distinctions by having everyone occupying “machines” for living.

In fetishizing the urban form, the collective, and the machine, Le Corbusier had little regard for individuals, especially those in the way of what he saw as progress.

His plans for the rebuilding of Paris were never carried out, but his gospel was taken up not just by  forward-thinking architects and theorists, but also by the automobile industry and real estate developers, who loved the prospect of building new superhighways and the demolition of older urban cores.

Present day critic Theodore Dalrymple has harsh words for Le Corbusier and his “Radiant City.” Comparing him to Pol Pot in the destruction his ideas wreaked, Dalrymple wrote:  ”Le Corbusier extolled this kind of destructiveness as imagination and boldness, in contrast with the conventionality and timidity of which he accused all contemporaries who did not fall to their knees before him.”*

But in the years following World War II, his starstruck admirers and disciples fanned out across America, occupying positions of power and influence in major universities and big city planning departments.  Robert Moses, New York’s all-powerful Parks Commissioner, was one.   Edmund Bacon, Philadelphia’s director of city planning and builder of the Society Hill Towers, was another.

One university president that fell under “Le Corbu’s” spell was Penn’s president Gaylord P. Harnwell, a physicist who presided over the gigantic expansion of the size of scope of the University of Pennsylvania in the 1950s, in which it grew into a truly national institution.  According to the Harnwell Papers website, during his term (1953-1970), “The campus was expanded, many new buildings erected, and all major areas and programs strengthened….a new milestone in the history of the development of the University.”**

Until the 1950s, the University of Pennsylvania had very little green space, and almost no room to expand in any direction.  Today’s Locust Walk was a busy urban street, with a trolley line that cut right through the middle of campus. According to a report from 1963, “Students were poorly housed; faculty established residences in suburbs and formed no campus connection; women students feared to be on the streets at night; traffic became a major problem and parking all but impossible. These ills were dramatized in 1956 by the senseless murder of a Korean student by a band of hoodlums who roamed the area.”***

It was the perfect time for Penn to adapt a new design philosophy that turned away from the neo-Gothic, Oxbridge aesthetic of the past and towards a modern, efficient one that reflected a cosmopolitan, modern university.  In the years following World War II, the GI Bill had led to a massive expansion at America’s universities, and prestige ones like Penn were especially popular with a growing, more socio-economically diverse student body.  Although historically Penn had a large population of commuter students, by the 1950s the old dormitories in the Quadrangle and private rooming houses were exploding at the seams.

Something had to be done.

Philosophical arguments aside, Le Corbusier’s urban high rise vision provided college administrators a way to cheaply house as many students as possible.

Soon after taking office, Harnwell instituted a bifurcated plan for the historic core of the Penn campus inspired by the vision of Le Corbusier.   East of 38th Street, it was pointless for Harnwell to tear down most of Penn’s historic buildings, as they were already occupied by academic departments and fraternities with powerful alumni who donated money to the University.   There was talk of tearing down Frank Furness’s main library — by then considered a monstrosity by most architecture critics — to make room for a more modern structure, but thankfully nothing came of it.  Locust Street was closed to cars, the trolley line running along it shut down, and it was transformed into a tree-lined pedestrian walkway that has since become a model for urban college campuses.

Penn then set its eyes on the blocks west of 38th Street.   The area known as Hamilton Village included ramshackle Victorian mansions that had once belonged to the Drexel banking family (they had long since left West Philadelphia) as well as numerous low-rise apartment buildings and 19th century rowhouses originally built for prosperous commuters.  In its salad days, Hamilton Village was simply called the “Drexel Block.”

To the followers of Le Corbusier, this one-time elite Victorian neighborhood known as “Black Bottom” represented the worst of the “old city”: dirty, cramped, riddled with blight, and bad for the circulation of cars.

The residents of Black Bottom had a much different perspective: ”It was a neighborhood of very active people, people who had very high standards for themselves and their families,” remembered Pearl Simpson in a Philadelphia Weekly interview.  ”Most people worked at the hospitals, on the railroad. Some people had their own businesses, like dressmakers, tailor shops, doctors, little stores and whatnot. They were very into culture and having a good neighborhood.”****

Rather than rehabilitate Black Bottom, Harnwell and his fellow members of the West Philadelphia Corporation (which included representatives from Drexel University, the University of the Sciences, and Presbyterian Hospital), decided on mass-demolition and slum clearance.  The city of Philadelphia quickly condemned Hamilton Village through eminent domain and gave it to the Corporation for redevelopment.

The residents did not leave without a fight.  During that watershed year of 1968, residents erected a barbed wire barricade on 38th Street to prevent the bulldozers from moving in, and cars were overturned and set on fire. It was, as one resident described, “urban warfare.”*****

But by the late 1960s, thousands of mostly African-American residents had been evicted from the Hamilton Village.  With the exception of a few old mansions and the Gothic St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, the blocks bounded by 38th, 40th, Spruce, and Walnut were completely leveled.

Three high-rise concrete dormitories and several low rise student residences — built according to Le Corbusier’s design principles of towers in a park — now occupy a part of campus that students today derisively call “the Superblock” or “the Wind Tunnel.”

The mass-demolition not only destroyed dozens of historic structures, but also deeply scarred relations between the University of Pennsylvania and the surrounding community.

Le Corbusier would have been proud.

Former Drexel family mansion at 38th and Locust, now a fraternity house.

38th and Locust Street in 1953, before demolition and the removal of the trolley tracks.

A mansion converted into apartments and shops, at 40th and Walnut, 1963. This corner is now occupied by a McDonald’s.

Interior details of the former Lea mansion at 39th and Spruce, pre-demolition, 1967.

Le Corbusier waves his hand over his vision for “La Ville Radieuse,” 1964. Source:

*Theodore Dalrymple, “The Architect as Totalitarian,” City Journal, August 2009.

**Guide, Gaylord P. Harnwell Papers, University of Pennsylvania Archives.

***”The Corporation,” The West Philadelphia Partnership, 1963.

****Jeffrey Barg, “Black Bottom Blues,” Philadelphia Weekly, September 6, 2006.

*****Jeffrey Barg, “Black Bottom Blues,” Philadelphia Weekly, September 6, 2006.


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April 2, 1912: Barnes Unpacks His First Shipment of French Art

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos The now-demolished Youth Study Center and current site of the Barnes Foundation,
2020 Pennsylvania Avenue. Photograph by Francis Balionis, June 18, 1952.

“I know what you have,” William Glackens told Albert C. Barnes of his first stabs at art acquisition. It’s an “ordinary rich man’s collection.” You spent thousands of dollars and “they are stinging you as they do everybody who has money to spend.” Forget your “fuzzy Corots,” said Glackens, put them in the “attic” and “start over.”

Barnes, the chemist-physician-manufacturer of a medicine that prevented infant blindness had set out to cure another  blindness—the kind that afflicts rich collectors with no vision. Barnes tracked down Glackens, a former classmate from Central High School who had, only a few years before, broken into the New York City art scene as one of “The Eight”—a group of realists with a distinctly populist edge. In Glackens, Barnes had someone he could trust: not a dealer, but an old friend an “eye” who could help him unlearn his rich man’s collecting habits and start him assembling art that actually meant something.

What kind of a vision did Barnes have in mind? “I want to buy some good modern paintings,” he wrote Glackens early in 1912. And Barnes had the funds to set up an unusual experiment. He sent his old friend to Paris with $20,000 (the equivalent of almost half a million in today’s dollars) on an open-ended art buying trip. Glackens knew Paris a little, but he hadn’t been there for more than a decade, since he quit his job as an illustrator in Philadelphia to go on a bicycle trip through Northern France, Belgium, and Holland. So he turned to Alfred (Alfy) Maurer, an American painter living in Paris, who, as Glackens put it in a letter to his wife just after his arrival, “is going to introduce me to a Mr. Stein, a man who collects Renoirs, Matisse, etc.”

They got right to work. Three days later, Glackens wrote home: “I have been all through the dealers places and have discovered that Mr. Barnes will not get as much for his money as he expects. … Hunting up pictures is not child’s play. Poor Alfy is about worn out.” But less than two weeks later, by March 1, Glackens had completed his mission. “I sail tomorrow,” he wrote, “everything is settled up here and the pictures being boxed. I am mighty glad it is finished and I am sick of looking at pictures and asking prices. … I will have a devil of a time with the customs people over the pictures. I am loaded down with invoices and consular certificates.”

Was Barnes’ experiment a success? On the eve of his departure from Paris, Glackens wrote: “Everything has been finished up and the pictures are being boxed by a first class packer … I am bringing you a fine collection of pictures nearly everything I started for.” When the crates fresh from Paris arrived in  Barnes’s hands on April 2, 1912, he anxiously unpacked his 33 works of art.

Among the 20 paintings Barnes beheld “a little girl reading a book” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a “bargain” at seven thousand francs ($1,400) that Glackens was particularly proud of. Barnes unpacked his first Paul Cézanne: Toward Mont Sainte-Victoire (Vers la Montagne Sainte-Victoire) from the late 1870s; his first Pablo Picasso, Young Woman Holding a Cigarette (Jeune femme tenant une cigarette) painted in 1901, and his first Vincent Van Gogh The Postman (Joseph-Étienne Roulin) from 1889.

“I have examined the paintings which you bought for me in Paris and I am delighted with them,” Barnes wrote Glackens. But  not entirely delighted. By outsourcing the task of buying, Barnes had forfeited the education of the search and the joy of the hunt. By June, he would go to Paris himself, to work with Alfy, to meet the Steins (Leo and Gertrude), to charm the dealers with his checkbook and build on what Glackens had started. But what Barnes unpacked in those crates one hundred years ago changed his vision and his confidence in collecting. Over time, Barnes would build a collection of 180 more Renoirs, 68 more Cézannes, 45 more Picassos and 6 more Van Goghs. And much, much more.

In Paris, Barnes would tackle something that Glackens did not—the world created by the new wave of modernists. “Art is in a strange state at present among the youth,” Glackens warned Barnes. “I confess that lots of things I have seen over here are incomprehensible to me as art.” Barnes took Glackens’ words as a challenge. In Paris, he made his way to those who created this “incomprehensible” art and bought some of that, too. Barnes would, in short order, make his way from art’s cutting edge to its bleeding edge.

In its own time, so would Philadelphia.

[Note:  For more on the Barnes Foundation at the site of the Youth Study Center, read another post at PhillyHistory published May 15, 2012: What’s Wrong With Philadelphia’s “Museum Mile”?


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The Germantown Cricket Club

Germantown Cricket Club, c.1900.

Hidden behind a high brick wall stands a forgotten masterpiece of American architecture, designed by the same firm responsible for New York’s Pennsylvania Station and the Boston Public Library.

The Germantown Cricket Club, a National Historic Landmark, is one of the few surviving structures in Philadelphia designed by McKim Mead & White.

It is a strange juxtaposition, indeed: one of the nation’s oldest country clubs situated in an dense, inner-city environment.

When Germantown Cricket Club was built in the 1890s, the surrounding area was a fashionable suburban district, popular with commuters and summer residents seeking clean air and green space.  What better place for traditional country sports?

Cricket is, of course, a British import, and an ancestor of modern American baseball. During the mid-19th century, Philadelphia was an American mecca of this quintessentially British game, and it’s “elevens” were competitive with the best teams from the other side of the pond. One of Philadelphia’s greatest cricketers was Germantown founder William Rotch Wister (1827-1911), who actively promoted the game to a broad American audience after watching English immigrant millworkers play it during their precious off-hours.  He was also the uncle (and father-in-law…) of novelist Owen Wister.*  Wister, along with a group of well-connected Philadelphia sportsmen, founded the Germantown Cricket Club in 1854.  The club first played on a crease in the Nicetown section of the city — conveniently close to the Wister family compound — until 1891, when the current clubhouse was constructed on Manheim Street.

The clubhouse is most likely the vision of Stanford White, the most creative and visionary of the McKim Mead & White partners.** White’s residential architecture, especially in New York, tended towards the theatrical, with plenty of rich materials and ornamentation.  He also had a hand in designing resort structures such as The Casino in Newport, Rhode Island, which used Japanese architecture for inspiration.  But perhaps in the spirit of appeasing his conservative Philadelphia patrons, White tempered his architectural language, giving Wister and his friends a staid, symmetrical, red-brick Georgian composition that harkened back to Philadelphia landmarks such as Independence Hall and Christ Church.

In the best Beaux Arts tradition, White created an efficient floor plan that revolved around a central axis, in this case a long hallway that ran the entire length of the first floor.  Since the club would be most heavily used in the warm-weather months, creating enough cross-ventilation in the fierce Philadelphia heat was a real design challenge.  White’s response was to place a double-tiered veranda in the center of the building. This feature not only allowed fresh air to circulate throughout the main public rooms (including the barrel -vaulted ballroom on the second floor), but gave members a shaded viewing stand for watching the matches on the crease below.  Brightly-colored striped window awnings, fixtures on homes throughout the city during the summer, also helped keep the building cool.

At Germantown, Wister’s cricket boosterism worked for a while — in the first decade of the twentieth century, thousands of people took the train out to the suburbs to watch the matches. Yet there were some fundamental problems with American cricket, especially as the pace of life quickened with industrialization and corporate consolidation.  First, it was a slow game, and matches could last for days.   Few spectators, let alone players, had the time to devote to such a leisurely sport.   Second, women were excluded by custom from elevens teams.  Above all, more Americans found cricket just plain boring, especially compared to collegiate football and nascent professional baseball teams.

By the 1910s, a new sport took over the grass creases of Germantown Cricket: lawn tennis. It not only provided vigorous exercise in a short period of time, but also allowed female participation.  It was at Germantown Cricket that William T. “Bill” Tilden II honed his skills as a boy and became America’s greatest tennis player. The tennis craze even spread to the White House.  President Theodore Roosevelt, America’s greatest exponent of physical fitness in the early 1900s, frequently played with a group of advisors that came to be known as the “Tennis Cabinet.”  Yet as an advocate of contact sports such as football and jujitsu, Roosevelt adamantly refused to be photographed in what he considered to be effete tennis whites.

During the middle of the twentieth century, cricket declined as Philadelphia became a tennis mecca. The city produced not just Bill Tilden, but also Wimbleton champion E. Victor Seixas Jr.  In the early 1920s, Germantown hosted the U.S. Open.  So great was Philadelphia’s place in tennis lore that Penn sociologist E. Digby Baltzell wrote an entire book about it – Sporting Gentlemen – in which the author lamented the supplanting of amateur players by professionals.***

Today, Germantown Cricket has been carefully restored and modernized, and its membership has diversified considerably since the days of Tilden.  It  now boasts programs not just in tennis and squash, but also an outdoor swimming pool and bowling alley.  And occasionally, the tennis nets are removed and two sets of “elevens” engage in a cricket match on the close-cropped grass courts.

Yet Philadelphia’s most active cricket field is not surrounded by a high brick wall, but is open to all.  During the summer, on the fields in Fairmount Park, teams composed largely of immigrants from the Caribbean and Pakistan play every weekend, keeping a distinctly Philadelphia tradition alive and well.

*Obituary for William Rotch Wister, Wednesday, August 23, 1911: “The Philadelphia Press.”  The former William Rotch Wister estate is now the site of La Salle University.

**In 1906, Stanford White was shot to death by Harry K. Thaw on the rooftop garden of New York’s Madison Square Garden.  Thaw’s wife Evelyn Nesbit had once been White’s mistress.  The murder (and all its salacious details) was dubbed the “Crime of the Century.”

***E. Digby Baltzell was godfather to Whit Stillman, director of Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco, Barcelona, and Damsels in Distress.

1893 watercolor of the Germantown Cricket Club by A.L. Church. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Bill Tilden. Image: Wikipedia Commons

William Rutherford Mead, Charles F. McKim, and Stanford White.  Image:

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The Centennial Effect: When Photography Replaces Memory

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos The Centennial Photographic Company’s Studio and Employees. The Centennial Photographic
Company, 1876.

On America’s 97th birthday an army of workers put up three miles of fencing around a tract in West Fairmount Park. By the time the 100th birthday rolled around, these  fields, swamps and ravines had been transformed into a polychromatic city of 249 buildings. More than 185,000 came for the ceremonies opening day; by the time the Centennial Exhibition closed in November more than 10 million had visited.

For decades, the Centennial resonated in the national memory. Philadelphia’s World’s Fair was a declaration of its own sort, rivaling for its day the events of 1776. The city expected success, but seemed almost taken aback by its scale and scope. Philadelphians would try to leverage the next two anniversaries of Independence in 1926 and 1976 into World’s Fairs. But the historical moment at the 150th and the 200th anniversaries of the nation paled by comparison with that of 1876.

The Centennial’s success was a matter of tone, timing and orchestration and it seemed almost too good to be true. And as the real memories of this temporary installation faded, the event’s photographic legacy began to take over and re-cast its success with images serving as a kind of a public memory bank. And since the Centennial Photographic Company produced and disseminated more images than Americans had ever seen for any other event, the national memory found a partner in photography. Thousands upon thousands would propel the Centennial forward into the American historical imagination—forever.

Just as the Centennial rose up from the ground, so did the Centennial Photographic Company. It went from zero to 200 employees; from zero to producing more than 150,000 photographic souvenirs in a single month. A team of photographers made 2,820 negatives; its printers printed, cutters cut, mounters mounted, and salespeople sold in a room lined with “pigeonholes” filled and re-filled them every day. It was a 24/7 operation. Through the night, the building resounded with the snap of fresh prints being trimmed. The next day, the crew of women pasted them—as many as 6,000 per day—onto buff-colored cards. Visitors bought stereographs for a quarter each; the largest prints (17 ” x 21”) sold for $5.

Photographer John L. Gihon shared what it was like working for the Centennial Photographic Company. In his “Rambling Remarks” published in The Philadelphia Photographer, we get a sense the pressure on Gihon from  anxious bosses and jostling crowds. He described his work: “Standing upon tiptoe on the topmost step of your ladder, arranging and rearranging probably a mammoth box, stifled and sweating under the confinement of a heavy head cloth, peering on a ground glass, out of the obscurity depicted on which you could barely trace the outlines of some object unusually bright, confused by the talking, laughing and uncomplimentary remarks of the people, and the incessant shuffling of their feet in what you knew to be dangerous proximity.”

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos “Agricultural Hall from the South Gallery,” The Centennial Photographic
Company, 1876.

Glass cases “gave rise to reflections and counter-reflections that dodged in upon” back-to-back exhibitions. “Each plane, when looked at superficially,” he wrote, “would show equally as well as the goods of its opposite neighbor as those which it protected.” When he could, Gihon got exhibitors to open the doors of their cases and unfurled black cloth to screen distractions and reflections. But there were always more problems. The marble floors in Memorial Hall offered no grip for the metal-tipped tripod legs. Often, exhibitors wouldn’t let photographers rope off areas to work in. On those occasions, Gihon and his colleagues came in as maintenance crews mopped. They’d avoid the hoards of visitors, but bright, raking, early morning light streamed in, compromising their images.

Even so, photographing on deadline and in tight quarters, Gihon and his fellow photographers captured the sense of excitement as to all what America produced and sold, from shirts to gas apparatus; oil cloth to wind turbines; locomotives to calculating machines. And with their wide-angle lenses and high-up perspectives, the photographs conveyed, again, again and yet again (in Gihon’s favorite building, Agricultural Hall, illustrated) the Centennial’s huge scale and impact.

No matter how convincing they seem, these photographs—and there are 1,351 here—are not the Centennial but rather a substitute for that lost reality. At best, they provide a manipulated simulation of real events. As a foreign dignitary observed Centennial’s opening day: “Nobody can see anything, nobody can do anything, all rush, push, tear, shout make plenty noise, say ‘damn’ great many times, get very tired and go home.” Reality is precious and fleeting, but it’s also often oppressively mundane. Photography filters the everyday out of reality and leaves the viewer with something that’s real, but that something projects its own unique message.

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The Wrong Side of the Tracks

The Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct (the “Chinese Wall”) at 22nd Street, looking south. 1929.

The end of the “Chinese Wall” at 22nd and Commerce, 1929.

Broad Street Station, designed by Furness, Evans & Company, looking west from City Hall, 1889. The “Chinese Wall” was situated on what is today John F. Kennedy Boulevard.

by Steven B. Ujifusa

In the spring of 1921, a young man named John J. McCloy returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, eager to start his law career.  A poor boy who had grown up in a small house at 20th and Brown streets, he had just completed Harvard Law School, graduating at the top of his class.  His determined mother Anna, a widowed hairdresser of Pennsylvania Dutch origin, had scrimped and saved to send her beloved son to prep school and Amherst College.

McCloy called on one of the city’s most eminent lawyers, George Wharton Pepper, hoping to land a job at one of the city’s top law firms.

Pepper took the aspiring Philadelphia attorney aside.

“I know Philadelphians,” Pepper told McCloy. “It is a city of blood ties. You have good grades, but they don’t mean anything here. Family ties do. Even when I started out here it was difficult and slow. It would be impossible for you. You were born north of the Chinese Wall, and they’ll never take you seriously in this town. In New York, however, your grades will count for something.” *

A disappointed John took the older man’s advice.  He left Philadelphia for good.

Although most of Frank Furness’s buildings have sadly been lost to the wrecker’s ball, one of his Philadelphia monuments is happily gone: the Pennsylvania Railroad viaduct, otherwise known as the “Chinese Wall.”  As part of his expansion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broad Street Station in the  1880s, Furness, Evans & Company designed a titanic, ten-track wide stone viaduct that ran from City Hall to the Schuylkill River.  Although adorned with a few token sculptures by Karl Bitter, it was by-and-large hideous. Much like the interstates that ripped through the hearts of American cities in the mid-twentieth century, the PRR viaduct severely hindered physical access from Center City to North Philadelphia.  Each one of its archways was a dark, stinking cavern, usually filled with refuse. At night, the prospect of crossing the wall, especially on foot, must have been terrifying. Surrounding real estate, especially on Market and Arch streets, suffered.  The steam trains belched black smoke at all hours of the day and night, soiling surrounding buildings with soot and choking the air with fumes.

Despite this massive stone wall blocking access to the city’s main commercial district, the blocks north of the viaduct blossomed into thriving middle and upper class neighborhoods.  Newly-wealthy industrialists built mansions on North Broad Street, while prosperous German Jews lived in substantial brownstones in Fairmount and Strawberry Mansion.  Artist Thomas Eakins lived and painted in his father’s big brick rowhouse at 17th and Mount Vernon. And then there were  families like the McCloys, who lived in small but well-kept homes on the side streets, making ends meet as best they could and hoping for a better future.

Yet the division on Market Street was more than physical: it was psychological and social, as well.  To the city’s insular, snobbish business and social elite, the only “proper” place to live in Center City was Rittenhouse Square. Not south of Pine Street. And definitely never north of Market Street.  In fact, “North of Market” was a pejorative expression.**  To men of George Wharton Pepper’s ilk, who sat on the boards of the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Railroad, it was used as a euphemism for nouveau riche, not part of the “in crowd,” not mattering. And in the case of John J. McCloy, the discrimination was very real, indeed.

Philadelphia’s “Chinese Wall” may also have given rise to an expression that has entered the American vernacular: the wrong side of the tracks.

After the rebuff from Pepper, McCloy went to New York and took a job with a law firm run by the hard-driving Paul D. Cravath. He would eventually become Assistant Secretary of War under President Franklin Roosevelt, president of the Chase Manhattan Bank, and earn the nickname of “Chairman of the Board of the American Establishment.”***

In 1953, Broad Street Station was demolished, and the “Chinese Wall” came tumbling down with it.  A new street, christened John F. Kennedy Boulevard replaced the viaduct.  New skyscrapers shot up on the site of the old barrier, forming a new commercial backbone to the city and soaring high above Billy Penn’s hat atop City Hall.  The Pennsylvania Railroad — once the biggest corporation on earth and the financial Gibraltar of Pepper’s Philadelphia elite  – declared bankruptcy in 1970 after a failed merger with the New York Central.

Ironically, a new barrier — sunken, rather than raised — was constructed just as the Chinese Wall came down: the Vine Street Expressway.

The viaduct at 22nd and Cuthbert, looking north, 1929.

Underneath the viaduct at 22nd and Cuthbert, 1955.

*Interview of John J. McCloy by Kai Bird, June 23, 1983.  Kai Bird, The Chairman: John J. McCloy, the Making of the American Establishment (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 57.

** Nathaniel Burt, The Perennial Philadelphians: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963), p. 529.

***As Assistant Secretary of War, McCloy clashed with Attorney General Francis Biddle (another Philadelphian, from the “right” side of the tracks) regarding the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.   Biddle protested the constitutionality of Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, but ultimately McCloy and others in the administration prevailed.  The episode haunted Biddle to the end of his life, while McCloy vigorously defended internment to the end of his.

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A Holdout from the Heyday of the American Daguerreotype

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos View of the south side of Chestnut Street between 6th and 7th Streets
showing the daguerreotype studio of McClees & Germon in 1855.

Philadelphia in the 1850s was much about giving and getting face time. You couldn’t take more than a few steps on Chestnut Street without bumping into a choice of daguerreotype studios. The photographic process arrived from Paris  late summer in  1839;  Philadelphians had grown up with the silvery science from the first. Robert Cornelius experimented, perfected, and then sold his first commercial portrait to his lens supplier, John McAllister, Jr., who was savvy enough to insist on being the first in line. Today, McAllister’s face lives on at the Library of Congress.

What made daguerreotypes so appealing? They literally reflected reality using a blend of skill and science that looked like magic but was really an art. From the first, they stunned those who saw them and left in their wake believers convinced these affordable, luminous images would change the world.

By the 1850s, on a walk down Chestnut Street you’d encounter a dozen Daguerreans, whose bold signs, brimming sample cases, and wide-open glass windows invited in both sunlight and paying visitors. From 1846 to 1856, as Prints and Photographs curator at the Library of Company of Philadelphia Sarah Weatherwax points out in a map made for the online exhibition Catching A Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia, 1839-1860 the number of Philadelphia studios grew from a mere 20 to an amazing 150.

You’d find the studios of McClees & Germon (illustrated here before the fire of 1855 and above after reconstruction). You’d see a stunning daguerreotype panorama of the Fairmount Waterworks at T.P. and D.C Collins’ (it’s found at the Franklin Institute today). You’d take in the images of Montgomery P. Simons, Samuel Van Loan, Frederick DeBourg Richards and Marcus Aurelius Root, whose daguerreotype of Anthony Pritchard recently broke records when it sold at auction for more than $350,000.

Root liked to brag he captured “the shadow of the soul” on silvered plates, skillfully coaxing the sun to do to its work for him. Popularity led Root to double his annual production in the late 1840s; he produced his share of the 3,000,000 daguerreotypes made in America in the middle of the 19th century. When cheap paper prints from negatives rendered the daguerreotype process obsolete on the eve of the Civil War, Root chose obsolescence, too. He couldn’t stomach the “new and improved” photography and missed the day when you’d walk along Chestnut Street, Market Street or Second Street, smell the iodine wafting from the studios and pass customers proudly holding their palm-sized, glassed-fronted, image-bearing cases.

But as many daguerreotype studios as there once were, there’s not a single one left today. Or is there? With all of the one-time activity, you’d think there’d be some surviving evidence on the streets of the city that made the daguerreotype an American institution. So much of Philadelphia is a collection of proud and mundane remnants from the past. Is it too much to ask that one of these remnants be a holdout from the day of the Daguerreotype?

Maybe we need to search just a little bit harder.

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The Cartoon Nearly Nobody Got

Purchase Photo View Nearby Photos Newsstand – Northwest Corner of Broad and Snyder Streets. Photograph by Wenzel J. Hess,
November 29, 1949.

In the middle of the 20th century, The Bulletin seemed to be everywhere. Blue newsstands with gold lettering had grown familiar at intersections throughout the city: in South Philadelphia (illustrated), North Philadelphia, East Falls, West Oak Lane, Wynnefield and here and there throughout Center City. In Philadelphia, nearly everybody could read The Bulletin, and many did.

In 1947, when the paper turned 100, circulation stood at the highest its owners had seen before or after. Peter Binzen described the party thrown at the Convention Center. Management ordered a six-foot-tall cake for the paper’s 1,700 employees and read congratulations (sort of) from President Harry Truman (“I have never known it to hit below the belt”) and TIME Magazine (“The Bulletin may be unspectacular, but it is a good newspaper.”)

Backhanded compliments mattered little to The Bulletin’s approximately three-quarters of a million daily readers. For generations, “interior life was what counted in Philadelphia,” wrote John Lukacs. The city had not outlived the “corrupt and contented” tagline given by Lincoln Steffens in 1904; it had embraced it. For every registered Democrat there were two registered Republicans, with politics Lukacs labeled “a kind of Business-Biblical Americanism of the Old Protectionist Dispensation.”

But things were changing. Soon after 1950, Philadelphia forfeited its rank as the third largest American city to Los Angeles (of all places!). The city hovered at the brink of a political and civic reform that would tear down all kinds of walls, not least of which was the so-called Chinese Wall that cut the western half of Center City in two.

Riding high, The Bulletin sought to secure its position with advertising that played on the soul of what would become known as “the private city.” This campaign turned into one of the longest-lived in advertising. For 28-years, Americans awaited the next illustration by Richard Decker over the slogan that quickly became famous: “In Philadelphia, nearly everybody reads the Bulletin.” Decker, the son of Chestnut Street stationers, had a prolific career as a cartoonist for the New Yorker. Ben Yagoda describes him as “a virtuoso of the panoramic full-page gag” with a brand of humor that “sprang from the one key element that was unexpected or out of joint.” Each of these Bulletin ads worked from the same premise: while a scene of some drama unfolds, everyone in the crowd, except one excited, skinny, balding fellow, is complacently reading their copy of newspaper.

Newsstand at "the Chinese Wall, " Northeast corner of 17th and Market Streets. Photograph by Francis Balionis, July 25, 1952.

Each would be a cartoon, except for the fact that it was really an advertisement. That their humor came at the expense of nearly every Philadelphian gave a few cultural critics reason to take offense. According to Nathaniel Burt, the ads speak to “the Philadelphia lack of curiosity, the inability and unwillingness to observe the unknown, no matter how spectacular.” They project “Philadelphia’s enormous self-satisfaction, the delight in the status quo; above all, the intense groupiness, the cheerful conformity …  their complete exclusion of the oddball, the intense, the enthusiastic and the alarmed—no matter how proper his concern.” Burt concluded the message conveyed that “Nearly everybody reads the Bulletin, nearly everybody, that is, except the peculiar.”

Philip Stevick considered Decker’s ads “uncompromisingly derogatory,” especially  in light of the fact that Philadelphia had long been the butt of national jokes as “a sleepy town.” When “faced with the unexpected, or the dramatic, or the exciting, or indeed the life threatening, Philadelphians, the ads seem to say, cannot be roused from their daily papers. . . . Experience itself is simply not interesting.”

Burt’s observations date to the 1960s, when the Philadelphia of W.C. Fields still lived large in the national imagination. And even in the 1990s, when Stevick considered the campaign, Philadelphia had not yet shaken its historic self-depreciation. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, the city no longer has The Bulletin, or even a robust newspaper with healthy circulation, but Philadelphia is comfortable in its own skin.

Sometimes it’s the artist, rather than the historian, who is the first to hold a light up to the truth. Philadelphia-born and raised singer, dancer Joan McCracken found fame in the original 1943 production of Oklahoma! and then in this politically incorrect period piece Pass That Peace Pipe from the film Good News. Instead of taking umbrage with the campaign, McCracken, herself the daughter of a Philadelphia newspaperman, found inspiration in a Decker ad for The Bulletin set in a theater—and used it for an original dance sequence. McCracken got Decker’s joke, and played into it. She chose herself for the role of the “oddball” in “Paper!” On stage in New York, she was the only Philadelphian, and the only dancer in touch with reality.

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