“As long as City Hall existed the city would never completely be free to grow up to the dreams of those who loved her.”

City Hall from Arch Street, April 1910 (PhillyHistory.org)

“You could be critical of your city and laugh among yourselves at its quaintness, its political corruption, its provincialism, its charming, absurd, easy-going conservatism, its heat and dirt, its faint enthusiasms dying so easily before a stouter longing for pleasure,” wrote Francis Biddle in 1927. “But you mustn’t let an outsider laugh at it. For, after all, Philadelphia was an aristocracy compared to the polyglot barbarity of the new New York; cosmopolitan against the gauche provincialism of Boston; rich in flavor where Washington was thin and spiceless.”

“Of course you didn’t say these things, only felt them,” admitted Biddle in his one and only novel, The Llanfear Pattern. “A member of a patrician Philadelphia family” whose obituary in his New York Times obituary noted a “singular noblesse oblige” that propelled him “into reform politics and ultimately into Roosevelt’s cabinet as Attorney General during World War II.”

In his story of “a large conservative tribe” all of whom yielded “to the inexorable power of the family, a pattern woven through generations of leadership in the worlds of finance, law and society” Biddle dared “to describe Philadelphia as he saw it…a brave thing for a Biddle to do,” according to one reviewer. “Many Philadelphians…will squirm, and many more will delight to see their friends and acquaintances in the pages of this book.”  In either case, Biddle was “considered a traitor to his class.”

The novel follows the young lawyer, Carl Llanfear as he “pits his ambition and enthusiasm against the powerful inertia of the clan,” in a city whose very streets, neighborhoods and public buildings resonate with all that is corrupt and content:

“On a certain March morning of 1910 Carl started early for the office. It was penetratingly cold, and the city was damp and dark beneath a dirty pile of snow, a depressing sight. Here and there a municipal snowplough cleared a way, and groups of sleepy shovellers piled snow into little horse trucks that looked like farm wagons… The city was always unprepared and slow and inadequate. They would be digging for another week, and leave vast ridges grown filthy from the soot and smut to melt through the warm weather, spreading germs, while the voters coughed and sneezed, and contracted tonsillitis and pneumonia, and some died, but all remained indifferent. And always dirty; dusty in summer and littered with papers, dreary with the dreariness of filth and neglect, without pride or beauty.”

Northeast Corner – City Hall, 1900 (PhillyHistory.org)

‘It was dying, he felt, decaying from river to river, the damp rot of wood like gangrene running from the Schuylkill on the west to the Delaware on the east.”

Carl Llanfear thought about the popular motto: “Philadelphia, city of homes.” He “heard it said that working man were better housed here than anywhere in the world, owned their own houses; unemployment was scarce; taxes were low; people were contented…The homes made the workingman contented. They need to be, thought Carl, to put up with the discomfort of the city, which seemed to be running down like some great industrial plant whose owners were squeezing dividends for the stockholders at the expense of upkeep.”

Maybe, just maybe, there would be a chance for change, for reform.

The day after an election when voters finally turned on  The Organization, Llanfear, a would be reformer, hoped for the start of a revolution. “Men’s consciences were awakening, the door had been opened for the possibility of great things.”

Northeast Corner – City Hall, January 27, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

“A splendid city, rising from the ashes of its past, blooming from the ignoble past of [Mayor Samuel Howell] Ashbridge, who had built City Hall, boasting of the fortune he would take out of the contracts, making good his boast. City Hall, symbol of dishonesty and ugliness, squatting over the city’s heart, its immense meaningless bulk blocking traffic where it was thickest, wasting space, shutting out sun and air from the gloomy rooms within; great corridors that every day were littered with the refuse of the crowd; ill-ventilated court-rooms, where the fetid air lay heavy over judge and jury, witnesses, and accused; imitation marble, velvet plush grown dingy with grime, meaningless decorations, carvings of slaves and Cupids where they could not be seen; fly-specked portraits of forgotten nonentities; gilded Venetian ceilings with checker-board patterns; a Philadelphia architect’s dream, perhaps, of the vanished Tuilleries, the costly richness of those old kings, who had probably grafted, too, in their day . . .”

“How could Philadelphians take pride in their city when its business was transacted in such a place? Where dirty human rats — shyster lawyers, ambulance-chasers, jury-fixers, professional bondsmen — scurried about, and the clerks and policemen, employees of the city, swore at the public that paid their salaries, and pushed them about with the insolence of servants who have learned to rob their master.”

“Carl had a feeling that as long as City Hall existed the city would never completely be free to grow up to the dreams of those who loved her.”

(Sources: Francis Biddle, The Llanfear Pattern (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1927); Advertisement for The Llanfear Pattern in The New York Times, October 6, 1927; Samuel Scoville, Jr. An American Forsyte, Forum, (LXXIX; 4) April 1928; “New Books in Brief Review,” The Independent,  Vol. (120; 4052) January 28, 1928; Alden Whitman, “Francis Biddle Is Dead at 82; Roosevelt’s Attorney General,” The New York Times, October 5, 1968.)

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Creating Community at the Powelton Co-op – Part 1

Powelton Co-op families doing the laundry in the basement of 3709 Baring Street. Mrs. John L. Atkins taking care of 21 month old Alan Bye, as his mother Lois Bye handles the washer and wringer. Mrs. John H. Wrenn hangs clothes on the line, while Mrs. Hsien Ti Tien irons a shirt.  Photo courtesy of Gwendolyn Bye.

There were some kids who were mixed. There was some kids who were Jewish, and there were some white kids, too. But it never dawned on me as a child. I never knew the difference. I went to an all-black school for the first three years of my life, which was a block away.

-Gwendolyn Bye, daughter of Powelton Co-op founders Jerry and Louis Bye. 

During the 1940s and early 1950s, West Philadelphia’s “Powelton Co-op” was a haven for people seeking a tolerant, racially-integrated community.  It was a mixture of Penn students, social activists, professionals, and musicians.  They stood against war, nuclear proliferation, and segregation. Most leaned politically to the left. Some identified as Communists, a bold stance just before the rise of McCarthyism. There was also a strong Quaker influence, as many residents were involved with the American Friends Service Committee.

“There were Jews. There were WASPs. There were gay people. There were African-Americans. It was a real mixed bag,” remembered Gwendolyn Bye, whose parents Jerry and Lois Bye met at the Powelton Co-op in the late 1940s. Regarding the Powelton Co-op’s Marxist leanings, Bye explained: “It was a much more innocent form of community and social questioning: the rich being corrupt, everything’s for everyone, we work together for the common good. And the underlying message was a very innocent one, but it was one that was very strongly felt by my mother and father and the people who formed the Powelton Co-op.”

The co-op’s sphere of influence would eventually encompass a group of blocks that today is known as Powelton Village: bounded by Powelton Avenue to the south, Spring Garden Street to the north, Lancaster Avenue to the west, and the Schuylkill River to the east.  There were plenty of big old houses that could be bought or rented for very little money, and the neighborhood was also within walking distance of the University of Pennsylvania.

Originally developed in the decades after the Civil War, Powelton Village had once been of Philadelphia’s premier streetcar suburbs. By the 1890s, it was home to German-American beer barons, Pennsylvania Railroad executives, and Quaker entrepreneurs who ignored the stigma of living “North of Market.”   Yet fashion moved on, as did the descendants of the original wealthy families.  As a result of New Deal housing policies,  most of West Philadelphia north of Market Street was “redlined,” meaning that banks refused to give prospective homebuyer mortgages. Worse still, insurance companies refused to issue homeowner policies. Much of this was racially motivated: as soon as a black family moved into a neighborhood, the whole area was deemed “hazardous” and marked as red on the lending institution’s map. During the 1940s and 50s, brokers routinely engaged in a practice known as “blockbusting,” informing white families in a neighborhood that African-Americans were moving into the area.   Afraid that their property values would decrease due to redlining, the white residents would then “panic sell.” The realtor would then sell the property to a black family, pocketing the commission. Entire neighborhoods would turn over within a decade or less. The idea of an integrated neighborhood was a foreign concept to both residents and policy makers.  Until the passing of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which made it a federal crime to discriminate “in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” this practice was a major driver of white flight, not just in Philadelphia, but in cities throughout the United States.

Jerry and Lois Bye, who were among the founding members of the Powelton Co-op, happened to be in real estate, but they were realtors on a mission. Devout Quakers and pacifists, they believed they could be agents for the creation of an integrated neighborhood. Among the other founders were realtor George Funderburg (an African-American) and his wife Maggie (a German-American).  In addition to the cheap housing, West Philadelphia was one of the few places where interracial couples such as the Funderburgs felt comfortable. Anti-miscegnation laws, which prohibited marriage between people of two difference races, were on the books in fourteen states. And even in states such as Pennsylvania that permitted interracial marriage, couples were often met with hostility or even violence by their neighbors.

Initially known as the “Friendship Co-op,” the group’s first home was set of buildings known as “The Court,” located at the intersection of 37th and Baring Street. As shareholders in the corporation, all members shared expenses, childcare, and the household chores. A communal meal was held every night.   At the end of the year, the co-op members would get equity according to their contributions.  After a few years at “The Court,” the Powelton Co-op moved to a large house at 35 North 34th Street, and then another one at 3709 Baring Street. There were plenty of hulking old homes for the taking. A Victorian mansion in this part of West Philadelphia could be purchased for as little as $12,000. Many had been turned into rooming or halfway houses, and were generally in poor repair.

The Powelton Co-op would be this group’s laboratory, and Powelton Village was the perfect location for it.  They betted that the neighborhood would be a much better place in the long run as an integrated one, rather than one defined by a single ethnic group.  The Funderburgs, Byes, Marshalls and other founding families intended to raise their children in a place where they would feel comfortable with people from all backgrounds.

It would be a difficult road, but in the end they would succeed in achieving their vision.

To be continued…

 

The northwest corner of the 3700 block of Baring Street, December 14, 1962.

Sources:

Interview of David and Anne Lodge, December 26, 2017.

Interview of Gwendolyn Bye, July 17, 2013.

Interview of Gwendolyn Bye, October 5, 2016.

Interview of Gwendolyn Bye, December 26, 2018.

“The Fair Housing Act,” US Department of Housing and Urban Development,” https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/progdesc/title8, accessed February 16, 2018.

 

 

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Celebrations of Underdogs

The Stadiums in 1970. (PhillyHistory,org)

Having just celebrated the Eagles Super Bowl win with a procession witnessed by nearly three-quarters of a million, we have to ask: has Philadelphia ever before experienced so sweet a victory?

Then we recall October 21, 1980, when the Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals 4 to 1, winning game 6 of the World Series. How did the city react then, exactly half a century since the Philadelphia Athletics brought home the same title? How did celebrating victory feel back then in this city of underdogs?

Folklorist Henry Glassie was there. And fourteen years later, he shared his impressions with the Philadelphia Almanac and Citizens’ Manual in a piece entitled “1980 Remembered:”

“October air glistens with victory. Shocks of fodder, piles of pumpkins, the traditional assemblies of harvest home stand in the cool air, marking the end of the farmer’s long war with earth. Clear and bright, autumn at its best, is how we recall the city’s day of triumph. It had been a long season, a tense playoff, a hard series, but Greg Gross laid down the perfect bunt, Manny Trillo made the perfect throw, Tug McGraw leapt and patted, and a Whitmanesque babble of humanity overflowed the streets, crowding joyously to let us feel for one day how civic life might be. Divisions dissolved: bankers, bums, secretaries, newsboys, and housewives, we smiled and touched and traded small gifts like kids at an antiwar rally. Packed close, standing, dancing, yelling, we reached toward the trucks moving slowly along the route of the Pope’s flash. On the trucks rode the men whose intensity yielded this bounty. They were not cool. Like heroes loosed from some old epic, they gave completely, Carlton in lonely discipline, Bowa boyishly, McBride bravely, Schmidt with the body that would have won him laurels in any sport in any age. Rose had come from the west to provide the missing link; we unified in the rhythm—Pete, Pete, Pete, Pete—when he set records and watched the man on the field, made for baseball as Eakins was made for painting. But it was, at the heart, Garry Maddox, spread at the plate into an image of concentration, Maddox doubling to center, Maddox moving stealthily to the last catch, Maddox sitting above us now. He should have been wearing embroidered robes of fawn-colored silk and riding a white charger. It was only a truck, only a game, but he was our hero, the prince of a city named Brotherly Love.”

(Source: From the Philadelphia Almanac and Citizens’ Manual for 1995. Edited by Kenneth Finkel. Published by the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1994.)

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Philadelphia’s Winning Metaphor: Scrappletown

William Penn admitted Philadelphia was “a holy experiment” about the same time some of his early settlers were conducting a less-than-holy, culinary experiment. They invented scrapple, a folksy staple that, for all its native plainness and inherent modesty, has managed to hold its own for more than three centuries. Scrapple has always been completely real and entirely ours, an endearing strand in the city’s gastronomical genome. Who would argue that Philadelphia’s DNA isn’t partly scrapple?

Liberty Bowl at Municipal (later J.F.K.) Stadium, December 20, 1960. (PhillyHistory,org)

Top that, Boston baked bean.

Nowhere else in America had a more ancient and authentic food, the “apotheosis of the pig,” claimed newspaperman Louis N. Megargee in 1901. In his column Seen and Heard, Megargee pitted the Boston baked bean and Philadelphia scrapple and found the former wanting in both character and venerability.

Originally little more than a culinary-cul-de-sac, scrapple evolved into a self-sufficient, self-deprecating, completely genuine Philadelphia meme. Earnest 19th century recipe books enshrined scrapple in literature and lexicon, but  didn’t quite come to terms with the fact that, in the end, scrapple was more metaphor than meal.

William Bunn did.

“The Hon. William M. Bunn is best known as the brightest start in the constellation of orators, wits and raconteurs that illuminate the city of real Brotherly Love,” wrote James McCartney in the introduction to Bunn’s speeches and toasts of 1908. “In all the United States, there is no many on whose brow has been placed oftener the laurel wreath of adoring fame for after-dinner speaking.”

Here are excerpts from Bunn’s toast to scrapple delivered to a gathering at the Hotel Majestic, Broad Street and Girard Avenue:

What’s in a name? Usually, something—sometimes much; occasionally more— sentimentally, everything. Philadelphia, Brotherly Love, for instance. Something in that…Scrappletown and Slowtown— more in them.

Scrappletown— why, I read in a Philadelphia daily…that Philadelphia was consuming 12,000 pounds of scrapple weekly…

Incidentally, will you just ponder on the faith, the unwinking, unthinking blind faith of the thing! Scrappletown takes her scrapple on trust— just as she took her Schuylkill water on trust for so many years.

Scrappletown ! Takes its booze on trust: stands up to the gilded bar of a thousand dollar licensed saloon, calls for straight goods first time, never looks at the blend label on the bottle— takes  it on faith first time. Second time, couldn’t see it if did look. Third time and so on to the limit— well you all know how it is yourselves; you’ve all been there— wouldn’t amount to much if you hadn’t in real worldly experience. And—what is worldly experience? Scrapple. What is booze? Scrapple.

Ever investigate politics? Something singular about the term. A noun of plural form that takes a verb in the singular. The verb is the only thing about it that is singular, though, in Scrappletown.

Scrappletown isn’t a village anymore…

You get politics on the house-top, in the cellar; at the legal bar, and the licensed bar; at the club, office, sociable; in hall and pulpit; in Chinatown, Little Italy, Rittenhouse Square; at weddings and funerals; in stock brokering and philanthropy; you can get into politics for nothing and come out with nothing.  … You can get it raw or hashed or mulched; but in the end, both ends for that matter, it’s all—what? Scrapple!

Scrapple.

If there’s anything in this progressive twentieth century with no mystery, no sham, no big odd nonsense about it, it should be and therefore, is society. It is a want to know, you know, society a high art, high jinks, high ball society. A horse show, dog bench, stock board society. An eloping, divorcing society—and out of doors, automobiling society. It sails the ocean blue and climbs the Matterhorn. It spells its one or more middle names in full and hyphenates its patronymics. It remembers its pedigree and forgets its prayers. It scorns those whose forefathers never distinguished themselves and envies those whose forefathers and foremothers did. It aspires to be known abroad. And it is known. … It is scorified, glorified. It is followed, courted, married and divorced— more glory. It shows itself the wide world over. It tires of monotony— goes on the stage— shows itself some more— much more. It marries some more. Not much more to be sure, but enough for glory. With the sparkle and glitter of the footlights on the stage, the rustle and glow of paper and coin in the banks there’s glory enough to be sure; but it’s all scrapple— SCRAPPLE.

Oh, but it’s all great, though. We shine for it, and pine for it; look up to it, crook down to it; adore it, implore it; chase it, embrace it. It skips everywhere, tips everywhere. It doesn’t die. It elopes to Paradise. Maybe St. Peter will need an introduction; but that’s pure speculation.

Oh it’s glorious, all glorious. But it’s all scrapple— scrapple. And isn’t it glory enough to know that this is Scrappletown; and scrapple is the real thing. No doubt but it’s a made up thing, blind, fearfully, and wonderfully made, to be sure; but Philadelphia is plucky; it makes no scrutiny into the mutiny. It takes its medicine like a little man, and asks no questions. What proves to be good for it it clings to. …It’s all mystifying, vexatious. But then it’s all scrapple.

It was in the mind of Scrappletown ‘s immortal bard when he wrote the deathless lines: This world is all a fleeting show / Since Adam ate the apple / Its smiles of Joy, its tears of woe, / Deceitful shine, deceitful flow — / There’s nothing true but — Scrapple.

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The Last Piggeries of Maiden Lane

“A curious thing about Philadelphia,” wrote Edith Elmer Wood in 1919, “is that pigs were permitted to be kept in the thickly settled parts of the city until quite recently. A start was made to do away with this condition, the 40,000 piggeries of a few years ago having been reduced to almost 10,000.

Then, in the Spring of 1917, Health Department officials declared that Philadelphia would be demolishing it’s last remaining piggeries.

Up until the early 20th century, urban spaces required animal agriculture. There’d be no transportation without horses. “Hogs cleaned up household slop,” Vitiello and Brinkley remind us, “chickens scratched at the waste that the pigs left behind. Sheep and goats grazed on the commons… Many urban families kept or boarded dairy cows for a supply of fresh milk. Cattle were driven from ports, and later rail stations, to markets and slaughterhouses throughout the city. Animals were everywhere, as were the nuisances that they created as they bellowed, kicked up dust, dropped manure, and knocked over passersby.”

Runaway Pig at the Jersey Market, Front and Market Streets, ca. 1850 (detail). The Library Company of Philadelphia.

For the first couple of hundred years, the idea of banning farm animals would have been absurd, impossible even. Keeping them under control was more likely, though always challenging. As early as 1705, city ordinances forbade “cattle and swine from running at large through the streets.” Once caught, the meat from these runaways would be forfeited, shared equally by captor and the almshouse.

In the mid-19th century, hogs were fattened for market adjacent to a large distillery in the northwest quadrant of what is now Center City (at 23rd and Summer Streets). Feed consisted of grain mash from the distillery. This symbiotic relationship continued for more than three decades before the increasing number of nearby residents led to a contested closure. Appeals continued until May 1845, when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard the case.

“At the time of the trial, and for a few years previous, the city had been rapidly extending in that direction… Several public institutions of great importance however had…been erected in the immediate neighborhood; and it was the alleged injury inflicted on these, as well as on the dwelling houses lately erected in the vicinity, that formed the principal ground of complaint.”

Farley’s Piggery – Maiden Lane, 10-12-1916 (PhillyHistory.org)

Farley’s Piggery – Maiden Lane, 10-12-1916 (PhillyHistory.org)

“The buildings in question were capable of accommodating as many as a thousand hogs…that in the warm weather the stench was so intolerable, as to make it almost impossible to pass through the street, on which the establishment opened, without nausea; and that when the wind was from the northwest, it was perceptible for half a mile towards the heart of the city; that the water of the Schuylkill was infected by the great quantities of filth and ordure which were discharged; that the value of property adjacent was diminished from ten to fifteen per cent., and that the comfort  of the residents thereabout was materially affected by the effluvia.”

The court heard evidence for more than a week.

Piggeries had been there “from time immemorial,” claimed the defense. Moreover, they argued, the distillery “was essential to the city.”

The court agreed with the previous ruling: “Piggeries had to be removed from city limits, no matter how well established or profitable they were.” Citizens “are entitled by right to healthy air, and to a use of the public highways unimpaired by any adjacent nuisance” and “a hog pen in a city is a nuisance.” In fact, “the keeping of pigs in a community like this, whether there be one or a thousand, is indictable.”

Yet, as we read in Vitiello and Brinkley, the “debates between farmer-businessmen and city officials” continued for more than half a century longer. As the city expanded in the late 19th century, with permission from City Councils, pig farmers continued to thrive just beyond the fringes of the city’s built-up sections.

“Desperate efforts are being made by the pig owners of the First Ward [in South Philadelphia, east of Broad Street] to get from under the eye of the Health Officer and run their pens as of old,” reported the Inquirer in 1886: “the pens had been newly whitewashed and the masses of decaying garbage covered up and out of sight.” Further to the south and west, pigsties “owned by Mr. Rubel…at 31st and Maiden lane were in very bad condition. … The garbage…was left to fester, and the stench arising from the mass of filth among which the remaining animals were wallowing, exhaled an odor that could not but be highly prejudicial to public health.”

Detail of “Plan Showing Existing Conditions in South Philadelphia, December 13, 1915. (PhillyHistory.org)

“Pigs Have Got to Go,” editorialized the newspaper as late as 1914, by which time urban expansion guaranteed proximity to piggeries. Yet they remained legal in several areas, including along Maiden Lane. “Modern cities and hog pens cannot be made to go hand in hand,” declared editors, but they fell short of calling for a complete ban.

Not so Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg. His “war upon piggeries” would include a veto of any proposed expansion piggery district. Before long, the city conducted raids on the illegal piggeries of South Philadelphia.

In 1916, John Donohoe, who owned a massive piggery on League Island Road managed to remove his livestock only 15 minutes before a noontime raid by officials from the Bureaus of Health and Sanitation joined by a half dozen mounted police and 25 laborers with orders “to demolish Donohue’s pens.” Freshly unemployed pig farmers and farm hands greeted the raiders “with hoots and jeers.” Meanwhile, owners of the remaining, smaller piggeries read the writing on the wall and dispensed with their stock “as fast as possible.”

Before long, South Philadelphia’s muddy fens were piggery free, from the Neck to Maiden Lane.

(Sources: Edith Elmer Wood, The Housing of the Unskilled Wage Earner; America’s Next Problem (The Macmillian Co., 1919); Catherine Brinkley and Domenic Vitiello, “From Farm to Nuisance: Animal Agriculture and the Rise of Planning Regulation,” Journal of Planning History, 2014, Vol. 13(2) 113-135; “Commonwealth v. Van Sickle, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania,Pennsylvania Law Journal, Volume 7 [Walker, 1848] and from The Philadelphia Inquirer: “First Ward Piggeries,” October 27, 1886; “Mayor to War upon Piggeries,” September 7, 1913; “Pigs Have Got to Go,”, March 21, 1914; “Officials Raid Piggery, but Find Swine Gone Owner Prevents Confiscation by Removing Entire Stock,”  September 29,1916.)

 

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The Clinical Ampitheatre and Surgery as Spectacle

Demolition for the Parkway proceeded through the northwest quadrant of Center City like Sherman’s March through Georgia. Promising a civic and cultural boulevard, planners took no prisoners, even as they encountered the city’s best architectural gems.

Only one hiccup in the way of progress (as we learned last time) was the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital.  But this, too, eventually took the fall. The hospital’s clinical ampitheatre, just west enough on Cherry Street to survive a couple of decades longer, perpetuated the original, old-school Philadelphia sin of perpendicularity. In the 20th century, at least in this quadrant of Penn’s original grid, planners switched staid for sparkle. Perpendicularity had given way to diagonality.

Anything else, everything else, would be sacrificed at the altar of the City Beautiful.

Since its founding in 1881, the Medico-Chirurgical College and Hospital periodically augmented its Cherry Street campus with new buildings, eventually filling up the entire block between 17th and 18th. Each would be a permanent addition (or so they thought) to the city’s venerable medical community, none more so than the building by Frank Miles Day & Brother, opened on October 2, 1897.

Clinical Ampitheatre of the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital. 17th and Cherry Streets., Philadelphia, PA. Frank Miles Day & Bro. Architects, Architectural Record ,1904. (Google Books)

Dr. William L. Rodman, the newly elected professor to the chair of the principles of Surgery and Clinical Surgery (and later president of the American Medical Association) welcomed all to admire this “new and commodious clinical amphitheatre,” a state-of-the art facility, “one of the most excellent, as well as the largest clinical amphitheatres … yet been erected either in the United States or Europe.”

Clinical Amphitheater, Medical-Chiruguical Hospital, Philadelphia. (Wikimedia.org)

“The amphitheatre is the most noteworthy feature of the building,” claimed the Inquirer. “The form of seating in rows … extending entirely around the central space and rising from it, tier on tier,” had been a classic form going back centuries, and locally to Pennsylvania Hospital’s of 1804. The operating pit enabled continuation of the medical tradition where  the surgeon/professor/performer emulated great predecessors like Thomas Dent Mütter, Samuel Gross and David Hayes Agnew, who, according to Rebecca Rego Barry, would enter “the arena of the operating theater as a matador strides into the ring” receiving applause from “rows of ogling observers.”

Surgery as spectacle.

The refined Renaissance style of the building’s exterior telegraphed the anticipated experience within. “A high base of Hummelstown brown stone carries the superstructure, which is of Pompeiian bricks and terra cotta (fabricated by Philadelphia’s Conkling-Armstrong Terra Cotta Co.). The chief features of the front are three large arched windows, below which are marble tablets bearing the names of epoch-making physicians and surgeons, beginning with Hippocrates, Galen and Celsus and extending to Pasteur, Koch and Lister. The names of Sims, Agnew, Goodell, Pancoast, Gross and other American contributors to medical science are found upon that list.”

Parkway from Bell Telephone Building, February 7, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

“It is very interesting to watch an architect ‘find himself,’” observed critic Ralph Adams Cram. And in the case of Frank Miles Day & Brother “the process is perfectly logical [and] entirely continuous.” The Days extended the ampitheatre‘s performance quality to the street, emphasizing “very evident and equally dominant passion for fine line, graceful ornament and delicate colors, consciousness of composition, mass and the co-ordination of parts…”

Cram called the clinical amphitheatre as one of the Days’ “more notable works.” Others are extant: the French Renaissance Crozer Building on the 1400 block of Chestnut Street and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania (designed in collaboration with Cope and Stewardson and Wilson Eyre). Neither Horticultural Hall or the Art Club, both on Broad Street, survive. The first gave way to what is now the Merriam Theater; the second lost an existential battle with a parking garage.

Buildings on [Cherry] Street being demolished, August 1939. Paul Vanderbilt, photographer. (Yale University)

Tha Plaza, 18th and the Parkway, 1968 (PhillyHistory.org)

The Days’ clinical amphitheatre wasn’t exactly in the Parkway’s path—it intersected it at an odd angle—which might have facilitated survival for a few more decades. After the First World War, as part of the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, the amphitheatre was “completely renovated, redecorated and refurbished,” and reopened in 1919, “the principle operating room (having been)  completely equipped (as) one of the finest in the world.”

Not for long. In August 1939, as photographer Paul Vanderbilt traversed the city in search of its rougher edges, he captured the last of the amphitheatre’s front wall, then, finally, in the process of demolition.

Right angles had effectively been expunged from the intersection of 18th and Cherry Streets. Perhaps never to be seen again.

[Additional Sources: “Clinic Ampitheatre: The New Building oat the Disposal of Medico-Chi,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3, 1897; Warren Powers Laird, “Frank Miles Day: An Appreciation,” The American Architect, Vol. 114, issue 2219, (July 3, 1918); “Medico-Chirurgical Hospital To Reopen,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 1919.]

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Death and Destruction: the “Last Real Impediment” to the Completed Parkway

“Entire Parkway Is To Be Open Within 5 Months,” read a headline in late December, 1916. “City Officials Make Definite Promise” to demolish everything in the way of a mile-long, blacktop boulevard stretching from City Hall to Fairmount.

Everything, that is, except for a cluster of buildings at 17th and Cherry Streets, the Medico-Chirurgical College. In time, the Parkway’s “last real impediment” would also be reduced to rubble, though not until World War and the influenza epidemic had faded into history.

Parkway Looking Northwest from City Hall Tower, May 15, 1917. Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

Hospital beds had been in short supply, and the city, which had purchased the buildings of the Medico-Chirurgical College, turned them over to the American Red Cross. “Humanity dictated” this “shall be kept as an emergency hospital” and with wards “decorated with flags of the allies,” Red Cross staff made ready for the arrival of “the first contingent of wounded French and English soldiers from the battlefields of Europe.

As the war began to come to a close in the fall of 1918, Philadelphia’s medical community heeded a call for even more hospital beds as the Great Influenza Pandemic made its fatal foothold.

In little more than a two week period in October 1918, the city saw more than 33,000 new cases of influenza resulting in 3,900 deaths. Medical schools postponed the start of the fall semester for 3rd and 4th year students, assigning them as staff to temporary “Emergency Hospitals.” In just two days, workmen took a “half knocked down” building at the Medico- Chirurgical site and installed “temporary wooden partitions that enclosed spaces previously opened by the demolition.” A temporary boiler installed on the street provided heat, and on October 7th, water and electrical connections were restored.

Close View of Demolishing the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital – 17th and Cherry Streets. September 18, 1917. Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

According to Isaac Starr, a University of Pennsylvania medical student who later wrote of his experience, five floors of a salvaged Medico- Chirurgical building were turned into a hospital ward, each with about 25 beds assembled by the students themselves. After only a single lecture on influenza, Starr was assigned to the top floor, where he served as “head nurse” for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.

At first, thought Starr, many patients “seemed to have sought admission chiefly because everybody in the family was sick and no one was left at home who could take care of them.” But the “clinical features of many soon changed drastically. As their lungs filled with rales the patients became short of breath and increasingly cyanotic. After gasping for several hours they became delirious and incontinent, and many died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth. After a day or two of intense struggle, they died.”

“When I returned to duty at 4 p.m,” remembered Starr, I found few whom I had seen before.” “This happened night after night. The deaths in the hospital as a whole exceeded 25% per night during the peak of the epidemic. To make room for others the bodies were being tossed from the cellar into trucks, which when filled carted them away. It was a dreadful business.”

“Seeing one case after another go to pieces after admission to our hospital made us wonder whether there was a reservoir of infection in the hospital itself that was responsible for the heavy mortality. Perhaps the masks, gowns, and hand washing did more to protect us than we had a right to expect. Certainly, with death all around us, we had every encouragement to be as careful as we could, but we were so busy and so tired that we forgot about precautions, and patient after patient coughed into our faces as we tended to their needs.”

The worst was over by the end of October. As new cases of the influenza declined medical school classes resumed. “Our lives slowly returned to normal.” recalled Starr, and the makeshift hospital wards closed on Saturday November 16, 1918.

Soon demolition crews returned. And by February 1919, they delivered on the promise of a completed boulevard. The city would soon have its mile-long stretch of fresh blacktop, a “Stately Parkway, Dream of Years.”

What would Philadelphia make of it? That’s the story of the next 100 years.

[Sources: Philadelphia in the World War, 1914-1919, (Published for the Philadelphia War History Committee 1922); Isaac Starr, MD, Influenza in 1918: Recollections of the Epidemic in Philadelphia. Annals of Internal Medicine, July 18, 2006 Vol 145, No 2, p. 139; in The Philadelphia Inquirer:  “Entire Parkway is to be open within 5 months,” December 28, 1916; “Red Cross Gets Hospital,“ December 15, 1917; “Foreign Wounded Here Within Month,“ July 19, 1917; “Parkway Project Nears Completion,”  August 31, 1917; “Datesman Prepares to Finish Parkway from 17th to 18th,” September 30, 1917; “Emergency Hospital No. 2 will be opened at once in the buildings of the old Medico-Chirugical College,” October 7, 1918; “Holds Influenza is at its Crest,” October 8, 1918; “Stately Parkway, Dream of Years, Almost Complete,” February 16, 1919.]

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The John G. Johnson Art Collection on Broad Street

“Unused City-Owned Real Estate,” The John G. Johnson Art Collection, 510 South Broad Street, November 30, 1936 (PhillyHistory.org)

“There are still so many paintings on the floor, I just don’t know where to put them,” complained Hendrik Willem Mesdag to his art dealer. The artist/collector would soon solve the problem by building a museum next to his house in The Hague, exhibiting his own work with that of other Dutch and French artists. John G. Johnson visited in the early 1890s and left impressed but sad.  “We heard the door of the gallery close with that feeling of regret which comes to us, as we lose sight, possibly forever, of some beautiful thing on earth.”

Back home on Broad Street in Philadelphia, Johnson would soon create his own version of such a gallery experience.

In The American Scene, Henry James described Johnson’s gallery “at the edge of a vast, vacant Philadelphia street…vacant of everything but an immeasurable bourgeois blankness.” James entered and found it “a friendly house…given over, from top to toe, to a dazzling collection of pictures … remarkably rich the store of acquisition, in the light of which the whole energy of the keen collector showed: the knowledge, the acuteness, the audacity, the incessant watch for opportunity.”

John G. Johnson’s Philadelphia art collection had joined the ranks of the world-class.

“The greatest lawyer in the English-speaking world” as the New York Times would describe Johnson, had the income to support his voracious appetite for art. From 1884, when he argued his first case before the Supreme Court of the United States, until his death in 1917, Johnson would bring a total of 168 cases. He appeared before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania thousands of times.

Johnson’s “best-known local clients included Peter A.B. Widener and William L. Elkins, who made millions of dollars in the operation of horse-drawn carriages and the electrical streetcars. The Baldwin Locomotive Works was also a client, as was John Wanamaker.” Gilded Age moguls: J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie and Pierre S. duPont wouldn’t make a move until consulting with Johnson. He successfully represented the “Sugar Trust” and became the go-to antitrust expert for big tobacco, big banking, big railroading and big oil.

“By the time of his death,” the Philadelphia Museum of Art tells us, “Johnson had acquired nearly 1,300 paintings, primarily from the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries; more than 150 sculptures, textiles, and other objects; and an art library of approximately 2,500 books, journals, and auction catalogues. The collection, which has been entrusted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art since the 1930s, includes masterpieces by key figures of the Renaissance such as Bosch, Botticelli, and Titian; important seventeenth-century Dutch paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and others; and works by American and French masters of Johnson’s own time, notably John Singer Sargent, Édouard Manet, and Claude Monet.”

On the transom: “City of Philadelphia / The John G. Johnson Art Collection.” On the door: “Open Free / Daily 9 to 5 / Sunday 1 to 5.” 510 South Broad Street, November 30, 1936 (PhillyHistory.org)

Having filled his home at 426 South Broad with art, Johnson moved to a larger residence a block away, at 506. George Biddle visited there around 1913: “He had eleven hundred masterpieces in a firetrap on South Broad Street. I had a ticket of admission to his house; and once when he was not at home, I poked my nose in various corners that were not commonly visited by the public. I found two Chardins in his boot closet, many examples of the Barbizon school in his bathroom; and Sargents, Manets, and French impressionists in the corridors of the servants’ stairway.”

John G. Johnson Collection, Interior of home at 506 South Broad Street, ca. 1905-1915 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives)

“His pictures are everywhere, wrote the New York Times in June 1914. “They cover every available inch of wall space. . . . One priceless painting adorns the footboard of a bed, and the butler’s pantry houses a Van Dyck.”

A year later, Johnson bought the larger mansion next door specifically to serve as his gallery. Originally finished in 1874 by Furness & Hewitt, 510 South Broad had been significantly altered in 1900 by architect Charles M. Burns for art collector Francis Thomas Sully Darley.

For his gallery, Johnson found inspiration in that of New York client Henry Clay Frick and, of course, the one he visited so many years before in The Hague. Johnson sought to create a powerful, unforgettable experience: a place where visitors could find intimate moments with “some beautiful thing on earth.”

Out-of-town visitors might feel that pang of regret as they left 510 South Broad Street, “possibly forever.” But those fortunate enough to live in Philadelphia? They could come back anytime. According to the gold-leaf sign at the entrance, “The John G. Johnson Art Collection” was “Open Free, Daily 9 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5.”

[Sources: Avis Berman, “A Philadelphia Lawyer’s Gilded Age Collection,” The New York Review of Books, December 6, 2017; John G. Johnson, Sight-seeing in Berlin and Holland Among Pictures, (Allen, Lane & Scott’s, 1892; Reprinted from The Philadelphia Press); Gerard J. St. John, “John G. Johnson: Giant of the Philadelphia Bar,” The Philadelphia Lawyer, Winter 2007. Vol. 69. No. 4]

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The Never-Seated U.S. Senator from Philadelphia

Thomas W. Cunningham and William S. Vare in 1931 (PhillyHistory.org)

In 1926 William Vare was elected to the United States Senate, defeating Democrat William B. Wilson by more than 180,000 votes. But when the new Congress began, the Senate voted to refuse Vare his seat.

Thus began “a bitter and gigantic struggle.”

Wilson charged “massive corruption,” alleging “Vare and his supporters used padded registration lists, misused campaign expenditures, counted votes…from persons who were dead or never existed, and engaged in intimidation and discouragement of prospective voters.”

“The fraud pervading the actual count by the division election officers is appalling,” a Senate committee would conclude. “The average Philadelphia voter had a one-in-eight chance of having his ballot recorded accurately on Election Day.”

William S. Vare, “the youngest of a trio of brothers who had intermittently ruled Philadelphia in the name of the Republican Party since the turn of the century” had been the city’s “undisputed boss” through most of the 1920s. According to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Vare “commanded more political power than any other single Philadelphian before or since.”

The Vare family came to power and fortune “by way of the contracting business, particularly municipal contracts for such work as cleaning streets, collecting garbage, and erecting public buildings” wrote Samuel J. Astorino. Their machine “was closely-knit, slick, and loyal.”

“Bill Vare was at the head of this once almost impregnable Republican organization not because of any unusual intellectual or social acumen,” explained J. T. Salter in 1935. “He was in no sense a cultured or highly civilized person. He had never had time to read, and he knew nothing of the liberal arts. … But he was an ultra-specialist in ward and city politics. … He saw with an eye single to the fifty wards in Philadelphia, and the 1,283 divisions of these wards. He was a prototype of his people—the conservative, matter-of-fact, uneducated, hard-working people that actually lived in the fifty wards of that interminable city of small homes, block on block of duplicate houses, wall to wall on narrow, treeless streets. If the boiled-down psychic residue of all these people could be put into one test-tube…and that of Vare be put in another, and both tubes held to the light, they would have looked the same…”

“Not only was he like the mass of voters in his city,” Salter continued, “he was never ashamed of his humble beginnings as the tenth and youngest son of an English farmer in “The Neck,” who went to work as a cash boy at Wanamaker’s when he was twelve-and who spent his youth as a huckster and a hauler of ashes and garbage. None of the Vares were ever ashamed of this. Once [rival politician Boies] Penrose called William S. ‘the ash-cart statesman,’ and he accepted the appellation; it became part of his political capital and was worth votes at the polls.”

Vare’s Philadelphia base loved his gritty, everyman style. That appeal and the funds raised for his campaign from allies of all stripes were intended to secure his seat in the U.S. Senate. Real estate broker, developer and banker Albert M. Greenfield happily donated $125,000 to support Vare’s “life’s ambition.” Greenfield had the money to give.

But how Philadelphia Sheriff Thomas “Big Tom” Cunningham managed a $50,000 donation on his salary of $8,000 would remain a curious mystery, one that even the Senate investigation and the courts could not crack.

No matter. Vare’s corruption was exposed; he never did make his way to that seat in the U. S. Senate.

(Sources: Samuel J. Astorino, “The Contested Senate Election of William Scott Vare,” Pennsylvania History, 28 (April 1961), 187-201; Mark Grossman, “William Scott Vare.” Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power & Greed, 2nd edition. (Grey House Publishing, 2008); Thomas H. Keels, “Contractor Bosses (1880s to 1930s),” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, 2016; J. T. Salter, ”The End of Vare,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Jun., 1935), pp. 214-235; Russell Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300 Year History (W. W. Norton & Company, 1982).

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The Demise and Demolition of Horticultural Hall

Horticultural Hall, Fairmount Park, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company (PhillyHistory.org/Free Library of Philadelphia)

Distaste for Victorian architecture blossomed in the first half of the 20th century into unmitigated disgust. By the time the waves of demolition subsided, it was too late for many masterpieces that had been pulled down with confidence and even glee.

We saw this before, with Frank Furness, who “embodied the worst of Victorian excess in the eyes of modernists.” His buildings fell as if in a losing war; and so did many others that dared display individualism or a lack of restraint. Wreckers worked relentlessly through the 1950s and 1960s as preservationists searched for their voices. By the time a reappraisal of the Victorian finally changed minds, it was too late; so much was already gone. Words of regret and mourning seemed flimsy; too little; too late.

One of the earliest voices, that of George B. Tatum in Penn’s Great Town, wrote in 1961 of Horticultural Hall’s demise: “by any standard a major monument of American architecture of the 19th century.” In time, others would join the chorus with ever more strident tones. By 1976, almost 18 years too late, Edmund Bacon commented on the demolition of another “major monument,” the Jayne building, “as the worst single act of architectural vandalism.” Words too late. Words as soundbites. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s high Victorian buildings had slipped from cultural treasure to architectural albatross.  Then they were gone.

Horticultural Hall , south entrance. Centennial Exhibition, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. (PhillyHistory.org - Free Library)

Horticultural Hall, south entrance, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. (PhillyHistory.org/Free Library of Philadelphia)

The campaign to establish existential doubt for Horticultural Hall, began just after the turn of the 20th century with squawks about the burden of repairs. By mid-century, these cries had risen to a cacophony leading to, inevitably, a call for the wrecking ball. Horticultural Hall’s narrative arc, urged on by the city itself, lasted for more than a half a century before the contract was finally put out. Slowly, surely, over nearly half a century, the language of demise exercised its ever firming grip. Hurricane or not, the victim was doomed.

The calls came as early as 1910, when City Council appropriated $30,000 for a major renovation. Horticultural Hall was then thought to be “in such bad condition that the Park Commissioners feared that it would collapse and injury [sic] many persons.”

By 1937, the building had become a “gray, friendly ghost of a fading age,” if still “quickened by wild, exotic plant life from far corners of the world…”

Sixteen more years pass. “Originally gaily polychrome, in reds, greens, and yellows,” Horticultural Hall in 1953 “has lost this finery and much of its original iron embellishment and in many places is rusting… It is still standing, but is in need of extensive repairs.”

“Historic Hall In Park Held ‘Dangerous’” read an unapologetic headline in the Spring of 1953, more than a year before Hazel. “A showplace when it was opened,” halfway into the 20th century it was now “in ‘dangerous condition,’ and the place should be closed, Charles I. Thompson, president of the Fairmount Park Commission declared…”.

“’Badly rusted framework holding heavy glass panes in the vaulted roof make it likely that the panes will come loose in the near future and fall to the floor,” said Thompson. “This condition is dangerous and we’d better do something about it before somebody gets hurt.” The Commission concluded: “’we’re just throwing good money after bad,’ and that it would be ‘better to start over again with a new building.’”

Broken panes made “the whole place like a sieve when it rains,” an engineer chimed in.

And we know what happens when it rains: it pours.

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel brought not only rain, but 50 to 60 mile per hour winds and gusts of 94 miles per hour. Fifteen people were killed in the Philadelphia area.

Wreckers Ready to Move into Horticultural Hall, Spring 1955. Charles Newman, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (Temple University Paley Library – Special Collections Research Center)

“Hazel Hit Historic Hall” read the headline on October 16th.  “Park Director Paul MacMurray…disclosed that hundreds of panes of class were blown from the roof of the central hall of the massive structure, a relic of the Centennial Exposition.”

No one ever documented exactly how many panes were broken, but both the “danger” and the “relic” cards had been played.

“Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” confirmed an October 22nd headline. “The ornate building…is now in such condition that authorities feel it is imperative to begin tearing down the structure as a safety measure.”

“We’re now faced with the problem of tearing it down or it falling down,” claimed MacMurray.

“It would be a great pity to tear it down,” retorted preservationists. “If it was in such a dilapidated state why didn’t the hurricane level it to the ground, instead of blowing out a few panes of glass? … “Other cities take pride in preserving their landmarks.” … Where is Philadelphia’s pride now?” This is nothing more than “willful neglect.”

Wreckers competed with one another for the “Dismantling, Demolition and Disposition” of Horticultural Hall. Bids arrived in room 313, City Hall Annex, before 2:30PM February 7, 1955.

And by April Fool’s Day a classified advertisement described and offered what remained: “2000’ rare ornamental railings & stairs. Greenhouse. 10,000’ steam pipe from ½” to 5”. Steel beams 8 to 12” from 12 to 30’ in length. Numerous other items dating back over 100 years.”

“Salesman on site at all times,” assured the ad.

[Sources: Philadelphia, A Guide to the Nation’s Birthplace, compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Federal Writers’ Project (Pa.), 1937; Theo. B. White, Philadelphia Architecture in the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia Art Alliance, 1953); George B. Tatum, Penn’s Great Town: 250 Years of Philadelphia Architecture Illustrated in Prints and Drawings (University of Pennsylvania, 1961); The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Park Exhibit to Open,” September 15, 1910; “Historic Hall In Park Held ‘Dangerous,’” May 24, 1953; “Hurricane Kills 15 in Phila. Area, Leaves Path of Ruin in 8 States,” October 16, 1954; ”Hazel Hit Historic Hall,” October 21, 1954; “Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” October 22, 1954; “Garden Under Glass, Letter by “E.C.” October 27, 1954; January 27, 1955 (letter to the editor); April 1, 1955  (classified advertisement)].

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