The Rise and Fall of PhillyPalladian

Some say Andrea Palladio invented it. Others claim it was first published by Sebastiano Serlio who had borrowed it from one or another master of the Italian Renaissance: Raphael, Peruzzi, Bramante or Scamozzi—or maybe all of them. The architectural feature that’s been called the Palladian Window, the Venetian Window and the Serlian Motif went viral in the 1500s and never lost its grip on designers looking to make a strong statement in masonry, woodwork and light.

Nearly a half a millennium ago, Palladio designed Villa Poiana in Northern Italy. His Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza, of 1549 exerted its power both on the street and in print.  More than an appealing form, here rose a trope that drew on a special power: the image of the triumphal arches in ancient Rome.

No wonder found it so appealing, and so handy.

And no wonder England adopted the Palladian window as it morphed into an empire. “Ubiquitous” is the word. Colin Campbell illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus (1715-25) some one dozen buildings using the device. In his A Book of Architecture, James Gibbs showed an equal number of plates of building schemes incorporating this three-part feature, including the rear elevation of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.” Nicholas Hawksmoor featured the window at Codrington Library at All Souls College, Oxford. And that was a century-and-a-quarter after Inigo Jones featured it into his Queen’s Chapel at Saint James Palace.

Then, the “pattern books of James Gibbs, Batty Langley, William Pain, and others” assured “that the Palladian arch was transported to 18th-century America.” But why such a warm welcome in Philadelphia? It seemed more than merely inviting the southern sun to stream into the new State House. Maybe the Palladian window expressed in masonry, woodwork and glass what the poets had been waxing about so loud and clear—inside and out—that Philadelphia was destined to become the Athens of America? The Palladian window made appearances in many cities in the New World, but nowhere, it seems, more than in Philadelphia.

Independence Hall - Exterior Repairs - Painting South Entrance Exterior Painters, October 23, 1922 (PhillyHistory.org)

Independence Hall – Exterior Repairs – Painting South Entrance Exterior Painters, October 23, 1922 (PhillyHistory.org)

Here’s are what PhillyPalladians we could find, in chronological order:

Christ Church, Second Street, north of Market Street, 1727-1744.

State House (Independence Hall), Chestnut Street, between Fifth and Sixth Street, 1730-1748.

Saint Peters Church, Third and Pine Streets, 1758-1761.

Mount Pleasant, East Fairmount Park, 1761.

Port Royal, Frankford Avenue & Orthodox Street, 1761-1762.

Zion Lutheran Church, Fourth and Cherry Streets, 1766-1769.

Woodlands, 4000 Woodland Avenue, 1770.

Lemon Hill, East Fairmount Park, ca. 1770.

Woodford, East Fairmount Park, ca. 1772.

William Bingham House, 3rd and Spruce Streets, ca. 1788.

Presidents House, 9th and Chestnut Street, 1790.

Cooke’s Building, Third and Market Streets, ca. 1792.

Chestnut Street Theatre, Chestnut Street, east of Fifth Street, 1791-1794.

Saint Thomas African Episcopal Church, Fifth and Saint James Place, 1794.

Penn National Bank, Frank Furness, 7th and Market Streets, 1882.

Weisbrod and Hess Brewery, A.C. Wagner, Martha Street between York Street and E. Hagert Street, 1885.

Engine 37 Firehouse, John T. Windrim, 101 West Highland Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 1894.

Philadelphia City Hall (Tower) , Broad and Market Streets, John McArthur, Jr., 1890s.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street. Addison Hutton, 1910.

Firehouse #49,  1513 Snyder Avenue, 1911.

Yes, the Palladian window offered Philadelphians classical flair and an unmatched grand flavor. It fulfilled needs of all kinds: civic, religious, business and domestic. The PhillyPalladians upped the game for buildings until the last decades of the 19th century, when something happened. The Palladian window migrated from grandiose gesture to general design vocabulary. And ever since, what once called forth images of Empire, settled in as a somewhat fancier option  of letting in some light and air.

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