Joseph Moore Jr., “A Remnant of the Mauve Decade”

Joseph Moore Jr. in his library at 1821 Walnut Street, undated (c.1920).

There are few interior shots available on PhillyHistory.org. The insides of the grand mansions of Rittenhouse Square and their modest West Philadelphia rowhouses have been largely lost history, their contents dispersed to family members, sold at auction during the Great Depression, or buried in landfills.

Among the few surviving images of these every day stagesets are of the townhouse of Joseph Moore Jr., a wealthy bachelor businessman and the namesake of the Moore College of Art and Design.  Born on July 19, 1849 to Joseph and Cecilia Moore, Joseph spent his twenties in the family dry goods and carriage making business. Yet like his contemporary Owen Wister, who had a nervous breakdown after his practical physician father barred him from a career as a concert pianist, Moore was bored by the monotonous routine of sales and double-entry bookkeeping.  The well-educated Moore and Wister were of a type of Philadelphian that was, in the (somewhat unflattering) words of social historian Nathaniel Burt, “born retired.”

Adrift in commercial Philadelphia, Owen Wister went west to the austere wilds of Wyoming, where he found new literary inspiration in the persona of the cowboy.

Moore looked the other way, across the Atlantic.  In 1876, Moore left the business world and spent the next twelve years as a dilettante antiquarian, roaming Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  He authored the books The Queen’s Empire eand Outlying Europe and the near Orient, penned magazine articles, participated in archaeological digs, and immersed himself in the art museums of Paris and other European capitals. According to Rittenhouse Square, Past and Present, published in 1922, a year after his death, “he devoted years to travel and study, covering Europe, Asia, Africa and America, studying French at Blois, German at Hanover, and international law under the late Dr. Francis Wharton.”

After a dozen years abroad, Moore returned to Philadelphia and, ever the polymath, became something of a jack-of-all trades, dabbling in banking and manufacturing and apparently doing fairly well in the business sphere. He also racked up board seats and club memberships, including the Union League, Drexel Institute, and the Fairmount Park Commission. Perpetually one of Philadelphia’s most eligible bachelors (“a man of attractive personality and fine attainments”) he enjoyed hosting groups of debutantes in his Rittenhouse Square townhouse at 1821 Walnut Street, on the north side of the park, which he had inherited from his parents. But despite his wealth and popularity, he lived alone in his enormous house.

One of these images shows Moore, as an old man, sitting in the gloomy grandeur of his library.  By the time this photo was taken, the Square’s Gilded Age grandeur was fading, as wealthy families moved out to the sylvan suburbs of the Main Line and Chestnut Hill.  With the rising costs of domestic help and ever-increasing taxes, townhouses had become a financial anachronism in Philadelphia area. In this image, Moore appears to be like the character Horace Havistock from Louis Auchincloss’s The Rector of Justin: 

“He is very bent and brown, with thick snowy hair, and he leaned heavily on Dr. Prescott’s arm has he hobbled in and out of the dining room. Yet taken as a remnant of the mauve decade he is rather superb. He was wearing a high wing collar, striped trousers, a morning coat and black button boots of lustered polish.”

It appears that until his death, Moore was perfectly content to live in the past, vanished world of the “Mauve Decade.” So did Owen Wister, who preferred to take comfort in the past ideal of the Western cowboy rather than a cosmopolitan, urban future. “The cowboy has now gone to worlds invisible,” he wrote in his 1902 bestseller The Virginian, “the wind has blown away the white ashes of his campfires; but the empty sardine box lies rusting over the face of the Western earth.”

Joseph Moore Jr. died at his Rittenhouse Square mansion of a heart attack in 1921, at the dawn of the raucous Jazz Age. His house did not last long after his passing. Like all of the townhouses on north side of Rittenhouse Square, it was demolished after World War II and replaced by modern high rises. Moore’s name lives on in the Moore College of Art and Design, of which is family was the main benefactor.

1825-1827 Walnut Street, October 8, 1924.

Sources:

“From the Archives: Joseph Moore Jr.,” Connelly Library Moore College of Art and Design, November 1, 2013. https://connellylibrary.wordpress.com/tag/joseph-moore-jr/

Louis Auchincloss, The Rector of Justin (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1964), p.48.

Charles J. Cohen, Rittenhouse Square: Past and Present (privately printed, Philadelphia) 1922. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924008640652/cu31924008640652_djvu.txt

Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919), p.36. https://books.google.com/books?id=9PkVAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=white%20ashes&f=false

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