Author Archives: Steven Ujifusa

“An Entirely Unsuitable Home” for the Free Library of Philadelphia

It’s shocking to imagine this ramshackle structure was the home of the Free Library of Philadelphia between 1895 and 1910.  The Free Library came into existence in 1891 thanks to efforts of Dr. William Pepper, a celebrated physician and provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Pepper used $225,000 of his  family’s money to start Philadelphia’s […]
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The Greenwich Street Gas Explosion of 1941

At 5:00am on the evening of February 11, 1941, the residents of the 1100 block of Greenwich Street were all sound asleep in their snug two story row homes.  The surrounding neighborhood (today known as East Passyunk — a popular shopping and dining district) was a tight-knit, mostly Italian-American community, in which daily life revolved […]
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The Model T with the “Mother-in-Law” Seat

In the early 1900s, the government was not in the business of regulating car design and safety.  The only real government requirements when it came to owning one were license plates and registration.  Luxury cars of that era, especially European imports such as Mercedes and Napier, were so complicated to drive and service that most […]
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Cigars with Frank Furness at 711 Locust Street

Reverend William Henry Furness (1802-1896), the minister of Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church, complained that Philadelphia’s architects should liberate themselves from the demure and boring “Quaker style…marble steps, and wooden shutters.”   Yet exuberant ornamentation was not only anathema to Philadelphia taste, but it was also expensive, even in the Victorian era of cheap labor.  Reverend Furness raised […]
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Angora Mills and the Baptist Minister

  Entrepreneurs George and Robert Callaghan built the Angora Mills complex in 1864, at the height of Civil War-fueled demand for army uniforms. Named after the Turkish city of Ankara (not the cat breed), it stood at the intersection of 60th Street and Baltimore Avenue (in today’s Cobbs Creek neighborhood) and sprawled over 52 acres. […]
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A Philadelphia Firehouse Designed by the “Other” Philip Johnson

All our municipal governments are more or less bad. Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and the most contented.” -Lincoln Steffens, 1903 The firehouse at intersection of Baltimore Avenue and 50th Street is a redbrick Flemish revival structure dating from the early 1900s.  In the days of coal-fired kitchen ranges and unreliable electrical wiring, a […]
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Tragic Train Wreck at 53rd Street and Baltimore Avenue

“The 17‐car accident occurred about 8:20 A.M. on Conrail’s West Chester-Media line, which passes through southwest Philadelphia. The site of the accident, near 53d Street and Baltimore Avenue, is an area of depressed housing, storefront businesses and abandoned automobile chassis situated about two miles from Center City.” -The New York Times, October 17, 1979 When finished […]
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Martin Meyerson’s Presidential Residence at 2016 Spruce Street

In 1970, University of Pennsylvania’s new president Martin Meyerson hired arguably the most famous architect in America at the time, Penn’s own Louis Kahn, to renovate a double-wide brownstone mansion at 2016 Spruce Street into a new presidential residence.  Meyerson was a unusual university president, in that his background was not in academia, but in […]
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Joseph Moore Jr., “A Remnant of the Mauve Decade”

There are few interior shots available on 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 […]
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Willis Hale and the Proposed Chester-Regent Historic District

Restraint is not a word associated with the Philadelphia architect Willis Gaylord Hale (1848-1907).  His most famous Philadelphia commission, the recently-rehabbed Divine Lorraine Hotel of 1894, is a yellow-brick wedding cake skyscraper. His other residential and commercial structures that have survived the wrecking ball, such as the Union Trust in Center City, are fanciful and […]
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