Author Archives: Steven Ujifusa

Clarence Siegel’s Garden Court: The Rowhouse Meets the Automobile

By the 1920s, American city planners and developers were forced to confront the exploding popularity of the automobile. Automobile ownership tripled from 8 million in 1920 to 23 million by the close of the decade. The price of a Model T had fallen to a mere $260 for an open touring car, or the equivalent […]
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The Ginkgo Tree of Chestnutwold

The present day Penn Alexander School was once the site of one of West Philadelphia’s great estates: Chestnutwold, built by Clarence H. Clark. In its time, Clark’s banking concern was one of the most powerful in the nation. And like many businesses in Philadelphia, it was a family affair. Clarence Clark was the son of banker […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part III)

Part I and Part II The Virginian was a tremendous success, selling 1.5 million copies during Wister’s lifetime, and became a template for countless Western novels and movies to follow. Despite his newfound fame, Wister found subsequent literary success elusive. Like most authors, he did not want to become a one-hit wonder. Once he was back in […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part II)

Pierce Butler II did not reform his ways after his wife left him. Rather, he drank, gambled, and philandered his way through his remaining $700,000 fortune. To pay his debts, he sold nearly 500 slaves at auction in 1859.  According to one observer: On the faces of all [the slaves] was an expression of heavy […]
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The Butler Family Feud (Part I)

Although outlawed after the Revolution, slavery continued to be a critical part of the Pennsylvania economy virtually up to the Civil War. In an era before joint stock corporations, businesses were family affairs. A successful merchant or landowner would pass along his enterprises directly to his descendants, not to trained professional executives. Many prominent Philadelphia […]
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It’s a Gas! Mayor Dilworth Extinguishes Philadelphia’s Last Municipal Gas Streetlight

On April 15, 1959, Mayor Richardson Dilworth, resplendent in a three piece suit, mounted a ladder and extinguished Philadelphia’s last gas streetlight.  The frilly fixture, dating from the early 1900s, was located at 45th and Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Residents smiled and applauded, glad that this vestige of the Victorian era was gone.  In […]
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Preservation to Demolition: Why Lancaster Mews Matters

Yet another high rise student housing complex going up, billed as “luxury” apartments? At a community meeting last night,  residents of the area expressed their concern at the possible loss of an historic anchor structure at the corner of 36th and Lancaster Avenue.  The building entered the spotlight a few weeks ago, when Inga Saffron wrote in […]
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“Where Are You From?” Frank DeSimone’s South Philadelphia (Part 2)

Note: this article is Part II of a series.  Click here for Part I.   Two months ago, as we stood in front of St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church, Frank DeSimone recalled one of his fondest childhood memories: the annual visit of the Joseph A. Ferko String Band. In the 1950s, Philadelphia was defined not by […]
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A Drive Through Overbrook Farms

In 1876, as Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition was in full swing, the Pennsylvania Railroad quietly bought up the trolley rights on Lancaster Avenue from 52nd Street to the western city limits.  The PRR shrewdly sought to control as much development as possible along its Main Line to Pittsburgh, which paralleled Lancaster Avenue — also known as […]
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Gentlemen and Wise Guys in Girard Estates

  Stephen Girard, the French-born Philadelphia shipping tycoon, was famous for his hard driving work ethic.  He came to America as a teenager, an orphaned cabin boy from the city of Bordeaux, and quickly established himself as a merchant who sent his ships to China and the Caribbean.  Along with John Jacob Astor of New […]
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