Category Archives: Snapshots of History

As Times Goes By on Lancaster Avenue: 1:05pm, April 22, 1914

The date is Wednesday, April 22, 1914.  On that day, George Herman “Babe” Ruth played his first professional baseball game, pitching for the (then minor league) Baltimore Orioles, in an exhibition game against the major league Philadelphia Phillies. To the amazement of the spectators, Babe Ruth proved to be one of those rare pitchers who […]
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Mysterious Photos of the Comegys Mansion at 4203-4205 Walnut Street

The name of Benjamin Bartis Comegys (1819-1900) lives on in a West Philadelphia elementary school that bears his name.  However, a cursory Google search of the man reveals very little information aside from his obituary and funeral notice.    His father Cornelius P. Comegys served as governor of Delaware between 1837 and 1841.  His son […]
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Irving T. Catharine, Philadelphia’s School Design Czar

The buildings of Frank Furness and Louis Kahn are known world-wide. Yet below the architectural superstars were the work-a-day architects who made their livings designing prominent structures that still dot the city. These included department stores, theaters, police and fire stations, parish churches, and warehouse blocks.  These architects saw their business as a service, and […]
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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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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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The “Shameless” Architectural Self-Promotion of Stearns & Castor

  The Gilded Age was when Philadelphia smoked from fires of industry and shimmered in the glow of the electric light. The newfangled incandescent bulb became an object of near-mystic veneration.  Located in Northeast Philadelphia, the Rohrbacher & Horrmann Jefferson Flint Glass Company specialized in making high-quality “art glass” shades for electrical and gas lighting. […]
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