Category Archives: Snapshots of History

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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A Most Exciting Discovery

On Monday, January 21, our nation observed and celebrated the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hundreds of volumes have been written about the beloved icon of the American Civil Rights Movement, also known as MLK. His heavily analyzed and eventful life has been chronicled with a thoroughness that gives the impression there […]
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The Mystery Church: St. Andrew’s Chapel of Spruce Hill

St. Andrew’s Chapel, one of Philadelphia’s finest examples of neo-Gothic architecture, is the  only quiet place on its tree-shaded block.  The locked building is surrounded by the bustle of the children attending the Penn Alexander School and the Parent Infant Center.  From the 1924 to 1974, this church was the centerpiece of the now-closed Philadelphia […]
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Books in Trust: The Germantown Friends Free Library – Part 2

“In an age in which the individual is merely a number to his employer, his bank, his insurance company and his government, humanizing influences are sadly needed. It is our belief that books and the libraries that make them available constitute one of the most powerful of these influences.” –Germantown Friends Free Library Annual Report, […]
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A Cursed Mansion in Belmont: The Rise and Fall of the Rorkes (Part 2)

During the hot summer of July 1900, Franklin Rorke was faced with mounting bills and a failing construction business. His new mansion at 41st and Ogden, an extravagant gift from his late father, had every modern convenience, and boasted mosaics, hardwood floors, marble trim, and onyx fireplaces, as well as a fully equipped stable in […]
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A Cursed Mansion in Belmont: The Rise and Fall of the Rorkes (Part 1)

In the 1890s, the self-made construction magnate Allen B. Rorke appeared to be living the Gilded Age dream.  Fame, fortune, social standing, and grand houses were all his.  He belonged to the Union League, the Masonic Order of the Odd Fellows, the Legion of Honor, and the Clover Club.  Among his construction clients were the […]
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