Martin Meyerson’s Presidential Residence at 2016 Spruce Street

Facade of the President’s Residence, University of Pennsylvania, 2016 Spruce Street, 1927.

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 city planning. Accordiing to the New York Times: “He oversaw the conversion of what had been a collection of buildings on Philadelphia streets into a true campus. Streets were closed, landscaped walkways were built, and a large park was created in the middle of the campus.”

Traditionally, the Penn president lived in leafy Chestnut Hill, the favorite enclave of Philadelphia’s upper crust and the neigborhood of many of the university’s biggest donors.  A native New Yorker, Meyerson decided to change that precendent by moving the president’s home into Center City. 2016 Spruce had been built in the 1860s by the prominent architect Samuel Sloan. Sloan’s most notable surviving commissions include the Woodland Terrace development (longtime neighborhood of Penn architecture professor Paul-Philippe Cret) and the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital at 50thand Market. Sloan’s specialized in the picturesque Italianate style.  By the early 1970s, Philadelphia’s real estate market was in a deep funk. Rittenhouse Square had fallen a long way since its Gilded Age heyday, when the author Henry James described it as “the perfect square.”  Yet the once-fashionable streets around Rittenhouse still remained popular with Penn faculty, including physician Dr. Isidor Ravdin, city planner Edmund Bacon, and sociologist E. Digby Baltzell Jr.

The student protests and strikes of the late 60s also may have had something to do with Meyerson’s decision to not live on the West Philadelphia campus.  In 1972, Harvard’s president Derek Bok (an heir to the Philadelphia-based Curtis publishing fortune) decamped from Harvard Yard to the 18th century Elmwood mansion, still in Cambridge but a comfortable mile or so from campus.

Library, 2016 Spruce Street, 1972.

Louis Kahn, who balanced private practice and teaching duties, was busy with prestigious commissions in the late 60s, most notably the National Assembly at Dhaka in Bangladesh. Yet Kahn must have felt sense of obligation to his former boss at Penn’s architecture school to undertake this relatively small project.   Trained in the traditional Beaux Arts method, Kahn was extremely respectful of the mansion’s Victorian aesthetic.  Unlike other modernist architects, who would gutted the house, Kahn used a light touch, keeping all of the intricate paneling, marble fireplaces, and ornamental plaster intact.  He added bookshelves in one of the double parlors to house Meyerson’s library, and then created a new kitchen addition at the rear of the house.  The kitchen, despite its modest size, is pure Kahn, with plenty of light and large, unornamented surfaces of wood and brick.


Louis Kahn’s kitchen addition for 2016 Spruce Street, 1972.

The end result was a house that retained its “Old Philadelphia” Victorian gravitas, but was well-suited to the modern urban family life of Martin and Margi Meyerson.

In 1980, with the memories of campus unrest fading, the University of Pennsylvania decided to move the president’s residence back to West Philadelphia.  The building chosen for the honor was the former mansion of the cigar manufacturer Otto Eisenlohr, located at 3808-3810 Walnut Street. Built in 1907, it was the work of Horace Trumbauer and his partner Julian Abele, the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture program.

2016 Spruce Street is once again a private residence, and has recently been listed for sale at nearly $3 million.



Judith Rodin, The University and Urban Revival: Out of the Ivory Tower and Into the Streets (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), p.25.

Sandy Smith, “A President’s House in Rittenhouse for $2.895M,” Philadelphia Magazine, April 30, 2018.

Dennis Hevesi, “Martin Meyerson, 84, Leader at 3 Universities, Dies,” The New York Times, June 7, 2007.

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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 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.


“From the Archives: Joseph Moore Jr.,” Connelly Library Moore College of Art and Design, November 1, 2013.

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.

Owen Wister, The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919), p.36.

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An Architectural Census: Philadelphia’s 25 Carnegie Branch Libraries

No longer extant: Watson & Huckel’s Frankford Branch -4634 Frankford Avenue. (Free Library of Philadelphia)

No longer extant: Field & Medary’s Spring Garden Branch, southwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Streets. From The Brickbuilder, July 1907 (Free Library of Philadelphia)

Philanthropic alpha Andrew Carnegie singlehandedly upgraded American attitudes about access to knowledge. He funded the creation of more than 1,600 libraries across the land, more than a century ago, promising a hearty 30 for Philadelphia, as posted previously.

Twenty five were built between 1906 and 1930. It’s quite a collection, these palaces to mass intellect. Individually they made quite an impact. “The feeling you get from these buildings is that you’re somebody,” commented Robert Gangewere, editor of Carnegie Magazine. ”You feel you’re in a temple of learning, a serious place.” Together, they transformed attitudes. After Carnegie, community libraries seemed inevitable, like “a right, not a privilege.”

Despite the persistent belief that Carnegie libraries all look alike, there was great variety among them. As Tom Hine put it in a review of an exhibition of Carnegie’s architectural legacy at the Cooper Hewitt in 1985: “It shows grand Spanish colonial and mission-style buildings in California, little brick Georgian boxes in Wyoming and New Jersey, Romanesque in Maine, arts and crafts in Ohio.” In Philadelphia, noted Hine they “commissioned the best architects in the city to design buildings suitable for each neighborhood.”

Only four of Philadelphia’s 25 Carnegie branches remain unattributed to architects: The Holmesburg/Thomas Holme BranchThe Oak Lane BranchThe Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch and the Greenwich Branch. We know the 18 architects responsible for the other 21. It’s quite a range of talent, a veritable who’s who of the design profession in the early 20th-century city.

Here are Philly’s 25 Carnegies and their architects (when known) in order of opening:

1 – Walnut Street West/West Philadelphia Branch, 40th & Walnut Street, SE corner, opened June 26, 1906. C. C. Zantzinger, architect.

2 – Frankford Branch, 4634 Frankford Avenue, opened October 2, 1906. Watson & Huckel, architects. No longer extant.

3 – Lillian Marrero/Lehigh Avenue Branch, 6th Street and Lehigh Avenue, opened November 20, 1906. G. W. & W. D. Hewitt architects.

4 – Tacony Branch, 6742 Torresdale Avenue, opened November 27, 1906. Lindley Johnson, architect.

5 – Germantown Branch, 5818 Germantown Avenue, in Vernon Park. Frank Miles Day & Brother, architects.

6 – Holmesburg/Thomas Holme Branch, 7810 Frankford Avenue, opened June 26, 1907.

7 – Spring Garden Branch, Southwest corner 17th and Spring Garden, opened November 18, 1907. Field and Medary, architects. No longer extant.

8 – Chestnut Hill Branch, 8711 Germantown Avenue, opened in 1909. Cope and Stewardson, architects.

9 – The Wissahickon Branch, Manayunk Avenue & Osborn Street, opened in 1909. Whitfield and King, architects. No longer extant.

10 – The Manayunk Branch, Fleming and Webster Streets, opened February, 1909. Benjamin Rush Stevens, architect. No longer a library.

Now a Condo: Benjamin Rush Stevens’ Manayunk Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia, Fleming Street at Green Lane. Ray Gouldey, photographer. October 1984.(

11 – Richmond Branch,  2987 Almond Street, opened in 1910. Edward L. Tilton, architect.

12 – The Oak Lane Branch, 6614 North 12th Street, opened December 7, 1911.

13 –Charles Santore/Southwark Branch, 1108 South 5th Street, opened November 8, 1912. David Knickerbacker Boyd, architect. No longer a library.

14 – Falls of Schuylkill Branch, 3501 Midvale Avenue, opened November 18, 1913. Rankin, Kellogg, and Crane, architects.

15 – Thomas F. Donatucci, Sr./Passyunk Branch,  1935 W. Shunk Street, opened April 14, 1914. John Torrey Windrim, architect.

16 – South Philadelphia Branch, 2407-2417 South Broad Street, opened in 1914.  Charles Louis Borie, Jr., architect.

17 – Paschalville Branch, 6942 Woodland Avenue, opened in 1915. Henry C. Richards, architect.

18 – The Haddington Branch, 446 North 65th Street, opened on December 3, 1915. Albert Kelsey, architect.

19 – The McPherson Square Branch, 601 East Indiana Avenue, opened in 1917. Wilson Eyre, & McIlvain, architects.

20 –The Nicetown-Tioga Branch, 1715 Hunting Park, opened ca. 1917.  John Torrey Windrim, architect. No longer extant.

21 – Logan Branch, 1333 Wagner Avenue, opened November 16, 1919. John Torrey Windrim, architect.

22 – The Kingsessing Branch, 1201 South 51st Street, opened on November 29, 1919. Philip H. Johnson, architect.

23 – Blanch A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch,, 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway, opened in 1925.

24 – The Greenwich Branch, 4th and Shunk Streets, opened in 1929. No longer extant.

25 – The Wyoming Branch, 231 East Wyoming Avenue, opened October 29, 1930. Philip H. Johnson, architect.

Very Much a Library and the Last Carnegie Branch to Open Anywhere. Philip H. Johnson’s Wyoming Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia, East Wyoming Avenue and B Street, photographed January 16, 1931 (

[Sources: Thomas Hine, “Public Libraries were his gifts to the world,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 25, 1985; Stevenson Swanson, “Carnegie Legacy Built on a Need for Knowledge,” Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1985. Free Library of Philadelphia, Digital Collections, Carnegie Libraries (Institutions).]

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Willis Hale and the Proposed Chester-Regent Historic District

Twin houses on the 4500 block of Chester Avenue, May 25, 1951.

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 exuberant, but hardly graceful.

Willis Hale achieved his (brief) professional success through a combination of hard work and strategic associations. A transplant from Seneca Falls, New York, he studied in the architectural offices of Samuel Sloan (designer of Woodland Terrace) and John McArthur (designer of City Hall) before opening his own firm. He had also married a niece of the chemical magnate William Weightman, one of the richest men in Philadelphia.  Very much like his contemporary Peter Widener (whose North Broad Street mansion Hale designed), Weightman was also deeply involved in land speculation in North and West Philadelphia. Of course, Hale was Weightman’s architect of choice for several ornate developments pitched to upper-middle class buyers.  Prosperous lawyers and physicians loved Hale’s homes, but the architectural establishment thought otherwise. “The building shall lack unity, shall lack harmony, shall lack repose and shall be a restless jumble,” sneered The Architectural Record in 1893. His commercial buildings on Chestnut Street were “monstrosities.”

Yet the 41 homes Willis Hale designed just off Clark Park, on Chester Avenue and Regent Street, are so uncharacteristic of his gaudy oeuvre. Devoid of almost all ornamentation, they are massive, brooding, fortress-like structures with thick walls and small windows.  Their only touches of whimsy are their elaborately-carved wooden porches, Tudor half-timbered gables, and finial-topped roofs.  The semi-circular turrets are Hale’s nod to the Boston architect H.H. Richardson’s Romanesque Revival style, which was popular in the New England, but rarely seen in the Philadelphia area.

The real showstopper in Hale’s development is the 10,000 square foot freestanding mansion at 46th and Chester.  Completed in 1889, its first occupant was the wealthy physician Dr. Daniel Egan, whose family owned it until the 1930s, by which time the neighborhood had fallen out of fashion due to the ravages of the Great Depression.  Dr. Egan’s widow donated the house to the Roman Catholic church, who converted it into a home for the elderly.  Now restored to much of its former grandeur, the former Egan mansion is now the Gables Bed & Breakfast.

An announcement for a performance at the Utopian Club, a musical society of which Willis Hale, an amateur singer, was a member. The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1883.

Like Frank Furness, Hale’s florid high Victorian style was out-of-fashion by the early twentieth century. Clients wanted the clean lines and cool French classicism of Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele.  Once one of the city’s most prosperous architects, Willis Hale ended his days in straightened circumstances, surviving mostly on the largesse of his very wealthy uncle in-law.

Today, the University City Historic District has proposed that the 41 Willis Hale houses be designated as the Chester-Regent Historic District.  If the Historic Commission approves the proposed district on April 17, it will be another step toward actively preserving more of West Philadelphia’s Victorian housing stock, which has come under increasing pressure from development and demolition in recent years.


Sandra Tatman, “Hale, Willis Gaylord (1848-1907),” Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 2019.

Joseph Minardi, Historic Architecture in West Philadelphia, 1789-1930s. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2011.

“Historical Commission to consider preservation designation for 41 homes near Clark Park,” West Philly Local, March 4, 2019.

Historical Commission to consider preservation designation for 41 homes near Clark Park

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How the Free Library of Philadelphia Grew its Branches

Caricature of Andrew Carnegie as a Santa Claus with a sack of libraries, The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 8, 1903.

“I am in the library manufacturing business,” gloated steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who had been making dozens of grants around the country to build new public libraries. From New Hampshire to Texas, Maine to Montana, groundbreakings were planned or underway. New York had gotten the largest chunk of money, more than $5.2 million. Carnegie made that announcement back in 1899.

As 1903 got off to a chilly start, Philadelphians impatiently waited their turn.

But if Philadelphia was to see any of Carnegie’s wealth, City Council and the Mayor would have to increase their spending on libraries, each and every year. Librarian John Thomson went to Washington, D. C. and met with Carnegie, ready to admit that a city of 1.3 million people couldn’t be adequately served by the city’s current fourteen branch libraries, most of which were in rented, re-purposed houses. With the right level of support, however, Thomson would welcome the idea of an expanded, state-of-the-art, urban library system. But he couldn’t commit funds he didn’t have.

“I am Aladdin,” Carnegie told the librarian at the meeting. “You, Mr. Thomson, and the trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia are the lamp. I rub the lamp… But you do the work. You devote your time, your brains, your health to the task. I merely supply the polish.”

And, as both men knew full well, Philadelphia would be obliged to pay more, much more, for an expanded improved network of libraries. “I do not want to be known for what I give,” Carnegie claimed, “but for what I induce others to give.”

“This is not charity, this is not philanthropy,” he said, “it is the people helping themselves by taxing themselves.”

A few days later, Thomson received the anticipated letter: “After listening to you,” Carnegie wrote, “I beg to say that it would give me great pleasure to do for the city of Philadelphia what I have done for New York, provided always that Philadelphia will do what New York has done for herself.” (Carnegie committed to pay for the construction of what would amount to 67 libraries in New York for a total of more than $5.2 million. The city agreed to cover for the costs for land, books, staffing and ongoing maintenance.)

“You tell me that a complete system of branch libraries for Philadelphia would require thirty of such branches,” Carnegie continued in his letter to Thomson, “and you estimate that twenty to thirty thousand dollars apiece would be sufficient for these, but I do not think this sum would be enough. You should have lecture rooms in these branch libraries and our experience in Pittsburgh is that we have not spent enough upon them. The last branches there cost a great deal most than the first.”

Lehigh Branch (now Lillian Marrero Library) Free Library of Philadelphia, North side of Lehigh Avenue, west of 6th Street, October 16, 1912 (

“I think, therefore, it would be well for you to spend fifty thousand dollars apiece for these branch library buildings, and it would give me great pleasure to provide a million and a half of dollars as the same may be needed to erect thirty branch libraries for Philadelphia provided sites be given and the city agree to maintain these branch libraries at a cost of not less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.”

“The branch libraries are the most popular institutions of all,” observed the steel magnate, “and I think, the most useful. A great central library is, of course, needed. But even before it in usefulness I place the local libraries, which reach the masses of the people.”

Before Carnegie’s offer, library trustees in Philadelphia were actually considering shuttering all but one of their fourteen current branches as “unsuitable.” But with the new offer on the table, they voted to accept it. The decision would be subject to approval by City Council and the mayor.

George McCurdy, president of Common Council, responded cautiously, acknowledging the gift as “handsome,” adding “the city will have to take into consideration the probably expense… it means an outlay of $150,000 a year for maintenance alone, exclusive of our big central library (the plans for which were underway along the Parkway). If the city is obliged to buy a score or more of sites, that also means a big outlay, and we will have to consider the propriety of expending so large a sum at this time.”

McCurdy hoped Carnegie’s “magnanimous offer” might “stimulate some of our own wealthy citizens to make similar gifts, either for a central library or for the purchase of sites. We have men here who could duplicate the gift, and should do it from a spirit of civic pride.” Discussions dragged on for a year before the city officially accepted Carnegie’s offer.

Among the earliest branch designed, bid and built was the “Grecian style” Lehigh Avenue Branch (now the Lillian Marrero Library) designed by architects G. W. & W. D. Hewitt. “When new [it] was one of the biggest libraries in the state,” wrote Inquirer’s Thomas Hine in 1985, “a classical building of immense pretension and grandeur standing on its own little Parnassus in the heart of the industrial city.”

“The cornerstone of the first Carnegie Library of the chain to be erected in this city was laid at Sixth and Lehigh avenue” the afternoon of April 10, 1905. The complete building would be outfitted with granite steps, Corinthian columns and be made of either Indiana limestone or Pennsylvania white marble. Beneath a giant reading room, would be a nearly equally large auditorium. The anticipated cost—about $100,000—was twice what Carnegie originally anticipated, and as much as five times what Thomson originally imagined for a typical branch.

That same year, the West Philadelphia Branch in the French Renaissance style by C.C. Zantzinger also opened. So did the Tacony Branch, designed by Lindley Johnson. Over time, twenty-two more, from Passyunk to Manayink, Cobbs Creek to Kingsessing would follow, joining the 1,689 libraries Carnegie leveraged into existence throughout the United States. “In 30 years,” wrote Hine, Carnegie “spent $56,162,662 and single-handedly increased the number of American public libraries four-fold.”

Carnegie’s grant to Philadelphia was his second largest library grant ever.

Lillian Marrero/Lehigh Avenue Branch, exterior, ca. 1906. (Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection)

[Sources: In The Philadelphia Inquirer – “Carnegie Will Endow Thirty Free Libraries,” January 7, 1903; “Mr. Carnegie’s Gift to Philadelphia,” (Editorial) January 7, 1903; “Carnegie Gift to Camden; Opening at Washington,” January 8, 1903; “Councils Must Decide on the Carnegie Offer,” January 8, 1903; “Library Trustees Will Meet Today,” January 9, 1903; “Trustees To Accept Mr. Carnegie’s Gift,” January 10, 1903; “Library Bill Signed, January 12, 1904; “Will Bid Upon Two Carnegie Branches,” October 1, 1904: “Corner Stone for Carnegie Library,” April 11, 1905; “To Dedicate New Carnegie Library – Lehigh Avenue Branch,” November 18, 1906 and Thomas Hine, “Public Libraries Were his Gifts to the World,” July 25, 1985. Also, Theodore Wesley Koch, A Book of Carnegie Libraries. (H.W. Wilson company, 1917).]

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This Educational Institution Welcomed Wealth from Slavery

The Institute for Colored Youth, later the Samuel J. Randall School, 915 Bainbridge Streets, December 9, 1935 (

“The academy never stood apart from American slavery,” argues Craig Steven Wilder in his book Ebony and Ivy. “In fact, it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.”

“The American college is largely the story of the rise of the slave economy in the Atlantic world,” Wilder noted.

Producers of the the podcast Shackled Legacy: Universities and the Slave Trade agree.“Profits from slavery and related industries helped fund some of the most prestigious schools in the Northeast, including Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale.” Wealth from “slavery built several schools in the North. And in many southern states enslaved people built college campuses and served faculty and students.”

A few years ago, Georgetown University In Washington, D.C. admitted slavery’s role in their founding. Educators “orchestrated the sale of 272 men, women and children for $115,000 – $3.3 million in today’s dollars – to pay off the school’s debts.”

At first, the University of Pennsylvania denied “any direct involvement between Penn and the slave trade.” Then a group of students and faculty calling themselves The Penn Slavery Project released revealing research. “Seventy-five of the school’s early trustees, including over twenty of the founding trustees” were either owners of slaves or had financial ties to the slave trade.

The more we look, the more we see: in 18th and 19th-century America, education, philanthropy and the slave trade were woven into a massive tangle of moral compromise that generally was kept secret.

But not always.  In one prominent Philadelphia case, not only did folks know it, you might say they even owned it.

Consider the Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheney University) the nation’s earliest institution of higher learning for African Americans, founded in 1837 and still standing at 915 Bainbridge Street.  The ICY was made possible with funds from Richard Humphreys, a Caucasian silversmith who left a $10,000 bequest (more than $260,000 in today’s dollars) to the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in order to establish a school for “…instructing the descendants of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanical arts and trades and in Agriculture…in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers in such of those branches of useful business…”

Thing was, Humphreys’ fortune originated in the coffee and sugar plantations of Tortola, the Caribbean Island where his parents, members of the Society of Friends, held and benefited from the labor of hundreds of enslaved Africans. At the time of Humphreys’ birth in 1750, his parents were among about 100 British colonists on the island who owned 10,000 Africans brought there to toil and die. The Quakers on Tortola were said to be “self-conscious about their plantations being cultivated by slave labor.” But the Humphreys continued to hold slaves, and accumulate wealth, so long as they lived on the Island.

When Octavius V. Catto (himself an ICY alum) delivered a commencement address more than a year after the Emancipation Proclamation, he acknowledged Humphreys and the Quakers for their “proverbial sympathy and charity for the oppressed,” and their “consistent opposition to ignorance, intemperance, war, and slavery.” This, said Catto, made Humphreys’ name “inseparable from our heartfelt gratitude and respect.” Instead of focusing on the source of the funds, Catto turned his listeners’ attention to the overwhelming need for education of the formerly enslaved, “those millions of human beings now scattered through the Southern country…”

Education, declared Catto, would be their continued path “to come forth into the sunlight of Freedom . . .”

[Sources: Octavius V. Catto,”An Address Delivered at Concert Hall on the Occasion of the Twelfth Annual Commencement of the Institute for Colored Youth,” May 10th, 1864,; “Richard Humphreys (1750-1832)” in Philadelphia, Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), pp. 128-132; Jennifer Schuessler, “Dirty Antebellum Secrets in Ivory Towers,” The New York Times, October 18, 2013; Sheila Simmons, “UPenn Claims No Traces of Slavery in its DNA,” The Philadelphia Tribune, September 9, 2016; “Shackled Legacy: Universities and the Slave Trade,” American Public Media podcast, September 4, 2017; Madeleine Ngo, “Penn has acknowledged its ties to slavery, but student researchers say their work is far from over,” The Daily Pennsylvanian, August 24, 2018.]

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The “Shameless” Architectural Self-Promotion of Stearns & Castor


The Columbia Club, 1600 North Broad Street, 1893. Photo taken before the Stearns & Castor 1906 rear addition.

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.

A German immigrant, Ferdinand Horrmann was one of a cadre of self-made industrialists who owned and operated large businesses in Northeast Philadelphia. These included the Disstons, who ran the nation’s largest saw manufacturers, and the Harbisons, among the region’s most successful dairy operators. These were family businesses, which in their heyday demanded architectural commissions for factories, warehouses, and mansions. Fancy “art glass” shades made by company’s such as Ferdinand Horrmann’s in Philadelphia, as well as Quezal and Tiffany in New York, served a practical purpose — to make the bright glare of electric lights more tolerable to those used to flickering gas light. Some shades were iridescent, while others mimicked bird plumage. Regardless, glass was a booming business in late 19th century America.

Rohrbacher & Horrmann Jefferson Flint Glass Company.  Source: The Free Library of Philadelphia

In the early 1890s, architect Horace Castor married Ferdinand’s daughter Elizabeth.  Castor, a master of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles, partnered with engineer George Stearns to build structures for the North Philadelphia industrial elite, among them the Scottish Rite Temple, a mansion for cowboy-hat maker John Stetson, and various other buildings for the Mary Disston, Thomas Harbison,  He also built a grand twin house for himself at 7345 and 7347 Oxford Avenue.  Although prosperous, the Stearns & Castor firm did not break into the insular world of residential design for the Rittenhouse Square elite, a market cornered by the better-connected Frank Furness and Hewitt brothers.

Tiffany glass lamp, c.1900. Source:

The most impressive and “artistic” of Stearns & Castor’s commissions was an addition to the  Columbia Club, built in 1899 at the corner of North Broad and Oxford Streets in North Philadelphia.  The original clubhouse, a Queen Anne-style structure designed by the Scottish-born architect John Ord, was erected in 1899, at the height of North Broad Street’s glory years as an upscale residential boulevard.  In 1906, the Columbia Club had enough cash on hand to commission Stearns & Castor to build a large addition to the rear of the structure.  The Philadelphia Inquirerreported that “the building to be erected will be two stories high, covering an area 50×99 feet, and conforming in outward appearance with the present building. The building will contain, beside game rooms, recreation, and reading rooms, a large swimming pool and banquet hall.  The addition, when completed, will cost about $30,000.”

Sadly, no photographs survive of the interior of the now-demolished Columbia Club, but it can be guessed that it had the same Arts & Crafts richness as nearby establishments on North Broad Street.  No roster of its membership can be found, either, but it can safely be assumed that Ferdinand Horrmann was on the roster.  Among its members was leather manufacturer Alfred E. Burk, who lived in a Beaux-Arts mansion at 1500 N. Broad Street that cost $256,000 to build in 1907, or about $4 million in today’s money.

Shortly before the completion of the Columbia Club addition, Stearns and Foster published a monograph that highlighted the firm’s most successful projects. However, the American Institute of Architects took great exception to what they saw as flagrant self-promotion.  According to Philadelphia Architects and Buildings:

“From 1905 to 1907 the Minute Books of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA report[ed] difficulties with Stearns & Castor regarding the right to advertise. This issue was brought to Chapter attention by the publication of a monograph of the office’s works, no doubt intended indeed to advertise by demonstrating the designs, which they had already successfully completed. Following the stern admonition of the Chapter’s committee on ethics, Stearns & Castor withdrew the publication from circulation, and the matter was thus ended.”

Stearns & Castor withdrew their monograph from circulation, but in 1916 got in hot water again with the AIA for entry in an unauthorized design competition for a Masonic home in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.  Its reputation battered, the Stearns & Castor dissolved in 1917.

The grandeur that was the Columbia Club, and much of the wealth that made it and the work of Stearns & Castor possible, proved to have a fleeting impact in North Philadelphia. A drab commercial block on the Temple University campus now occupies the site of the Columbia Club. Most of its industrial and residential buildings have either been demolished or abandoned.  The Castor family home still stands, and a nearby avenue still bears his name.

The Castor house at 7345-47 Oxford Avenue, June 30, 1931.


“The Latest News in Real Estate,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 30, 1906, p.9.

The Staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, “Nomination Form: 7345 and 7347 Oxford Ave,” Philadelphia Historical Commission, March 14, 2015.

Jessica R. Markey Locklear, “Statement of Significance for 1500 N. Broad,” Temple University Public History, accessed February 19, 2019.

Sandra Tatman, “Philadelphia Architects and Buildings (fl. 1895-1917),” The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 2019.

Posted in Behind the Scenes, Snapshots of History | 2 Comments

African-American History Hijacked: the Rise and Fall of Phillis Wheatley on Lombard Street

Equity Hall (aka The Phyllis Wheatley Social Center), 1024-1026 Lombard Street, April 19, 1917 (

Slavers kidnapped a frail, 7-year-old girl in West Africa. They forced her aboard The Phillis, transported her to Boston, and sold her to John Wheatley, a tailor, and his wife, Susanna. Phillis Wheatley (named for the ship) quickly mastered English, became versed in the Bible and learned Greek and Latin. A creative genius, her first poem appeared in print in 1770. Wheatley was lauded as a new, distinctively American poet, a star of the rising anti-slavery movement and a trans-Atlantic literary celebrity. Six cities, including Philadelphia, printed her work. Wheatley’s collected poems were published in London in 1773.

A century and a half later, the name Phillis (sometimes spelled Phyllis) Wheatley would be considered an inspiring choice for African-American organizations from South Carolina to Minnesota. Equity Hall in Philadelphia’s “Black 7th Ward” had been serving as a destination since 1894 for banquets, meetings, protests, funerals, balls, boxing matches, concerts and political rallies. In 1922, The Negro Year Book listed the building at 1024 Lombard as the Phyllis Wheatley Social Center.

When Mayor Hampton Moore confirmed his plan to renovate the hall and build a new playground on the block between 10th, 11th, Lombard and Rodman Streets, it made perfect sense to name it for the poet. “I suggest the name of one who stands for the colored race,” declared the mayor, “a slave child brought to the country and kept here in slavery, who, despite all obstacles became an educated woman—a writer and a poet, a woman who wrote of her people and who sang their songs.” At a dedication ceremony on July 12, 1921, Mayor Moore noted before a crowd of 2,000 that a place previously known as “Hell’s Half Acre” was about to be renamed “the Phyllis Wheatley Recreation Centre.” This choice, he later noted, met the approval of several religious and civic leaders in Philadelphia’s African American community.

But Mayor Moore had earned himself a few political enemies. Immediately after his election in 1919, Moore unfurled a banner across Market Street proclaiming: “No boss shall rule this town.” He derailed the political ambitions of Vare loyalist, City Councilman Charles B. Hall, whose district included the playground. And Moore commissioned a study, conducted by sociologist Richard R. Wright Jr., that concluded the 1000 block of Lombard Street was “one of the worst pest holes in Philadelphia… due largely [to the] influence and protection” of an unnamed politician. Wright’s report claimed that city-owned buildings there were being “used for profitable, but illegal practices, including banditry, dope, prostitution, gambling and a series of other crimes too numerous to mention.”

Hall, the area’s ward leader, looked like the guilty party. He threatened to sue the Mayor for libel—and more, he proposed using what power he did have in City Council to swap out Wheatley’s name with someone who had a direct connection with the 7th Ward, the recently deceased City Councilman (and Hall’s predecessor and mentor) Charles Seger.  A fireman turned saloon owner machine politician, Seger was the epitome of political bossism.

Seger Playground with Equity Hall remaining. Atlas of the City of Philadelphia. Geo. W. & Walter S. Bromley, 1922. (Temple University Special Collections)

Moore called Hall “a “baby” and a “bluffer,” and reiterated the accusation that Hall was “largely responsible for vice conditions in the section of the city where he is in political control.”

“It’s a usurpation of power which belongs to Council,” claimed Hall of Moore’s proposal for the Wheatley name. “I want that place named Charles Seger Park and I’m going to see that it is named that.” A few members of the city’s African-American press took Hall’s side and interpreted the mayor’s proposal as crass pandering. “The most regrettable occurrence,” wrote the author of an article entitled “Phyliss Wheatley’s Name in Wrong Hands,” “has been the flippant and disgusting manner in which the mayor of Philadelphia and a few of his colored followers have dragged into the mire of the filthy politics of the city the name of that illustrious Negro woman…” Others in the city’s African-American community disagreed: “Numerous colored churches … vigorously denounced Councilman Hall for his attempt to name the new playground at 10th and Lombard streets after the late Charles Seger.”

Mayor Moore wasn’t about to back down, even after City Council overwhelmingly voted (15-4) to name the playground for Charles Seger in late July, 1921. He vetoed the bill and presented a plaque of Phyllis Wheatley to hang in the Lombard Street building. A week later, Moore opened the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall to 250 citizens interested in maintaining the Wheatley name. “The masks usually worn by the colored population had been stripped off,” declared the Rev. W.H. Moses of the Zion Baptist Church, “and no matter what Council did the name of the playground to the Negroes always would be the Phillis Wheatley Center.”

City Council did override the Mayor’s veto. And soon after, Council proposed to demolish Equity Hall, aka the Phyllis Wheatley Social Center. What would take its place? Councilman Hall had at the ready an ordinance to fund “a modern community and social service house to be named after Fanny Jackson Coppin, a slave girl who rose to be a profound Greek and Latin scholar and the greatest of all Negro educators of all time.” Coppin did have strong ties to the neighborhood. Starting in 1865, she ran the Institute for Colored Youth only a few blocks away near 9th and Bainbridge Streets.

But today, the Coppin building is long gone. And, of course, Wheatley’s name is nowhere to be found. What remains is once-contested public space that goes by the name of Seger.

Sometimes, long-forgotten history forces us to pose a question. In this case, we must ask: Should Seger’s name remain?

[Sources: [Dedication of Equity Hall], December 11, 1894 (Inquirer); “Colored Odd Fellows’ lodges in Philadelphia, 1896,” New York Public Library Digital Collections;  “Republicans Hold a Rousing Meeting in Equity Hall,” October 26, 1912 (Tribune); “Seger Dies at 71,” November 8, 1919 (Inquirer); “Moore Clamps Lid Tightly on Cabinet,” Nov. 8, 1919 (Inquirer); “’Hell’s Half Acre’ to get New Name,” July 13, 1921 (Tribune); “From Sproul Down, Vare Rule is Over, Notice From Moore,” Dec. 24, 1919 (Inquirer); “Mayor Answers Threats of Hall,” July 9, 1920 (Inquirer); “Mayor Should Clean Up Vice, Declares Hall,” Aug. 25, 1920 (Inquirer); “Hall Threatens Mayor, Dares Moore to Charge Him with Vice Conditions,” Aug. 28, 1920 (Tribune); “Mayor Threatened By Hall With Suit,” Nov. 27, 1920 (Inquirer); “Mayor Threatened By Hall With Suit,” Nov. 27, 1920 (Inquirer); “To Build Playground,” Oct. 23 1920 (Bulletin); “Mayor Moore Would ‘Clean-Up’ Seventh Ward Section to Establish His Own Political Headquarters,” Oct. 30, 1920 (Tribune); “Hell’s Half Acre Is Passing Away,” Jan. 4, 1921 (Inquirer); “Bill for New Playground,” June 2 1921 (Bulletin); “Hell’s Half Acre” to get New Name,” July 13, 1921 (Inquirer); “Wheatley Pa’K How Come?” July 16, 1921 (Bulletin); “Phyllis Wheatley’s Name in Wrong Hands,” July 16 1921 (Tribune); “Mayor Moore Opens New Play Ground…Phyllis Wheatley its Name,” July 16, 1921 (Tribune); “Hall Defies the Mayor to Veto ‘Seger’ Centre,” July 22, 1921 (Bulletin);  “Bold Attempt to Use Our Churches in City Politics,” July 23, 1921 (Tribune);  “Phillis Wheatley Name To ‘Stick,’” July 23, 1921 (Inquirer); “Negroes Announce Break with Hall over Playground,” Aug. 4, 1921 (Bulletin); “Colored Residents Demand Park Be Named for Poetess,” Aug. 4, 1921 (Bulletin); “The Mayor Hears Arguments on Play Ground Naming,” Aug. 6, 1921 (Tribune). Marcus Anthony Hunter, Black Citymakers: How The Philadelphia Negro Changed Urban America (Oxford University Press; 2015)].

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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 is little else we can know or see about this man who played such a vital role in changing the course of American history and the lives of millions throughout the world. But artifacts that chronicle significant events and people still remain in archives, libraries, and other cultural institutions, waiting to be rediscovered. Such was the case with a series of photos housed in Philadelphia City Archives.

On October 10, 1966, City of Philadelphia photographer Ralph Carollo took a series of fourteen images to document Dr. King’s tour of Philadelphia neighborhoods with Mrs. Sigrid Craig, founder of the Better Philadelphia Committee.[1] These photos were in an original envelope from 1966 included in one of the hundreds of boxes of official City of Philadelphia photographs waiting to be scanned and uploaded to The envelope described the contents as “Streets Sanitation: 1800 Block N. Lambert St, Mrs. Craig.” It was with great excitement that I “discovered” these photos also included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.! Immediately, I wanted to know why this icon of the Civil Rights Movement was in Philadelphia  in 1966 on a streets sanitation tour.

Dr. King, as was his mission, traveled extensively around the country to speak at rallies and gatherings to promote the cause of civil rights. In the few days of October 1966 he was here, his presence bolstered at least three events. Dr. King was welcomed to Philadelphia by the Rev. William L. Bentley, pastor of the Emmanuel Institutional Baptist Church and president of the Interfaith Interracial Council.

Accompanied by Rev. Bentley, Dr. King’s first stop in Philadelphia was to speak Sunday, Oct. 9th at The Arena before a crowd of 1500 as part of a rally organized by Civil Rights activist James Meredith and sponsored by the Interfaith Interracial Council of the Clergy. Dubbed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “the lonesome traveler of the civil rights movement,” Meredith may be most remembered for his brush with death only four months before this rally.[2]

James Meredith was the first African American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Persevering under intense opposition, he graduated in 1964, and in 1966 “began a one man protest against racial violence in Mississippi which he called a ‘March Against Fear.’” Originating in Memphis, Tennessee, the march was to end at Jackson, Mississippi, but shortly

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, October 9, 1966

after he crossed into Mississippi, Meredith was shot by an unknown assailant. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, led by Stokely Carmichael, continued on the march, meeting the recovering Meredith the day before they reached the state capital.[3]

On Monday, October 10, Dr. King, accompanied by his good friend and fellow activist Ralph Abernathy, Rev. William Bentley and others toured African American neighborhoods in the city. Captured images show the entourage speaking to Mrs. Craig, meeting tradesmen working on some of the houses on the 1800 block of N. Lambert Street, and interacting with people on the street. Details of the images show Dr. King outfitted with a microphone and cord.[4] I’m sure the people of that neighborhood got a rare treat in hearing the words of Dr. King that day, although the exact topics of his speeches remain unknown.

Dr. King’s next engagement while in Philadelphia was to speak at a luncheon honoring Rev. William Bentley on his 25th anniversary as pastor of the Emmanuel Institutional Baptist Church. The luncheon, sponsored by the Greater Chamber of Commerce, took place at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and was attended by approximately 300 businessmen of Philadelphia.[5] Dr. King’s message at this gathering emphasized that “’There are two Americas in existence today.  One is white America, which is beautiful and prosperous. The other is the America of the Negroes which is ugly, brooding, defeated and disappointed.’” Dr. King went on to point out to the businessmen the wide salary gap between white and black workers, and said “This presents for our nation a problem which must be dealt with. To move ahead we must solve it. As long as nothing is done, it will only encourage the forces of extremism.”[6] Fifty-three years later, these words continue to encourage us to look for inequities in our current systems. Though Dr. King’s work ended too soon, there is still much to discover about his life and mission; and through that discovery, much to learn and teach to our children as leaders of tomorrow.

Discovering these images in an unobtrusively labeled envelope shows the importance of the photo organization and digitization completed via It is our task to properly catalog and scan the photos in the Philadelphia City Archives collection and store them in new, archival quality envelopes and boxes. Thousands of images have been scanned and uploaded, but many thousands still await scanning. As we go through each envelope, we know that not all are labeled accurately. This could be due to photographer error, changes in street names, architecture, or events. Images that now have historical importance perhaps were considered quite ordinary when the photographer took them. In 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King was not regarded in the same light that he is now. Perhaps that can account for the labeling of this archival envelope. Whatever the reason for this labeling, discovering a snippet of American history in the Philadelphia City Archives is greatly exciting, and has now added another facet to the noble story and life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the City of Philadelphia.



[1] Them That Do: Stories About Philadelphia’s Block Captains, Sigrid Craig – Mother of Philadelphia Block Captains. (7 May, 2015). The Better Philadelphia Committee evolved into the Clean-up, Paint-Up, Fix-Up campaign, eventually becoming the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee in 1965.

[2] The Philadelphia Inquirer. Monday Morning, October 10, 1966. pg 6.

[3], Remembered and Reclaimed: A Reference Guide to African American History. Meredith, James (1933- ). (Accessed 22 Jan, 2019.)


[5] The Philadelphia Inquirer. Tuesday Morning, October 11, 1966. pg. 6.

[6] Ibid. Dr. King noted that the “Average annual salary of white workers in the country is $6874 while that of Negro workers is $3662.”



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Figuring Out a Photograph: the First St. Francis Xavier and its Long-Gone Neighborhood at Fairmount

Fairmount Bridge – East Approach, 1874 (

The date, 1874, seems reasonable enough. So does the photograph’s title “Fairmount Bridge – East Approach.” But the buildings don’t seem to match the given address: “N. 25th St and Fairmount Ave.” And so we turn to the online version of G. M. Hopkins 1875  Atlas at The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network to figure it out. The curve of the road, the stone wall and the steep slope on the left side of the image rather suggest we’re looking at the southeastern edge of the Fairmount Reservoir, what is now the site of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Today, the scene would be looking across Eakins Oval.

A closer look at the atlas yields a solid hint as to precisely where. “Approach to the upper deck of the bridge,” it says. And just above the word “approach” we especially like that a bend in the road that matches a bend in the masonry wall visible in the photograph. Now, oriented to that spot on the map, we are certain it’s a view to the northwest, toward what was once 25th and Spring Garden Streets.

Zooming in on the photograph, there’s a sign for the “New Bridge Hotel,” a short row of brick houses, and then a substantial domed church. And a thought occurs: we never knew of a church there. The Atlas tells us the church property is owned by James F. Wood. Hmmm. That’s not very helpful. But with the click of a box on the Interactive Map Viewer we switch to Smedley’s 1862 Philadelphia Atlas and we’re treated to some welcome information. At the northwest corner of 25th and Biddle Streets, just south of where Spring Garden Street runs into the foot of Fairmount, the word “Church” is plainly there in a rectangle. No name, no denomination—for that we’ll have to look elsewhere. And just one more click of a box away, we find what we’re looking for: The church is “St. Francis Xavier R. Cath. Church.” A small archival victory.

Where to turn to learn more?

The Callowhill Street Bridge, as they called it, did have an upper deck, as confirmed by PhillyHistory images  here and here. In fact, it was new in 1874, which explains the construction debris in the curved road as well as the sign “New Bridge Hotel.” A double-decker bridge replaced the previous bridge, the “Wire Bridge at Fairmount” of 1842. And, if you want to go all the way back, the first bridge there “The Upper Ferry Bridge,” opened in 1812. It earned a distinctive nickname: “The Colossus” for the record-breaking size of its single wooden truss.

Detail – Fairmount Bridge – East Approach, 1874 (

San Carlo al Corso, Rome. Pietro da Cortona, 1668. (RomeArtLover)

Biddle Street became Buttonwood in 1897 a fact that’s confirmed by G. W. Bromley’s 1910 Philadelphia Atlas. By then, however, the church is gone and a bath house stands in its place. What happened? The B. & O. Railroad’s Schuylkill River East Side Rail Road tunnel under 25th Street underwent expansion in the mid-1880s. In the process, blasting resulted in “significant damage to both the church and the adjacent rectory.”

What more can we read into the photograph? Off to the left, partially hidden in the distance, is a multi-story mill building. In 1875, that would be Fairmount Worsted Mills (formerly J.& W. Yewdale’s Worsted Goods Manufactory) occupying much of the south side of the 2400 block of Spring Garden between Osprey and Taylor Streets.

On the northeast corner of 25th and Biddle is a one-story mill identified as “Cotton Manufactory” by Hexamer & Locher on their 1858-60 Atlas. By 1895, that building has become part of S. B. Fleisher’s mill. Adjacent to it is Fleisher’s Star Braid Works and dye house. Within a few short blocks one would find an ice factory, several soap works, a carriage bolt works, machine tool manufacturers and factories making everything from carpets to iron roofing. All places of employment in the burgeoning neighborhood along the Schuylkill.

Is there anything to uncover about the church, which, we read on the 1895 Atlas, is “St. Francis Cath. Ch.”?

Luckily, one copy of a lithograph of the church building dating from 1880 (or so) survives at the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center. The compilers of the comprehensive Philadelphia on Stone at the Library Company included an entry for it in their catalogue. But other than informing us that “the church relocated to a new building at 24th and Green streets in 1898,” we remain in the dark as to who designed it and when its dome joined the city’s skyline.

The extant St. Francis Xavier Church a few blocks away on the 2300 block of Green Street is the work of architect Edwin Forrest Durang. But his extensive list of projects identifies only one St. Francis Xavier, not two.

Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, 18th and Parkway, 1970 – detail of dome (

We turn to a book entitled Cathlocity in Philadelphia, which happens to be word-searchable at There, on pages 293 and 294 is an entry for St. Francis Xavier’s Church which provides some useful background. In 1839, Bishop Francis Kendrick recognized the need for new parishes in the western sections of the city proper. He noted the growth of “the coal-shipping industry, the wharves of which stretched alongside the east bank of the Schuylkill River” and new, largely Irish Catholic settlements known “The Village” and “Out Schuylkill.” Kendrick created two new parishes: St. Patrick based at 20th and Rittenhouse and St. Francis Xavier at 25th and Biddle. The community came together to dedicate a church at the former on June 1, 1841.  The corner-stone of St. Francis Xavier’s was laid June 1, 1839 and that church, still without a dome, was dedicated on Sunday, June 6, 1841.

We learn that St. Patrick’s was “built under the direction of [architect] Napoleon LeBrun.” No mention of an architect for St. Francis Xavier.

But we take away a clue that is subsequently confirmed in Roger Moss’s Historic Sacred Places in Philadelphia. The dome, which Moss suggests may date to 1866, appears to be an echo of Pietro da Cortona’s San Carlo al Corso in Rome, which has often been cited as the source for the dome of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on Logan Square. LeBrun also contributed designs for the Cathedral. Could this church at 25th and Biddle be another iteration of the same idea by LeBrun? Take a look at San Carlo’s dome and consider the possibilities.

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