The Last Piggeries of Maiden Lane

“A curious thing about Philadelphia,” wrote Edith Elmer Wood in 1919, “is that pigs were permitted to be kept in the thickly settled parts of the city until quite recently. A start was made to do away with this condition, the 40,000 piggeries of a few years ago having been reduced to almost 10,000.

Then, in the Spring of 1917, Health Department officials declared that Philadelphia would be demolishing it’s last remaining piggeries.

Up until the early 20th century, urban spaces required animal agriculture. There’d be no transportation without horses. “Hogs cleaned up household slop,” Vitiello and Brinkley remind us, “chickens scratched at the waste that the pigs left behind. Sheep and goats grazed on the commons… Many urban families kept or boarded dairy cows for a supply of fresh milk. Cattle were driven from ports, and later rail stations, to markets and slaughterhouses throughout the city. Animals were everywhere, as were the nuisances that they created as they bellowed, kicked up dust, dropped manure, and knocked over passersby.”

Runaway Pig at the Jersey Market, Front and Market Streets, ca. 1850 (detail). The Library Company of Philadelphia.

For the first couple of hundred years, the idea of banning farm animals would have been absurd, impossible even. Keeping them under control was more likely, though always challenging. As early as 1705, city ordinances forbade “cattle and swine from running at large through the streets.” Once caught, the meat from these runaways would be forfeited, shared equally by captor and the almshouse.

In the mid-19th century, hogs were fattened for market adjacent to a large distillery in the northwest quadrant of what is now Center City (at 23rd and Summer Streets). Feed consisted of grain mash from the distillery. This symbiotic relationship continued for more than three decades before the increasing number of nearby residents led to a contested closure. Appeals continued until May 1845, when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard the case.

“At the time of the trial, and for a few years previous, the city had been rapidly extending in that direction… Several public institutions of great importance however had…been erected in the immediate neighborhood; and it was the alleged injury inflicted on these, as well as on the dwelling houses lately erected in the vicinity, that formed the principal ground of complaint.”

Farley’s Piggery – Maiden Lane, 10-12-1916 (PhillyHistory.org)

Farley’s Piggery – Maiden Lane, 10-12-1916 (PhillyHistory.org)

“The buildings in question were capable of accommodating as many as a thousand hogs…that in the warm weather the stench was so intolerable, as to make it almost impossible to pass through the street, on which the establishment opened, without nausea; and that when the wind was from the northwest, it was perceptible for half a mile towards the heart of the city; that the water of the Schuylkill was infected by the great quantities of filth and ordure which were discharged; that the value of property adjacent was diminished from ten to fifteen per cent., and that the comfort  of the residents thereabout was materially affected by the effluvia.”

The court heard evidence for more than a week.

Piggeries had been there “from time immemorial,” claimed the defense. Moreover, they argued, the distillery “was essential to the city.”

The court agreed with the previous ruling: “Piggeries had to be removed from city limits, no matter how well established or profitable they were.” Citizens “are entitled by right to healthy air, and to a use of the public highways unimpaired by any adjacent nuisance” and “a hog pen in a city is a nuisance.” In fact, “the keeping of pigs in a community like this, whether there be one or a thousand, is indictable.”

Yet, as we read in Vitiello and Brinkley, the “debates between farmer-businessmen and city officials” continued for more than half a century longer. As the city expanded in the late 19th century, with permission from City Councils, pig farmers continued to thrive just beyond the fringes of the city’s built-up sections.

“Desperate efforts are being made by the pig owners of the First Ward [in South Philadelphia, east of Broad Street] to get from under the eye of the Health Officer and run their pens as of old,” reported the Inquirer in 1886: “the pens had been newly whitewashed and the masses of decaying garbage covered up and out of sight.” Further to the south and west, pigsties “owned by Mr. Rubel…at 31st and Maiden lane were in very bad condition. … The garbage…was left to fester, and the stench arising from the mass of filth among which the remaining animals were wallowing, exhaled an odor that could not but be highly prejudicial to public health.”

Detail of “Plan Showing Existing Conditions in South Philadelphia, December 13, 1915. (PhillyHistory.org)

“Pigs Have Got to Go,” editorialized the newspaper as late as 1914, by which time urban expansion guaranteed proximity to piggeries. Yet they remained legal in several areas, including along Maiden Lane. “Modern cities and hog pens cannot be made to go hand in hand,” declared editors, but they fell short of calling for a complete ban.

Not so Mayor Rudolph Blankenburg. His “war upon piggeries” would include a veto of any proposed expansion piggery district. Before long, the city conducted raids on the illegal piggeries of South Philadelphia.

In 1916, John Donohoe, who owned a massive piggery on League Island Road managed to remove his livestock only 15 minutes before a noontime raid by officials from the Bureaus of Health and Sanitation joined by a half dozen mounted police and 25 laborers with orders “to demolish Donohue’s pens.” Freshly unemployed pig farmers and farm hands greeted the raiders “with hoots and jeers.” Meanwhile, owners of the remaining, smaller piggeries read the writing on the wall and dispensed with their stock “as fast as possible.”

Before long, South Philadelphia’s muddy fens were piggery free, from the Neck to Maiden Lane.

(Sources: Edith Elmer Wood, The Housing of the Unskilled Wage Earner; America’s Next Problem (The Macmillian Co., 1919); Catherine Brinkley and Domenic Vitiello, “From Farm to Nuisance: Animal Agriculture and the Rise of Planning Regulation,” Journal of Planning History, 2014, Vol. 13(2) 113-135; “Commonwealth v. Van Sickle, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania,Pennsylvania Law Journal, Volume 7 [Walker, 1848] and from The Philadelphia Inquirer: “First Ward Piggeries,” October 27, 1886; “Mayor to War upon Piggeries,” September 7, 1913; “Pigs Have Got to Go,”, March 21, 1914; “Officials Raid Piggery, but Find Swine Gone Owner Prevents Confiscation by Removing Entire Stock,”  September 29,1916.)

 

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The Clinical Ampitheatre and Surgery as Spectacle

Demolition for the Parkway proceeded through the northwest quadrant of Center City like Sherman’s March through Georgia. Promising a civic and cultural boulevard, planners took no prisoners, even as they encountered the city’s best architectural gems.

Only one hiccup in the way of progress (as we learned last time) was the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital.  But this, too, eventually took the fall. The hospital’s clinical ampitheatre, just west enough on Cherry Street to survive a couple of decades longer, perpetuated the original, old-school Philadelphia sin of perpendicularity. In the 20th century, at least in this quadrant of Penn’s original grid, planners switched staid for sparkle. Perpendicularity had given way to diagonality.

Anything else, everything else, would be sacrificed at the altar of the City Beautiful.

Since its founding in 1881, the Medico-Chirurgical College and Hospital periodically augmented its Cherry Street campus with new buildings, eventually filling up the entire block between 17th and 18th. Each would be a permanent addition (or so they thought) to the city’s venerable medical community, none more so than the building by Frank Miles Day & Brother, opened on October 2, 1897.

Clinical Ampitheatre of the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital. 17th and Cherry Streets., Philadelphia, PA. Frank Miles Day & Bro. Architects, Architectural Record ,1904. (Google Books)

Dr. William L. Rodman, the newly elected professor to the chair of the principles of Surgery and Clinical Surgery (and later president of the American Medical Association) welcomed all to admire this “new and commodious clinical amphitheatre,” a state-of-the art facility, “one of the most excellent, as well as the largest clinical amphitheatres … yet been erected either in the United States or Europe.”

Clinical Amphitheater, Medical-Chiruguical Hospital, Philadelphia. (Wikimedia.org)

“The amphitheatre is the most noteworthy feature of the building,” claimed the Inquirer. “The form of seating in rows … extending entirely around the central space and rising from it, tier on tier,” had been a classic form going back centuries, and locally to Pennsylvania Hospital’s of 1804. The operating pit enabled continuation of the medical tradition where  the surgeon/professor/performer emulated great predecessors like Thomas Dent Mütter, Samuel Gross and David Hayes Agnew, who, according to Rebecca Rego Barry, would enter “the arena of the operating theater as a matador strides into the ring” receiving applause from “rows of ogling observers.”

Surgery as spectacle.

The refined Renaissance style of the building’s exterior telegraphed the anticipated experience within. “A high base of Hummelstown brown stone carries the superstructure, which is of Pompeiian bricks and terra cotta (fabricated by Philadelphia’s Conkling-Armstrong Terra Cotta Co.). The chief features of the front are three large arched windows, below which are marble tablets bearing the names of epoch-making physicians and surgeons, beginning with Hippocrates, Galen and Celsus and extending to Pasteur, Koch and Lister. The names of Sims, Agnew, Goodell, Pancoast, Gross and other American contributors to medical science are found upon that list.”

Parkway from Bell Telephone Building, February 7, 1919 (PhillyHistory.org)

“It is very interesting to watch an architect ‘find himself,’” observed critic Ralph Adams Cram. And in the case of Frank Miles Day & Brother “the process is perfectly logical [and] entirely continuous.” The Days extended the ampitheatre‘s performance quality to the street, emphasizing “very evident and equally dominant passion for fine line, graceful ornament and delicate colors, consciousness of composition, mass and the co-ordination of parts…”

Cram called the clinical amphitheatre as one of the Days’ “more notable works.” Others are extant: the French Renaissance Crozer Building on the 1400 block of Chestnut Street and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania (designed in collaboration with Cope and Stewardson and Wilson Eyre). Neither Horticultural Hall or the Art Club, both on Broad Street, survive. The first gave way to what is now the Merriam Theater; the second lost an existential battle with a parking garage.

Buildings on [Cherry] Street being demolished, August 1939. Paul Vanderbilt, photographer. (Yale University)

Tha Plaza, 18th and the Parkway, 1968 (PhillyHistory.org)

The Days’ clinical amphitheatre wasn’t exactly in the Parkway’s path—it intersected it at an odd angle—which might have facilitated survival for a few more decades. After the First World War, as part of the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, the amphitheatre was “completely renovated, redecorated and refurbished,” and reopened in 1919, “the principle operating room (having been)  completely equipped (as) one of the finest in the world.”

Not for long. In August 1939, as photographer Paul Vanderbilt traversed the city in search of its rougher edges, he captured the last of the amphitheatre’s front wall, then, finally, in the process of demolition.

Right angles had effectively been expunged from the intersection of 18th and Cherry Streets. Perhaps never to be seen again.

[Additional Sources: “Clinic Ampitheatre: The New Building oat the Disposal of Medico-Chi,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3, 1897; Warren Powers Laird, “Frank Miles Day: An Appreciation,” The American Architect, Vol. 114, issue 2219, (July 3, 1918); “Medico-Chirurgical Hospital To Reopen,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 15, 1919.]

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Death and Destruction: the “Last Real Impediment” to the Completed Parkway

“Entire Parkway Is To Be Open Within 5 Months,” read a headline in late December, 1916. “City Officials Make Definite Promise” to demolish everything in the way of a mile-long, blacktop boulevard stretching from City Hall to Fairmount.

Everything, that is, except for a cluster of buildings at 17th and Cherry Streets, the Medico-Chirurgical College. In time, the Parkway’s “last real impediment” would also be reduced to rubble, though not until World War and the influenza epidemic had faded into history.

Parkway Looking Northwest from City Hall Tower, May 15, 1917. Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

Hospital beds had been in short supply, and the city, which had purchased the buildings of the Medico-Chirurgical College, turned them over to the American Red Cross. “Humanity dictated” this “shall be kept as an emergency hospital” and with wards “decorated with flags of the allies,” Red Cross staff made ready for the arrival of “the first contingent of wounded French and English soldiers from the battlefields of Europe.

As the war began to come to a close in the fall of 1918, Philadelphia’s medical community heeded a call for even more hospital beds as the Great Influenza Pandemic made its fatal foothold.

In little more than a two week period in October 1918, the city saw more than 33,000 new cases of influenza resulting in 3,900 deaths. Medical schools postponed the start of the fall semester for 3rd and 4th year students, assigning them as staff to temporary “Emergency Hospitals.” In just two days, workmen took a “half knocked down” building at the Medico- Chirurgical site and installed “temporary wooden partitions that enclosed spaces previously opened by the demolition.” A temporary boiler installed on the street provided heat, and on October 7th, water and electrical connections were restored.

Close View of Demolishing the Medico-Chirurgical Hospital – 17th and Cherry Streets. September 18, 1917. Detail. (PhillyHistory.org)

According to Isaac Starr, a University of Pennsylvania medical student who later wrote of his experience, five floors of a salvaged Medico- Chirurgical building were turned into a hospital ward, each with about 25 beds assembled by the students themselves. After only a single lecture on influenza, Starr was assigned to the top floor, where he served as “head nurse” for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift.

At first, thought Starr, many patients “seemed to have sought admission chiefly because everybody in the family was sick and no one was left at home who could take care of them.” But the “clinical features of many soon changed drastically. As their lungs filled with rales the patients became short of breath and increasingly cyanotic. After gasping for several hours they became delirious and incontinent, and many died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth. After a day or two of intense struggle, they died.”

“When I returned to duty at 4 p.m,” remembered Starr, I found few whom I had seen before.” “This happened night after night. The deaths in the hospital as a whole exceeded 25% per night during the peak of the epidemic. To make room for others the bodies were being tossed from the cellar into trucks, which when filled carted them away. It was a dreadful business.”

“Seeing one case after another go to pieces after admission to our hospital made us wonder whether there was a reservoir of infection in the hospital itself that was responsible for the heavy mortality. Perhaps the masks, gowns, and hand washing did more to protect us than we had a right to expect. Certainly, with death all around us, we had every encouragement to be as careful as we could, but we were so busy and so tired that we forgot about precautions, and patient after patient coughed into our faces as we tended to their needs.”

The worst was over by the end of October. As new cases of the influenza declined medical school classes resumed. “Our lives slowly returned to normal.” recalled Starr, and the makeshift hospital wards closed on Saturday November 16, 1918.

Soon demolition crews returned. And by February 1919, they delivered on the promise of a completed boulevard. The city would soon have its mile-long stretch of fresh blacktop, a “Stately Parkway, Dream of Years.”

What would Philadelphia make of it? That’s the story of the next 100 years.

[Sources: Philadelphia in the World War, 1914-1919, (Published for the Philadelphia War History Committee 1922); Isaac Starr, MD, Influenza in 1918: Recollections of the Epidemic in Philadelphia. Annals of Internal Medicine, July 18, 2006 Vol 145, No 2, p. 139; in The Philadelphia Inquirer:  “Entire Parkway is to be open within 5 months,” December 28, 1916; “Red Cross Gets Hospital,“ December 15, 1917; “Foreign Wounded Here Within Month,“ July 19, 1917; “Parkway Project Nears Completion,”  August 31, 1917; “Datesman Prepares to Finish Parkway from 17th to 18th,” September 30, 1917; “Emergency Hospital No. 2 will be opened at once in the buildings of the old Medico-Chirugical College,” October 7, 1918; “Holds Influenza is at its Crest,” October 8, 1918; “Stately Parkway, Dream of Years, Almost Complete,” February 16, 1919.]

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The John G. Johnson Art Collection on Broad Street

“Unused City-Owned Real Estate,” The John G. Johnson Art Collection, 510 South Broad Street, November 30, 1936 (PhillyHistory.org)

“There are still so many paintings on the floor, I just don’t know where to put them,” complained Hendrik Willem Mesdag to his art dealer. The artist/collector would soon solve the problem by building a museum next to his house in The Hague, exhibiting his own work with that of other Dutch and French artists. John G. Johnson visited in the early 1890s and left impressed but sad.  “We heard the door of the gallery close with that feeling of regret which comes to us, as we lose sight, possibly forever, of some beautiful thing on earth.”

Back home on Broad Street in Philadelphia, Johnson would soon create his own version of such a gallery experience.

In The American Scene, Henry James described Johnson’s gallery “at the edge of a vast, vacant Philadelphia street…vacant of everything but an immeasurable bourgeois blankness.” James entered and found it “a friendly house…given over, from top to toe, to a dazzling collection of pictures … remarkably rich the store of acquisition, in the light of which the whole energy of the keen collector showed: the knowledge, the acuteness, the audacity, the incessant watch for opportunity.”

John G. Johnson’s Philadelphia art collection had joined the ranks of the world-class.

“The greatest lawyer in the English-speaking world” as the New York Times would describe Johnson, had the income to support his voracious appetite for art. From 1884, when he argued his first case before the Supreme Court of the United States, until his death in 1917, Johnson would bring a total of 168 cases. He appeared before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania thousands of times.

Johnson’s “best-known local clients included Peter A.B. Widener and William L. Elkins, who made millions of dollars in the operation of horse-drawn carriages and the electrical streetcars. The Baldwin Locomotive Works was also a client, as was John Wanamaker.” Gilded Age moguls: J.P. Morgan, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie and Pierre S. duPont wouldn’t make a move until consulting with Johnson. He successfully represented the “Sugar Trust” and became the go-to antitrust expert for big tobacco, big banking, big railroading and big oil.

“By the time of his death,” the Philadelphia Museum of Art tells us, “Johnson had acquired nearly 1,300 paintings, primarily from the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries; more than 150 sculptures, textiles, and other objects; and an art library of approximately 2,500 books, journals, and auction catalogues. The collection, which has been entrusted to the Philadelphia Museum of Art since the 1930s, includes masterpieces by key figures of the Renaissance such as Bosch, Botticelli, and Titian; important seventeenth-century Dutch paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and others; and works by American and French masters of Johnson’s own time, notably John Singer Sargent, Édouard Manet, and Claude Monet.”

On the transom: “City of Philadelphia / The John G. Johnson Art Collection.” On the door: “Open Free / Daily 9 to 5 / Sunday 1 to 5.” 510 South Broad Street, November 30, 1936 (PhillyHistory.org)

Having filled his home at 426 South Broad with art, Johnson moved to a larger residence a block away, at 506. George Biddle visited there around 1913: “He had eleven hundred masterpieces in a firetrap on South Broad Street. I had a ticket of admission to his house; and once when he was not at home, I poked my nose in various corners that were not commonly visited by the public. I found two Chardins in his boot closet, many examples of the Barbizon school in his bathroom; and Sargents, Manets, and French impressionists in the corridors of the servants’ stairway.”

John G. Johnson Collection, Interior of home at 506 South Broad Street, ca. 1905-1915 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives)

“His pictures are everywhere, wrote the New York Times in June 1914. “They cover every available inch of wall space. . . . One priceless painting adorns the footboard of a bed, and the butler’s pantry houses a Van Dyck.”

A year later, Johnson bought the larger mansion next door specifically to serve as his gallery. Originally finished in 1874 by Furness & Hewitt, 510 South Broad had been significantly altered in 1900 by architect Charles M. Burns for art collector Francis Thomas Sully Darley.

For his gallery, Johnson found inspiration in that of New York client Henry Clay Frick and, of course, the one he visited so many years before in The Hague. Johnson sought to create a powerful, unforgettable experience: a place where visitors could find intimate moments with “some beautiful thing on earth.”

Out-of-town visitors might feel that pang of regret as they left 510 South Broad Street, “possibly forever.” But those fortunate enough to live in Philadelphia? They could come back anytime. According to the gold-leaf sign at the entrance, “The John G. Johnson Art Collection” was “Open Free, Daily 9 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5.”

[Sources: Avis Berman, “A Philadelphia Lawyer’s Gilded Age Collection,” The New York Review of Books, December 6, 2017; John G. Johnson, Sight-seeing in Berlin and Holland Among Pictures, (Allen, Lane & Scott’s, 1892; Reprinted from The Philadelphia Press); Gerard J. St. John, “John G. Johnson: Giant of the Philadelphia Bar,” The Philadelphia Lawyer, Winter 2007. Vol. 69. No. 4]

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The Never-Seated U.S. Senator from Philadelphia

Thomas W. Cunningham and William S. Vare in 1931 (PhillyHistory.org)

In 1926 William Vare was elected to the United States Senate, defeating Democrat William B. Wilson by more than 180,000 votes. But when the new Congress began, the Senate voted to refuse Vare his seat.

Thus began “a bitter and gigantic struggle.”

Wilson charged “massive corruption,” alleging “Vare and his supporters used padded registration lists, misused campaign expenditures, counted votes…from persons who were dead or never existed, and engaged in intimidation and discouragement of prospective voters.”

“The fraud pervading the actual count by the division election officers is appalling,” a Senate committee would conclude. “The average Philadelphia voter had a one-in-eight chance of having his ballot recorded accurately on Election Day.”

William S. Vare, “the youngest of a trio of brothers who had intermittently ruled Philadelphia in the name of the Republican Party since the turn of the century” had been the city’s “undisputed boss” through most of the 1920s. According to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Vare “commanded more political power than any other single Philadelphian before or since.”

The Vare family came to power and fortune “by way of the contracting business, particularly municipal contracts for such work as cleaning streets, collecting garbage, and erecting public buildings” wrote Samuel J. Astorino. Their machine “was closely-knit, slick, and loyal.”

“Bill Vare was at the head of this once almost impregnable Republican organization not because of any unusual intellectual or social acumen,” explained J. T. Salter in 1935. “He was in no sense a cultured or highly civilized person. He had never had time to read, and he knew nothing of the liberal arts. … But he was an ultra-specialist in ward and city politics. … He saw with an eye single to the fifty wards in Philadelphia, and the 1,283 divisions of these wards. He was a prototype of his people—the conservative, matter-of-fact, uneducated, hard-working people that actually lived in the fifty wards of that interminable city of small homes, block on block of duplicate houses, wall to wall on narrow, treeless streets. If the boiled-down psychic residue of all these people could be put into one test-tube…and that of Vare be put in another, and both tubes held to the light, they would have looked the same…”

“Not only was he like the mass of voters in his city,” Salter continued, “he was never ashamed of his humble beginnings as the tenth and youngest son of an English farmer in “The Neck,” who went to work as a cash boy at Wanamaker’s when he was twelve-and who spent his youth as a huckster and a hauler of ashes and garbage. None of the Vares were ever ashamed of this. Once [rival politician Boies] Penrose called William S. ‘the ash-cart statesman,’ and he accepted the appellation; it became part of his political capital and was worth votes at the polls.”

Vare’s Philadelphia base loved his gritty, everyman style. That appeal and the funds raised for his campaign from allies of all stripes were intended to secure his seat in the U.S. Senate. Real estate broker, developer and banker Albert M. Greenfield happily donated $125,000 to support Vare’s “life’s ambition.” Greenfield had the money to give.

But how Philadelphia Sheriff Thomas “Big Tom” Cunningham managed a $50,000 donation on his salary of $8,000 would remain a curious mystery, one that even the Senate investigation and the courts could not crack.

No matter. Vare’s corruption was exposed; he never did make his way to that seat in the U. S. Senate.

(Sources: Samuel J. Astorino, “The Contested Senate Election of William Scott Vare,” Pennsylvania History, 28 (April 1961), 187-201; Mark Grossman, “William Scott Vare.” Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power & Greed, 2nd edition. (Grey House Publishing, 2008); Thomas H. Keels, “Contractor Bosses (1880s to 1930s),” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, 2016; J. T. Salter, ”The End of Vare,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Jun., 1935), pp. 214-235; Russell Weigley, Philadelphia: A 300 Year History (W. W. Norton & Company, 1982).

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The Demise and Demolition of Horticultural Hall

Horticultural Hall, Fairmount Park, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company (PhillyHistory.org/Free Library of Philadelphia)

Distaste for Victorian architecture blossomed in the first half of the 20th century into unmitigated disgust. By the time the waves of demolition subsided, it was too late for many masterpieces that had been pulled down with confidence and even glee.

We saw this before, with Frank Furness, who “embodied the worst of Victorian excess in the eyes of modernists.” His buildings fell as if in a losing war; and so did many others that dared display individualism or a lack of restraint. Wreckers worked relentlessly through the 1950s and 1960s as preservationists searched for their voices. By the time a reappraisal of the Victorian finally changed minds, it was too late; so much was already gone. Words of regret and mourning seemed flimsy; too little; too late.

One of the earliest voices, that of George B. Tatum in Penn’s Great Town, wrote in 1961 of Horticultural Hall’s demise: “by any standard a major monument of American architecture of the 19th century.” In time, others would join the chorus with ever more strident tones. By 1976, almost 18 years too late, Edmund Bacon commented on the demolition of another “major monument,” the Jayne building, “as the worst single act of architectural vandalism.” Words too late. Words as soundbites. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s high Victorian buildings had slipped from cultural treasure to architectural albatross.  Then they were gone.

Horticultural Hall , south entrance. Centennial Exhibition, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. (PhillyHistory.org - Free Library)

Horticultural Hall, south entrance, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. (PhillyHistory.org/Free Library of Philadelphia)

The campaign to establish existential doubt for Horticultural Hall, began just after the turn of the 20th century with squawks about the burden of repairs. By mid-century, these cries had risen to a cacophony leading to, inevitably, a call for the wrecking ball. Horticultural Hall’s narrative arc, urged on by the city itself, lasted for more than a half a century before the contract was finally put out. Slowly, surely, over nearly half a century, the language of demise exercised its ever firming grip. Hurricane or not, the victim was doomed.

The calls came as early as 1910, when City Council appropriated $30,000 for a major renovation. Horticultural Hall was then thought to be “in such bad condition that the Park Commissioners feared that it would collapse and injury [sic] many persons.”

By 1937, the building had become a “gray, friendly ghost of a fading age,” if still “quickened by wild, exotic plant life from far corners of the world…”

Sixteen more years pass. “Originally gaily polychrome, in reds, greens, and yellows,” Horticultural Hall in 1953 “has lost this finery and much of its original iron embellishment and in many places is rusting… It is still standing, but is in need of extensive repairs.”

“Historic Hall In Park Held ‘Dangerous’” read an unapologetic headline in the Spring of 1953, more than a year before Hazel. “A showplace when it was opened,” halfway into the 20th century it was now “in ‘dangerous condition,’ and the place should be closed, Charles I. Thompson, president of the Fairmount Park Commission declared…”.

“’Badly rusted framework holding heavy glass panes in the vaulted roof make it likely that the panes will come loose in the near future and fall to the floor,” said Thompson. “This condition is dangerous and we’d better do something about it before somebody gets hurt.” The Commission concluded: “’we’re just throwing good money after bad,’ and that it would be ‘better to start over again with a new building.’”

Broken panes made “the whole place like a sieve when it rains,” an engineer chimed in.

And we know what happens when it rains: it pours.

In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel brought not only rain, but 50 to 60 mile per hour winds and gusts of 94 miles per hour. Fifteen people were killed in the Philadelphia area.

Wreckers Ready to Move into Horticultural Hall, Spring 1955. Charles Newman, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin (Temple University Paley Library – Special Collections Research Center)

“Hazel Hit Historic Hall” read the headline on October 16th.  “Park Director Paul MacMurray…disclosed that hundreds of panes of class were blown from the roof of the central hall of the massive structure, a relic of the Centennial Exposition.”

No one ever documented exactly how many panes were broken, but both the “danger” and the “relic” cards had been played.

“Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” confirmed an October 22nd headline. “The ornate building…is now in such condition that authorities feel it is imperative to begin tearing down the structure as a safety measure.”

“We’re now faced with the problem of tearing it down or it falling down,” claimed MacMurray.

“It would be a great pity to tear it down,” retorted preservationists. “If it was in such a dilapidated state why didn’t the hurricane level it to the ground, instead of blowing out a few panes of glass? … “Other cities take pride in preserving their landmarks.” … Where is Philadelphia’s pride now?” This is nothing more than “willful neglect.”

Wreckers competed with one another for the “Dismantling, Demolition and Disposition” of Horticultural Hall. Bids arrived in room 313, City Hall Annex, before 2:30PM February 7, 1955.

And by April Fool’s Day a classified advertisement described and offered what remained: “2000’ rare ornamental railings & stairs. Greenhouse. 10,000’ steam pipe from ½” to 5”. Steel beams 8 to 12” from 12 to 30’ in length. Numerous other items dating back over 100 years.”

“Salesman on site at all times,” assured the ad.

[Sources: Philadelphia, A Guide to the Nation’s Birthplace, compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Federal Writers’ Project (Pa.), 1937; Theo. B. White, Philadelphia Architecture in the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia Art Alliance, 1953); George B. Tatum, Penn’s Great Town: 250 Years of Philadelphia Architecture Illustrated in Prints and Drawings (University of Pennsylvania, 1961); The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Park Exhibit to Open,” September 15, 1910; “Historic Hall In Park Held ‘Dangerous,’” May 24, 1953; “Hurricane Kills 15 in Phila. Area, Leaves Path of Ruin in 8 States,” October 16, 1954; ”Hazel Hit Historic Hall,” October 21, 1954; “Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” October 22, 1954; “Garden Under Glass, Letter by “E.C.” October 27, 1954; January 27, 1955 (letter to the editor); April 1, 1955  (classified advertisement)].

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Philadelphia City Archives – We’re Moving!

The Philadelphia City Archives is relocating to 456 N. 5th Street! As of December 15, 2017, our site will temporarily close to the public to facilitate our relocation. We will continue to fulfill requests for copies of deeds, except for requests that are for historical research and/or academic research purposes. This temporary service disruption will extend through August 2018 to allow our staff adequate time to prepare for and execute the relocation. We expect to reopen at our new home on September 1, 2018.

Please mail deed requests and payment to: City Hall, Room 156, Department of Records, Philadelphia, PA 19107

If you would like to contact our main office please email: recordsinfo@phila.gov or call (215) 686-2261. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We look forward to serving you at our new location.

 

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Stand in line, Frank Rizzo. Others have come and gone before you.

For more than a century, Philadelphia’s been playing a game of musical chairs with statues around City Hall. And it’s sure to continue, so long as we continue to ask monumental questions.

Actually, sculptural comings and goings started a century before they cut the ribbon at City Hall. William Rush’s Nymph and Bittern stood for a time as one of the city’s earliest pieces of public art.

We’ve previously written about the monument to Major General Peter Muhlenberg, colonial preacher and Revolutionary War hero. In 1910, a “monster parade” preceded Mulhenberg’s dedication on the south side of City Hall. Everyone thought it would be there forever. While the heroic story didn’t change, location did—twice. Patriots paying respects to the general would have to track him down. For a time, Muhlenberg stood his ground at Reyburn Plaza. Then he trekking out to Fairmount Park, where he can be found today.

The replica Statue of Liberty temporarily occupied a patch of pavement during part of the first World War. For all that fanfare, and there was much, she’s long gone.

So much bronze has been in flux over the years, enough to suggest there’s no shame in being uprooted.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ stoic Puritan, a full-scale likeness of Samuel Chapin, a New England settler who died before Philadelphia was even a sparkle in William Penn’s eye, commanded the concrete at Penn Square from 1905. Maybe Saint-Gaudens’ knew something. His statue looks like he’s about to walk off his pedestal. And in 1920, “The Pilgrim” as Chapin became known, did take a hike, in a manner of speaking, also making his way to Fairmount Park.

“The Pilgrim,” by Augustus Saint Gaudens (PhillyHistory)

Scientist Joseph Leidy came and went, too. If his biography, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, was correct, Leidy should have known enough to secure a permanent place of honor in the center or town. Find him today, still holding the jaw of an Ice Age lion amidst the dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Curiously, there’s one figure, below, that remains. When 21st-century pedestrians even notice “Baldwin,” as the granite pedestal tersely explains, they have to wonder: “Who is this? Why is he here? Why should I care?” Baldwin’s story was good enough to justify his installation in 1902 across from his locomotive factory at Broad and Spring Garden Streets. (That place was something to behold, turning out a finished locomotive every two-and-a-half hours.) When the plant left town in 1928, rather than having its founder stare at the vacant factory, the powers that be moved Baldwin to the north side of City Hall.

Matthias W. Baldwin Statue, Januaary 17, 1936 (PhillyHistory.org)

And there he stands today.

Maybe it’s time to pose the monumental question in this case, too. Does Baldwin measure up to holding a spot on our most prime civic real estate?

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Praising Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park

Horticultural Hall – Floral Hall – East End, September 15, 1875. Centennial Photographic Company (PhillyHistory.org/Free Library of Philadelphia.)

“In just under two years,” John Maass explained in The Glorious Enterprise, his book about the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, “architects Hermann J. Schwarzmann, assistant Hugo Kafka and five engineers transformed 285 acres of fields of West Fairmount Park, mostly “swamps and ravines, into building lots, gardens and landscaped grounds.” Schwarzmann’s team “moved over 500,000 cubic or yards of earth; graded and surface 3 miles of avenues and 17 miles of walks; build a railroad with 5 1/2 miles of double track; corrected 16 bridges; put up 3 miles of fence with 179 stiles and gates; constructed 7 miles of drains, 9 miles of water pipes, 16 fountains, and water works with a daily pumping capacity of 6 million gallons; laid 8 miles of gas pipes; installed three separate telegraph systems with underground cables; planted 153 acres of lawns and flowerbeds, and over 20,000 trees and shrubs. Every one of 249 large and small structures was completed; Schwarzmann had designed 34 of these himself, including the two permanent buildings,” Memorial Hall and Horticultural Hall.

“Horticultural Hall was the smallest of the Centennial’s five principal buildings, but it was the largest conservatory built up to that time, bigger than the famous hothouses in the Botanical Gardens of London and Paris. Schwarzmann begin to prepare plans on April 11, 1874… On June 11, 1874, the Committee on Grounds Plans and Buildings approved his plans. Construction began in December 1874, and the elaborate building was completed on April 1, 1876. The City of Philadelphia bore the cost of $367,073.47.”

Horticultural Hall, Interior, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. (PhillyHistory.org - Free Library)

Horticultural Hall, Interior, 1876. Centennial Photographic Company. (PhillyHistory.org/Free Library of Philadelphia.)

According to Schwarzmann, “the design is in the Moresque style of architecture of the twelfth century, the principal materials externally being iron and glass. The length of the building is 383 feet, width 193 feet, and height to the top of the lantern 72 feet.”

“The east and west entrances are approached by flights of blue marble steps from terraces 80 by 20 feet, in the center of each of which stands and open kiosk 20 feet in diameter,” Maass tells us. “The angles of the main conservatory or adorned with eight ornamental fountains. The corridors which connect the conservatory with the surrounding rooms open fine vistas in every direction.”

“No such building and no such horticultural display had been seen in an International Exposition before.  The visitors passed under horseshoe arches of black, cream and red bricks to enter the grand hall, flooded with light and filled with tropical palms, trees and shrubs. Spectacular chandeliers glittered above and in the center played a marble fountain, designed in Rome by the American sculptress Margaret Foley.”

“Horticultural Hall won the praise of professionals and public, of Americans and Europeans alike. The international jury gave Schwarzmann and award for its architectural design.”

Horticultural Hall, Autochrome by Emil P. Albrecht,  ca. 1910.  (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

“The building was surrounded by flowerbeds and the trees grew up around it. Horticultural Hall was a fine sight in the moonlight, gleaming by its reflecting pool. The interior was magic: Victorian statuary nestled in the moist tropical foliage, the stillness only broken by the drip of water on the floor of patterned grill work. The Park Commission skimped on proper building maintenance; in 1911 its engineers reported that the iron, glass, brick and woodwork were all in a hazardous condition of disrepair, but Horticultural Hall was still standing 43 years later when it was slightly damaged by a hurricane.”

According to some accounts, Hurricane Hazel broke hundreds of glass panes. According to others, the number was only 29. In either case, Hazel’s impact was considered a “death blow” to the meant-to-be-permanent, once-treasured Horticultural Hall.

[Sources: “Hazel Death Death Blow to Horticultural Hall,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1954; John Maass, The Glorious Enterprise: The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and H. J. Schwarzmann, Architect-in-Chief (American Life Foundation, 1973).]

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“The only large building in the world entirely devoted to telephone purposes”

Bell Telephone Building, 406-408 Market Street, 1972 (PhillyHistory.org)

Third and fourth floor of the Bell Telephone Building, 406-408 Market Street [1972] (PhillyHistory.org)

How did the thousands of Philadelphians wired for telephone service connect with one another? How would they talk with early adopters in other cities? Connectivity for the ever increasing numbers of subscribers was the ongoing challenge. As told recently in a post illustrated with the horse-drawn telephone parade float, Philadelphia’s telephone industry served less than 5,000 in 1895 but would balloon to more than 100,000 a dozen years later.

The American telephone industry needed investment and innovation. In 1901, the world’s total mileage of phone wire stood near five million. Just over a decade later the total stood at more than 29 million miles—half of the world’s total. Americans had poured more than one billion dollars into infrastructure, and it was paying off. By 1912, there were nearly 12.5 million telephones in the world; 67% were in American homes and businesses.

But none were useful without innovations that would enhance connectivity. That’s where Bell Telephone’s building 406-408 Market came in. After alterations by architect Addison Hutton in 1891, this purpose-built, four-story structure would accept 250 underground cables from the surrounding streets. “Believed to be the only large building in the world entirely devoted to telephone purposes,” 406-408 Market was expected “to meet every requirement of the present, and all the possibilities of the future.”

On the top, sun-lit fourth floor Bell installed a new Law switchboard, “the most wonderful of all of the many wonderful appliances for securing prompt and efficient service.” This 80-foot long “Law board” contained 2,500 mile of wire configured for 10,000 circuits allowing as many as 90 operators “to make any desired connection instantly.”

John F. Casey, an inventor from St. Louis, had patented this telephone system in December 1888. “The methods now in vogue,” read Casey’s discussion of his improvement, resulted in “great delay and embarrassment” when subscribers from different central offices want to speak with one another. A subscriber would call their central office and that office would connect with the second central office. Once connected, operators at both central offices would have to call and then reconnect the two subscribers before making the connection between them. Such bottlenecks wasted “a great deal of time” and were “very unsatisfactory.”

Casey’s invention required that central offices had permanent, open circuits with one another so that “both operators that make the connections in each office hear the call at the same time. This obviates the necessity of central office A first making connection with central office B, then calling up central office B and waiting until said central office B makes the connection.”

A Law Switchboard, ca. 1888 in Saint Louis Missouri. (Wikimedia.org)

“By my invention.” claimed Casey, conversations can take place “between subscribers connected with different central offices as expeditiously as between subscribers belonging to the same central office.”

But the success of America’s telephone industry’s would literally be in the hands of an army of efficient operators.

Want ads called for young women “of unquestionable character [with] 12th grade public school education” to apply in person. Fresh hires would “learn long distance telephone operating” at the Market Street facility while being paid. Graduates would be placed in telephone offices “convenient to home.” In 1912, the Bell Telephone bragged of its “enlarged operators’ school, second to none in the country in completeness… receiving more than 1100 students a year.”

With investment, invention, technology and training, American telephony had found its stride. But that didn’t stop company executives from looking for additional ways of to improve service, and the company’s bottom line.

“Courtesy Too Costly” read a New York Times headline in 1907, The Keystone Telephone Company’s top traffic manager in Philadelphia, A. J. Ulrich, insisted on dropping the word “please.” Ulrich had studied the situation and “found that patrons making calls and operators answering them” uttered the word “please” 900,000 times every day. He calculated that Keystone’s 450 “girl operators” and the subscribers they served wasted 7,500 minutes, or 125 hours, each and every day.

The Keystone Company banned use of the word “please.”

Not long after, AT&T attempted to dissuade its employees and customers from using the word “Hello.”

We know how that initiative on behalf of hyper-efficiency worked out.

[Sources: John F. Casey, A New Telephone System, U.S. Patent #394, 832, December 18, 1888. (PDF); Philadelphia and Popular Philadelphians, (Philadelphia, The North American, 1891); Want Ads, The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 8, 1905; “Courtesy Too Costly,” The New York Times, September 6, 1907; Telephone Statistics of the World (American Telephone and Telegraph Company, 1912);  “A Year in the Bell Telephone Plant Department” (Advertisement) The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 18, 1912.]

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