Entertainment Neighborhoods

Neighborhood Movie Theaters

Shawn Evans, AIA, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Center City Philadelphia was home to the region’s most well known movie theatres.  Clustered in districts on Market, Chestnut, South, and North 8th Streets, these entertainment venues lined up along the sidewalks with blinking lights and glistening facades to draw in thousands of visitors to downtown.  An earlier blog post, “Historic Movie Theatres of Center City Philadelphia,” chronicled some of these places that are documented in the photograph collections of the Philadelphia City Archives.   Whereas downtown movies were for most people a special treat, the neighborhood theatres were a more integral part of weekly life. [i]


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52nd Street in 1914, looking south from Market. Nixon Theatre
seen on right.

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Nixon Theatre, 28 South 52nd Street, seen here in 1914.

Many of the neighborhood theatres were located in commercial corridors.  West Philadelphia’s main street for well over a century has been 52nd Street.  For much of its history, the Nixon Theatre lit up its night.  Originally a vaudeville theater operating under a tent, the grand Nixon was built in 1910 near the head of the vibrant commercial strip.   The 1,870 seat theater was designed by architect John D. Allen, who had recently designed the much more elaborate Orpheum Theatre on West Chelten Ave.  Converted to film presentation in 1929, the Nixon operated until 1984.[ii] The brick and stone classical façade featured a two-story arched entrance, topped with a gentle bow window, and a prominent baroque split pediment.[iii] The site is now occupied by a nondescript building housing Payless ShoeSource and Rainbow Kids.

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Eureka Theatre, 3941 Market Street, seen here in 1915.

Another eye-catching classically designed theatre in West Philadelphia was the Eureka Theatre.  While the building had a much smaller capacity of 450 seats, the large terra cotta façade was designed to be seen from a fast moving train on the elevated Market Street line just feet away.  Designed by Stearns and Castor, now best known for their Colonial Revival homes, the Eureka opened in 1913 and operated through the 1950s when it was converted into a furniture store.[iv] It was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the high-rise which is now the University Square retirement home.

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Commodore Theatre, SE corner of 43rd and Walnut, seen here
in 1952.

Many of the neighborhood theater buildings have survived but today serve other purposes.  The 1,105 seat Commodore Theatre in Walnut Hill opened in 1928.[v] Designed by the Ballinger Co., the Moorish styled building was converted in to the Masjid Al-Jamia mosque in 1973.  While the interior’s Moorish ornamentation was thematically appropriate for a mosque, much of it seems to have been removed.[vi] The theater was designed for film, but transitioned to legitimate theatre (with a thrust stage) in the 1960s for a few years before becoming the Miracle Revival Tabernacle church, prior to its use as a mosque.  The large rooftop sign structure, now empty, was installed in the 1930s.


Neighborhood theaters provided an air-conditioned respite from the grind of modern life.  This is perhaps best represented by the fictional 1930s South Philadelphia Paloma Theater in the 1995 film, Two Bits.  Twelve-year-old Gennaro spends the nearly whole film searching for two bits (a quarter) to see a film in his Mifflin Square neighborhood’s brand-new theatre.

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Stratford Theatre, South 7th Street and Dickinson, seen here
in 1956.

Prior to the Paloma, Gennaro might have walked fifteen minutes north to Dickinson Street to see a film at the 600 seat Stratford Theatre.  Opened as Herman’s in 1913, the theater became the Stratford in 1920 and showed movies into the 1960s when the building was acquired by the City and demolished for the parking lot that now occupies the site.[vii]

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Broadway Theatre, South Broad and Snyder, seen here in 1931.

One of South Philadelphia’s largest and most popular theatres was the 2,183 seat Broadway Theatre.  The building was built in 1913 as a vaudeville theatre to the designs of Albert Westover, a theatre architect whose office was in Keith’s Theatre Building at 11th and Chestnut.  The theater was renovated in 1918 by Hoffman-Henon, the architects of the Boyd Theatre.  The refined white brick and terra cotta Broadway was demolished in the 1970s for a drive-through restaurant.  The site is now a parking lot for a Walgreen’s. [viii]


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Great Northern Theatre, North Broad, Erie, and Germantown
Ave, seen here in 1925.

The 1,058 seat Great Northern Theatre was built on a triangular lot where Germantown Avenue crosses North Broad Street.  This large theater had entrances on both streets with a lobby at the point facing northwest.  A nickelodeon had been located here which was expanded in 1912.  This photograph, looking northeast to the Broad Street elevation, shows the pronounced advertising of the silent film, the Sea Hawk.  The theatre survived into the 1950s and was converted into a drug store in 1953. [ix] While the lobby portion was long ago demolished, the auditorium section of the building seems to have survived.

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Jumbo Theatre, Front and Girard, seen here in 1916.

Also surviving as a shadow of its former self is the Jumbo Theatre.  This 1,300 seat theatre was constructed in 1909 to the designs of Carl Berger and renovated in 1912 by Hoffman-Henon Co. [x] Seen here in 1916, the theater is covered with signs about its “5 cent reels.” Said to be one of the largest theaters in the city when it opened, it showed films into the 1960s. As evidenced by the huge elephant sign suspended over the front doors, the theater was named after the famous elephant that P.T. Barnum bought from the London Zoo in 1882. The elephant was given the name Jumbo by the zookeepers and through Barnum’s publicity machine, Jumbo became synonymous with “huge.” [xi] (Remember that the next time you order a jumbo popcorn at the movies!) Recently operated as “Global Thrift,” the façade had been insensitively covered.  The building is currently being converted into a dollar store and the paneling has been removed, exposing the original ornamental brickwork.  The proscenium arch inside had survived until this spring.

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Ogontz Theatre, 6033 Ogontz Avenue, seen here in 1985.

The Ogontz Theatre was one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful neighborhood theatres.  Located in the West Oak Lane neighborhood, the Ogontz was designed in the Spanish renaissance style by Magaziner, Eberhard, & Harris.  This 1,777 seat theater opened in 1927, closed in the 1950s and was subjected to decades of neglect and vandalism prior to its 1988 demolition.[xii]

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The Uptown Theatre, 2240 North Broad, Seen here in the 1970s.

The 2,146 seat Uptown was also designed by Magaziner, Eberhard, and Harris, and is considered one of their finest buildings.  As described in the 1929 opening day program, the building is “an Exquisite expression of 20th Century art. Grace of line, delicacy of coloring, beauty of craftsmanship, and mystery of scintillating and reflecting surfaces.”  Like many theatres of this period (the Boyd included) it was laid out for film more than vaudeville, and featured a narrow stage.  Despite this, the theatre became a major center of Philadelphia’s African-American culture in the 1950s.  It closed in 1978, briefly reopened in 1982, and is now the focus of an ambitious preservation effort by the Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation.[xiii]

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Midway Theatre, Kensington & Allegheny, seen here in 1932.

The Midway Theatre opened in 1932 in the Kensington neighborhood.[xiv] It  “was the last truly grand building of the motion-picture palace era in Philadelphia.”[xv] An art-deco show-stopper, the building could be seen down the avenue for blocks. The 2,727 seat theater was one of the largest theatres outside of Center City – and operated as a second-run theatre showing films that had already opened downtown.  It survived into the 1970s and was demolished in 1979, following neighborhood opposition to plans to convert the building into a rock and roll venue.

Of the 468 movie theatres built in Philadelphia since the 1890s, 396 were located outside of Center City in the neighborhoods.  As with the downtown theatres, the vast majority (more than 90%) of these buildings have been demolished, but they remain as vivid memories for many.  These amazing photographs of both lost places serve as inspiration to those working to save theatres like the Boyd and the Uptown.

[i] As with the earlier blog post on movie theatres, most of the factual information in this piece has been culled from the work of Irvin Glazer (1922-1996) who documented the history of Philadelphia theaters in two books:  Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial History (Dover Publications, 1994) and Philadelphia Theatres, A-Z: A Comprehensive, Descriptive, Record of 813 Theatres Constructed Since 1724 (Greenwood Press, 1986).  His collection of photographs, clippings, and research files is housed at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.  Most of the photographs have been scanned and are available online in a format that permits zooming.

[ii] NIXON: Glazer 1986, p.176; Glazer 1994, p.11; and

[iii] Images of the façade can be found here:

[iv] EUREKA: Glazer 1986, p.108; Glazer 1994, p.22;; and

[v] COMMODORE: Glazer 1986, p.90; Glazer 1994, p.55; ; and

[vi] As seen in the photographs in this Daily Pennsylvanian article:

[vii] STRATFORD: Glazer 1986, p.220-221;; and

[viii] BROADWAY: Glazer 1986, p.74; Glazer 1994, p.16-17;; and

[ix] GREAT NORTHERN: Glazer 1986, p.132; and

[x] JUMBO: Glazer 1987, p.141;; and


[xii] OGONTZ: Glazer 1986, p.178; Glazer 1994, p.48;; and

[xiii] UPTOWN: Glazer 1986, pp.230-231; Glazer 1994, pp.60-65;;; and

[xiv] MIDWAY: Glazer 1986, p.170; Glazer 1994, pp.79-80;; and

[xv] Glazer, 1994, p.79.


Historic Movie Theaters of Center City

Shawn Evans, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

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Boyd Theatre, 1934.

Few recent historic preservation struggles have captured the public’s attention in Philadelphia as dramatically as the Boyd Theatre.  Since 1928, this art-deco movie palace has graced the 1900 block of Chestnut Street and entertained millions of Philadelphians in its nearly 2,500 seats.

The theater closed in 2002 and remains vacant.  The Friends of the Boyd successfully fought off a demolition permit and continue to advocate for an authentic restoration and viable business approach that will return the theater as a vibrant entertainment venue.[i]  The Boyd stands as the last movie palace (a grand theater with more than 1,000 seats) and serves as a stunning reminder of a time when it became common to erect extraordinary architecture for the entertainment of the masses.[ii]   A stroll through the history of Philadelphia’s movie theaters demonstrates the importance of saving the Boyd.

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B.F. Keith’s Bijou Theatre, seen here as the renamed New Garden
Theatre in 1938.

The first public showing of a motion picture (perhaps the first in the world) occurred in Philadelphia at B.F. Keith’s Bijou Theatre at 209 North 8th Street in 1895.[iii]   These films were brief silent experiments of the moving image.  Within a year, this new form of entertainment was regularly shown at the Bijou.  The 1,200 seat theater was built as a variety theatre in 1889 to the designs of New York theater architect John Baily McElfatrick.[iv]   The Bijou was at the heart of a long-vanished theater district along 8th Street, now home to the Gallery Mall, Police Headquarters, and the former Metropolitan Hospital.

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Fairyland Theatre, 1319 Market, seen here in 1911.

Public demand for motion pictures increased quickly and Center City’s commercial streets were soon home to hundreds of store-front nickelodeons.  136 of these small theaters opened in Philadelphia between 1905 and 1917, most of which were only open a few years.  Seen here in a 1911 photo is the Fairyland, a nickelodeon that operated at 1319 Market Street from 1909 to 1913.  The sign above the elaborate entrance reads, “No pictures in the city compare with films shown at Fairyland – They are the newest, cleanest, and most interesting produced.  Admission 5¢.”[v]

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The Stanton, 1620 Market Street, seen here in 1935.

The advent of full-length feature films in the 1910s brought the downfall of nickelodeons, as bigger theaters were now needed that were capable of comfortably seating larger audiences for longer periods of time.  275 movie theaters were opened in Philadelphia through 1932.  The finest of the movie palaces were located in Center City, although many were built in the outlying neighborhoods.[vi]   One of the first palaces was The Stanton, erected in 1914 at 1620 Market Street to the designs of W.H. Hoffman.  Hoffman later partnered with Paul J. Henon Jr. in the Hoffman-Henon Co., one of America’s most prodigious theater designers.  They designed over 100 theaters, including the Boyd Theatre and 46 others in Philadelphia.  The 1,457 seat Stanton was originally named The Stanley, for Stanley Mastbaum of the Stanley Corporation, who by 1920 was the largest theater operator in the country.  During the era of silent pictures, the Stanton featured a full orchestra.  The theater was renamed The Milgram in 1968 and was demolished in 1980.[vii]

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The Stanley, 19th and Market, seen here in 1935.

The second theater named the Stanley opened at the southwest corner of 19th and Market in 1921.  The 2,916 seat movie palace was designed by the Hoffman-Henon Co.  The new Stanley was also host to musical offerings and had its own renowned orchestra.  While the building’s exterior and interior were designed in pure classical traditions, a tremendously exuberant illuminated sign covered much of the Market Street façade.[viii]  The most famous event at the Stanley had nothing to do with film –Al Capone was arrested here in 1929.  The Stanley was demolished in 1973 and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange opened on this site in 1982.

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The Aldine Theatre, seen here in 1928.

One of the few movie palaces that still embellishes Center City sidewalks is the Aldine Theatre, at the southeast corner of 19th and Chestnut, although it stopped operating in 1994 and is now a CVS.  Designed by William Steele & Sons, Architects, this 1,341 theatre later cycled through a series of names such as the Viking, Cinema 19, and finally Sam’s Place in 1980 when its ornate interior was divided into two separate theatres.[ix]  This theater is the subject of another PhillyHistory Blog entry, “See and Hear the World’s Greatest Entertainer,” which focuses on the nature of blackface seen so prominently on the theater’s exterior.[x]

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The Karlton Theatre, 1412 Chestnut Street, seen here in 1935.

The Karlton Theatre, 1412 Chestnut Street, was another Hoffman-Henon Co. theater that opened in 1921.  Constructed behind a c.1880 second-empire style façade, the elaborate interiors were decorated in the classical style and featured extensive use of marble, murals, tapestries, and gilding. Renamed the Midtown Theatre in 1950, the historic façade was concealed behind plastic siding and its interiors stripped.  The 1,066 seat theater was eventually twinned and in 1999 was renovated as the Prince Music Theatre.[xi]

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The Fox Theatre, 16th and Market, seen here in 1959.

Several of Philadelphia’s finest movie theaters were built within larger commercial structures.  The Fox Theatre opened in 1923 next door to the Stanton at the southwest corner of 16th and Market.   Designed by the noted New York theater architect, Thomas W. Lamb, the 2,423 seat Fox was home to both film and elaborate stage shows, featuring an in-house orchestra.[xii]   Demolished in 1980, the Fox inspired an ultimately unsuccessful preservation fight as it was recognized that the Fox was the last of the grand neoclassical movie palaces.

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The Erlanger Theatre, 21st and Market, seen here in 1938.

The Erlanger Theatre occupied the northwest corner of 21st and Market Streets from 1927 to 1978.  Built primarily for legitimate theatre, it also showed film.  The 1,890 seat Erlanger was another Hoffman-Henon theater, and featured eclectic interiors in Spanish, French, and English styles.[xiii]   The photograph below documents illegal signage.  During the 1930s, the Philadelphia Art Jury, the predecessor to the Art Commission, enforced strict standards on commercial signage which resulted in the loss of many extraordinary marquees and signs, including the 30’ tall vertical blade sign on the Boyd Theatre, which was removed around 1935.

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The Boyd Theatre, 1908 Chestnut, seen here in 1934.

The Boyd Theatre was the next major movie palace to open in Center City in 1928 and the only downtown movie palace designed in the Art-Deco style.  While eclectic styles such as Spanish and North African had been used for theaters in outer neighborhoods, the previous downtown theatres had all been built in more rigid classical styles.  The Boyd represents the acceptance of more “modern” styles.   This 1934 image captures a happenstance that reinforces the modernity of the Boyd – a horse-drawn wagon selling milk and ice cream passes by the marquee advertising that the theatre is closed for the summer for the introduction of air-conditioning.  The letters B-O-Y-D have been replaced with C-O-O-L on the corners of the marquee.  While the Boyd was designed to accommodate “talkies,” it was still equipped with a small stage and orchestra pit, needed for the presentation of silent films.

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The Mastbaum Memorial Theatre, 20th and Market, seen here
in 1929.

The last and largest of Philadelphia’s downtown movie palaces was the Mastbaum Memorial Theatre, built at 20th and Market in 1929.  This 4,700+ seat (!) theater was another Hoffman-Henon design.[xiv]    It was an outrageously expensive anachronism from the moment it opened.  The end of silent films made presenting films much simpler and the audience could more easily be transported to another place or time without need for such elaborate architecture.  After only 29 years of entertainment, this palace met the wrecking ball – one of the first of these grand theaters to go.

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The Trans-Lux Theatre, 1519 Chestnut Street, seen here in 1935.

For the most part, the era of these elaborate buildings was over even before the Great Depression began.  The economy would dry up both financing for construction and the growth of expensive forms of popular entertainment like legitimate theater, but film remained a good business as ticket prices were so low.  Smaller theaters continued to be built.  Perhaps the last dramatic theater building in Center City was the Trans-Lux Theatre, erected in 1935 at 1519 Chestnut Street. [xv]  Designed by Thomas Lamb (architect of the Fox as well), this 493 seat theater was a vibrant expression of the new through its Art-Moderne style.  The Trans-Lux survived as a theatre until 1993, then operating as Eric’s Place.  Perhaps this remarkable façade lies underneath the 1970 white and black siding of the building, now occupied by the Finish Line sporting goods store.

The economics of the motion-picture business today make it unlikely that the few surviving structures will be restored solely for film, yet these buildings retain a powerful hold on the collective imagination.  We are unwilling to let them go.  Like the damsels in distress tied to the railroad tracks in so many of the movies that played inside, their future is momentarily uncertain.  We await creative rescue plans that can return these buildings to the public.

Thanks to Howard B. Haas for reviewing this and making helpful comments.


[i] BOYD: See the Friends of the Boyd website for more information, history, and photos: Additional information on the building can be found here: and

[ii] Irvin Glazer (1922-1996) documented the history of Philadelphia theaters in two books:  Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial History (Dover Publications, 1994) and Philadelphia Theatres, A-Z: A Comprehensive, Descriptive, Record of 813 Theatres Constructed Since 1724 (Greenwood Press, 1986).  His collection of photographs, clippings, and research files is housed at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.  Most of the photographs have been scanned and are available online in a format that permits zooming.

[iii] Glazer, Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial History, p.xxii.

[iv] BIJOU:

[v] FANTASYLAND: A similar zoom-able image can also be found at

[vi] The neighborhood theatres are different in character and just as interesting, but this blog entry focuses on the theaters in Center City.

[vii] STANTON: Glazer, p.17. See also: and

[viii] STANLEY: Glazer, pp.26-27.  See also: and

[ix] ALDINE: Glazer, p.27.  See also: and


[xi] KARLTON: Glazer, pp.28-29.  See also: and

[xii] FOX: Glazer, pp.31-33.  See also: and

[xiii] ERLANGER: Glazer, pp.42-45.  See also: and

[xiv] MASTBAUM: Glazer, pp.70-78.  See also: and

[xv] TRANS-LUX: This photo shows the site just three months earlier:  See also:

Historic Sites

As Long as the Creeks and Rivers Run: Traces of the Lenni Lenape – Part II: Along the Schuylkill

By Shawn Evans, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Part I of this tour traced Lenni Lenape places along the Delaware River. The tour continues up the Schuylkill River.

One of the largest Lenape settlements was located on the eastern shore of the Schuylkill, just north of the Delaware. Numerous spellings of this area have been recorded, among them Pachsegink and Pachsegonk, meaning “in the valley.” i Now an industrial area along the riverbanks, Passyunk survives in name as one of the diagonal roads that cut through the city grid. Frequently referred to an “Indian trail,” a portion of the street east of Broad (seen here in 1946) has recently been rebranded with large cast Indian head medallions set into the sidewalk. Historical photographs of the League Island Park (now FDR Park) prior to its re-grading by the Olmsted Brothers in 1914 provide views of how this part of town may have appeared during Lenape inhabitation.

Across the river from Passyunk was Kingsessing, the Lenape name for the land between the Schuylkill River and Cobbs Creek. Kingessing is derived from Chingsessing, meaning “a place where there is a meadow.” ii A Lenape village known as Arronemink, alternatively spelled “Aroenameck,” “Arronemink,” and “Arromink,” was located at the mouth of Mill Creek, which flowed into the Schuylkill just south of the Woodlands Cemetery. A post on the Woodland Indians Forum identified a possible meaning of Arronemink as “place where the fish cease,” a possible reference to natural falls in this area.iii Coaquannock, “grove of tall pines” was a Lenape settlement north of Center City on the east bank of the Schuylkill.iv

The next village up the Schuylkill was Nittabakonk, “place of the warrior.” v Located on the east bank of the river, just south of the Wissahickon Creek, this area is now known as East Falls. There are no falls in the river in the vicinity any longer, as the 1822 construction of the Fairmount Dam substantially raised the water level in this area. This part of the river was known to the Lenape as Ganshewahanna, meaning “noisy water.” vi This 1910 photo of the City Line Bridge shows the water after they were quieted.

The Wissahickon creek retains its Lenape name. The Anglicized spelling is believed to be derived from Wisameckhan, meaning “catfish stream.” vii The Wissahickon Valley Park is among the best places in Philadelphia to see a largely unaltered natural landscape. A variety of bridges span the creek, including smaller bridges for pedestrians accessible within the park, as well as large engineering marvels like the Henry Avenue Bridge that connects opposite hillsides and communities not visible within the park. A statue of a Lenape warrior, carved in 1902 by John Massey Rhind, kneels on a cliff overlooking the Creek near Rex Avenue.viii

Perhaps the place name most associated today with the Lenape is Manayunk. This Lenape word simply means river, literally “place where we go to drink,” and does not specifically refer to the Schuylkill River or any particular place on its banks.ix As with most Lenape place names, several spellings have been utilized including Mëneyung, Meneiunk, and Manaiung. The last of these spellings is used in the correspondence between William Penn and the Lenape. Manayunk was selected as the name for this growing neighborhood in 1824.x Manayunk remains a place to drink, although no longer from the river itself.

The 1682 Treaty of Friendship was forged in Shackamaxon (see Part I) with the assumption that the rivers and creeks of Philadelphia would always run – this would of course not be the case.xi In 1737, the Lenape were tricked by William Penn’s sons into relocating to nearby river valleys and were eventually forced by the federal government to relocate to Oklahoma.xii Two federally recognized tribes of Lenape remain in Oklahoma today, the Delaware Nation (aka Western Delaware) and the Delaware Tribe of Indians (aka Eastern Delaware) with populations of 1,422 and 10,529 respectively. The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, a community of Native Americans in the Lehigh Valley is not federally recognized but is actively reviving their language and culture.xiii The exhibit, “Fulfilling the Prophecy: the Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania,” on display through 2011 at the Penn Museum presents the story of the Lenape who managed to stay behind during the forced migrations.xiv The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania is currently seeking state recognition and a new Treaty of Friendship is collecting signatures.


[i] Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington. The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992, p.28.

[ii] Mary Maples Dunn and Richard S. Dunn. “The Founding, 1681-1701.” In Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. ed. Russell F. Weigley. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1982, p.4.

[iii] “Arronimink.” Woodland Indians Forum., accessed 6/23/2010.

[iv] Cotter, p.27.

[v] Cotter, p.27.

[vi] “A History of East Falls.” Preserve Philadelphia Website., accessed 6/23/2010.

[vii] Cotter, p.29.

[viii] Friends of Wissahickon website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[ix] Cotter, p.29.

[x] “Plan Philly: Main Street Manyunk,”, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xi] See Philly H2O: The History of Philadelphia’s Watersheds., accessed 6/23/2010.

[xii] Delaware Tribe website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xiii] Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xiv] Penn Museum website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

Historic Sites

As Long as the Creeks and Rivers Run: Traces of the Lenni Lenape – Part I: Along the Delaware

By Shawn Evans, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Philadelphia’s history stretches long before the advent of photography. Our city had already passed its sesquicentennial when it was first captured in film in 1839.i The historic photos of the City Archives provide a window into the evolution of the city: here we can find beloved buildings lost to changing tastes and to the perceived needs of the automobile, as well as traces of the landscape that existed here for thousands of years prior to William Penn. Among these landscapes are remnants of the natural environment named by the Lenni Lenape who lived here before us. In many cases only the place names survive.

At 37 feet tall, William Penn, is Philadelphia’s largest citizen and visible to all. Standing at the center of an ever-changing city since 1894, he carries on a quiet conversation with the Lenni Lenape Indians, who once occupied many hamlets and campsites within the current city boundaries. Billy Penn gestures northeast towards the place now known as Penn Treaty Park, where in 1682, he met with Chief Tamanend and other indigenous leaders under a great elm tree and made the Treaty of Amity and Friendship. Famously depicted in dozens of paintings and lithographs, Penn wholeheartedly promises equal treatment, to which Chief Tamanend reportedly replied, “We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.” ii

The Treaty Elm was situated in an area then known as Shackamaxon. The original Swedish settlers and the English who followed adopted the Lenape name for this place, which is assumed to be derived from Schachamesink – “Place of Eels” or Sakimaucheen “Place where the Chiefs are Made.” iii Shackamaxon was one of the largest Lenape settlements, encompassing the current neighborhoods of Kensington, Fishtown, and Port Richmond. While Penn’s descendants neglected to honor the treaty, this place remains special to both Philadelphians and the Lenape. The Treaty Elm stood until 1810 when it was uprooted in a violent storm.iv As early as 1825, plans were made to memorialize the site. A monument was erected, but Penn Treaty Park did not open until 1893. Numerous descendants of the Treaty Elm have been planted at the site, most recently in May 2010, and a number of recent Lenape ceremonies have been held here.v

One mile up the Delaware River, known to the Lenni Lenape as Makerisk-kitton, meaning “the great tide-water river,” another Lenape place exists today only on street Aramingo Avenue takes its name from the creek that emptied into the river where Aramingo meets I-95 in Kensington. In 1850 this area was incorporated as Aramingo Borough, but its self-governance was short-lived. Aramingo and all other municipalities within Philadelphia County were consolidated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854. Aramingo Creek, also known as Gunner’s Run, was converted into a canal and eventually transformed into a covered sewer.vii Aramingo is believed to be a derivation of the Lenape word, Tumanaraming, which means “wolf walk.” viii The Aramingo Canal is seen here in 1900 shortly before it was covered.

Frankford Creek, which empties into the Delaware at the foot of the Betsy Ross Bridge, was known to the Lenape as Quessinawomink. Just south of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge was the Wissinoming Creek, another missing waterway, whose name is derived from the Lenape word, Wischanemunk meaning “Where We Are Frightened.” Although the creek is gone, the neighborhood preserves the place name.ix

North of these creeks was a Lenape settlement named Pemapaki, meaning “Lake Land.” x This settlement was likely in at the mouth of the Pennypack Creek, an Anglicized spelling of the Lenape place name. Pennypack Park was established in 1905 and retains sizable natural areas, such as depicted in this 1900 photograph of a wooden bridge at Rhawn Street. At Frankford Avenue, an historic masonry bridge crosses Pennypack Creek. Seen here during an 1893 widening, the bridge dates to 1697 and is the oldest roadway bridge in the country.xi A National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, its original construction was directed by William Penn as a key component of the King’s Highway connecting Philadelphia to Boston. This structure was crossed by both the first generations of European settlers and last generations of Lenape prior to their relocation.

The Poquessing Creek forms the northeastern boundary of Philadelphia where it meets Bucks County. Along the mouth of this creek was a Lenape hamlet known as Poquesink, meaning “place of the mice.” xii The Glen Foerd Mansion has occupied this remarkable site since about 1850. This image shows several bridges spanning the Poquessing just west of Glen Foerd.

In South Philadelphia, one other Lenape village is known to have occupied the shores of the Delaware River within the current city limits. Now known as Queen Village, this neighborhood had previously been known as Southwark, the name given by William Penn to “New Sweden,” a small community of Swedish settlers who had arrived in 1642. The Swedes established their colony where Hollander Creek emptied into the Delaware, a place occupied by Lenape. Known to them as Wequiaquenske, a likely combination of Wiquek “head of Creek” and Kuwe “pine tree,” the name means “Place of Pine Trees at the Head of a Creek.” xiii The name has been Anglicized to Wicaco and Weccacoe. The Swedish settlers retained usage of the Lenape place name, referring to one of the first public structures erected as the Wicaco Blockhouse, seen here in its reconstructed form, adjacent to the American Historical Museum in FDR Park. This building was constructed in 1669 and demolished in 1698 to make room for Old Swede’s Church. Weccacoe carries forth as the name of a beloved neighborhood park, facing these typical Queen Village houses on the 400 block of Catherine Street.

See Part II for a tracing of Lenni Lenape places up the Schuylkill River.


[i] Looney, Robert F. Old Philadelphia in Early Photographs, 1839-1914, 215 Prints from the Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1976.

[ii] Milano, Kenneth W. The History of Penn Treaty Park. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2009, p.21.

[iii] Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts, and Michael Parrington. The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992, p.28.

[iv] Penn Treaty Museum website,, accessed 6/23/2010.

[v] Elissa Lala, “Penn Treaty Elm replanted from original’s descendant.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 May 2010, accessed 6/23/2010.

[vi] Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia, for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Vol. V. Philadelphia: John C. Clark, 1854, p.127.

[vii] Philly H2O: The History of Philadelphia’s Watersheds., accessed 6/23/2010.

[viii] Cotter, p.28.

[ix] Cotter, p.29.

[x] Cotter, p.28.

[xi] Historic American Building Surveys:, accessed 6/23/2010.

[xii] Cotter, p.28

[xiii] Cotter, p.28. Many sources identify the meaning of Weccacoe as “pleasant place.” See “From Weccacoe to South Philadelphia”, accessed 6/23/2010.