Entrepreneurs George and Robert Callaghan built the Angora Mills complex in 1864, at the height of Civil War-fueled demand for army uniforms. Named after the Turkish city of Ankara (not the cat breed), it stood at the intersection of 60th Street and Baltimore Avenue (in today’s Cobbs Creek neighborhood) and sprawled over 52 acres. Angora Mills include not just a steam-powered brick textile mill, but also 54 residences for 300 workers and their families, a stable, springhouse, coal yard, and an on-site Baptist church. A Hexamer survey conducted in 1888 also indicated that Angora Mills had 4 self-acting “mules” with 4,200 spindles, 36 spinning frames 180 spindles on each, a sprinkler system and cutting edge incandescent lighting. The Angora Mills “village,”although still within the city limits of Philadelphia, was set in an idyllic landscape of farms and groves of old growth trees. There was also a private club nearby, the Sherwood Cricket Club, a rustic venue that catered to the mill’s employees during their precious leisure time.
All that changed in 1903, when Reverend Bernard MacMackin quietly took possession of Angora Mills at a sheriff’s sale. MacMackin paid $206,000.00 for the property, fronting $76,000 in cash and taking out mortgages to cover the balance. ThePhiladelphia Inquirer scratched its head at the deal: Reverend MacMackin was a prominent Baptist minister who had no real business experience, but he also happened to be an in-law of the Callaghans. When questioned about the deal, MacMackin “refused to discuss this phase of the purchase, saying it was a personal matter.” Although connected to Center City by an electric trolley line since the 1890s, the Market Street Elevated was under construction a few blocks north of Angora Mills, making Angora Mills ripe for subdivision. Within a few years of the sale, the site was cleared, sold, and developed into blocks of rowhouses. The mill’s name lives on in the “Angora Terrace” neighborhood. The site of the adjoining Sherwood Cricket Club is the modern-day Sherwood Park.
Reverend MacMackin apparently profited from the deal: at his death in 1916, he left an estate worth over $200,000 (the modern-day equivalent to almost $3 million) to his family.
“A Minister Buys Nearly All of Angora,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 5, 1903.
All our municipal governments are more or less bad. Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and the most contented.”
-Lincoln Steffens, 1903
The firehouse at intersection of Baltimore Avenue and 50th Street is a redbrick Flemish revival structure dating from the early 1900s. In the days of coal-fired kitchen ranges and unreliable electrical wiring, a modern fire station was a big draw to potential residents of Cedar Park and Spruce Hill, which by the early 1900s had become a desirable and expensive streetcar suburb. The fire engines at the station at 701 S.50th Street were horse-drawn until at least the mid-1910s, when internal combustion engines finally became powerful enough to haul heavy ladders and pumping machinery through the streets at high speed.
Although dripping in fin-de-siècle charm, the Cedar Park firehouse was the result of a no-bid, lifetime city contract that remained inviolate for 30 years and netted architect Philip H. Johnson a small fortune. Johnson owed his good luck thanks to a familial connection to one of Philadelphia’s most powerful political bosses. In 1903, when journalist Lincoln Steffens described Philadelphia as “corrupt and contented” (and the same year Johnson’s drafted the firehouse plans), the city’s 7th Ward was under the iron-fisted rule of the Republican boss Israel M. Durham. A longtime party operative who had served in the Pennsylvania State Senate and as State Insurance Commissioner, he lavished generous salaries on himself and his loyal associates. He also traveled widely to Europe and the American West, all while receiving a handsome $20,000 a year salary as State Insurance Commissioner. During his final years, he became majority owner and president of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team. Although poor health prevented Durham from watching from the stands, he kept a telephone by his hospital bed so he could manage the team and follow the games in real time.
One of Durham’s most controversial acts was the awarding of a lifetime contract to his brother-in-law Philip Johnson for City Health Department projects. No relation to the famed modernist architect of the same name, Johnson was a competent (if not particularly imaginative) architect who had previously worked at the City’s Bureau of Engineering and Surveys. After starting his own firm in 1903, thanks to the contract granted by his brother-in-law, Johnson churned out dozens of public buildings during his tenure. Among them were the City Hall Annex (now the Notary Hotel), the Philadelphia General Hospital, the Philadelphia Hospital for Mental Diseases at Byberry. and the old Philadelphia Convention Center on Civic Center Boulevard. After Durham’s demise in 1909, several Philadelphia mayors tried to get Johnson’s lifetime contract overturned. The courts consistently sided with Johnson, and as a result more than $2 million worth of projects flowed into the architect’s office until his death in 1933. Protected from competitive bids, Johnson made few efforts to hide the wealth garnered from the city coffers, belonging to the Philadelphia City Yacht Club and the Larchmont Yacht Club in the suburbs of New York City.
After closing in the 1980s, the Cedar Park firehouse became the home of a popular indoor farmer’s market. Today, the former firehouse now houses a quartet of Cedar Park businesses: Dock Street Brewery, Satellite Cafe, Firehouse Bicycles, and The Fireworks Co-Working Space.
Sandra Tatman, Johnson, Philip H. (1868-1933), Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, 2019.
Howard Gillette, Corrupt and Contented, The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.
“Israel Durham Quits: Abandons Claims to Leadership of Party Machine,” The New York Times, January 10, 1906.
“Israel Wilson Durham: Politician and Owner/President of the Philadelphia Phillies,” Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery.
“The 17‐car accident occurred about 8:20 A.M. on Conrail’s West Chester-Media line, which passes through southwest Philadelphia. The site of the accident, near 53d Street and Baltimore Avenue, is an area of depressed housing, storefront businesses and abandoned automobile chassis situated about two miles from Center City.”
-The New York Times,October 17, 1979
When finished in 1858, the Philadelphia & West Chester Railroad new line connected Center City Philadelphia with farming communities in rural Chester County. By the late 1880s, as the formerly rural West and Southwest Philadelphia grew more developed, a bridge carried Chester Avenue over the railroad tracks, and a permanent station was constructed at the 49th Street intersection. By then the Philadelphia Railroad had absorbed the small West Chester line. Clusters of substantial Queen Anne style twin houses sprung up around the 49th Street station stop, and the formerly peripatetic Belmont Cricket Club moved to a large lot a stone’s throw from the railroad tracks, a set-up mirroring the Merion Cricket Club’s on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line. Stops along the way to West Chester included the new towns of Philadelphia’s idyllic southwestern “Quaker” suburbs: Swarthmore, Rose Valley, Wallingford and Media.
In 1968, the financially troubled Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central merged into a goliath known as Penn Central. A decade later, Penn Central collapsed in the nation’s largest bankruptcy in American history, but not before it spun off its commuter operations, as well as some freight-hauling, to form a new entity called Conrail. Conrail’s operational record was spotty due to ancient PRR equipment and years of deferred maintenance. On October 1, 1979, two freight trains, one consisting of 44 cars and one of 111 cars, collided outside of Philadelphia, killing two crewmembers. Just over two weeks later, on October 16, disaster struck Conrail again, this time in West Philadelphia. The last two cars of the 7:27am commuter train from Media were not attaching properly to the rest of the train. The engineer moved all passengers forward, leaving the last two cars on the track. The next train into Philadelphia, the 7:47 from Media, picked up the two orphaned cars on its way. At 11 cars in length, the 7:47 was now quite ungainly, but the rush hour passengers probably appreciated the extra room.
Near the intersection of 53rd and Baltimore Avenue, the signal blinked “stop,” and the big 7:47 from Media came to a halt. A small, two-car train, the 7:07 from West Chester, stopped behind it. Onboard were about 1,200 people preparing for their workday. They chatted, read the paper, drank coffee, or dozed in their seats.
But there was another train coming around the bend, the 7:50 from Elwyn, whose engineer ignored the “stop” signal and plowed right into the parked West Chester train at nearly 30 miles an hour.
“Signals gave me the go‐ahead,” the engineer later claimed. Conrail would counter, “The signaling system was in proper working order.”
Pushed ahead by the force of the collision, the West Chester train then rear-ended the big 7:47 train from Media.
There was a cacophony of crunching sheet metal, shattering glass, and the shrieking of steel wheels on rails. “There was no screaming,” remembered one passenger, “There was a kind of stunned silence.” Hundreds of bloodied passengers stumbled out of the wrecked trains. No one was killed, but 400 people were hurt, some with broken bones and abdominal injuries. The city’s emergency services sprung into action, setting up a first aid center at the nearby Avery T. Harrington Public School at 53rd and Baltimore Avenue. About 80 police cars and ambulances swiftly transferred everyone in need of medical attention to nearby hospitals.
“By midday, hours after the accident,”The New York Times reported, “workmen with hand tools were tearing up gouged ties, cranes mounted on flatbed cars were hooking into crumpled stainless steel cars, and the police were barring spectators from the scene. Inside the cars where 1,200 people had been on their way to town, bloodied handkerchiefs and sections of the morning paper were strewn about.”
525 passengers were injured in the accident, and one crewmember died six days later. Equipment damage totaled nearly $2 million.
In its final report on the disaster, the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the negligence of the engineer of the oncoming train:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the engineer of train No. 1718 operating at a speed above that authorized by the block signal indication which did not allow for his stopping the train before it collided with a standing train. Contributing to the accident was the engineer’s improper operation of the train brakes and the failure of a supervisor and train crew personnel in the operating compartment of the locomotive to monitor the train’s operation adequately and to take action to insure that the train’s speed was reduced or that it was stopped when its speed exceeded that authorized for the signal block.
Five years after the collision at 53rd and Baltimore Conrail divested itself of Philadelphia’s commuter rail lines handed the remnants of the once-mighty PRR and Reading lines over to the newly created Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). Service to West Chester terminated in 1986.
Railroad Accident Report: Collision of Conrail Commuter Trains, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 16, 1979 (Report). Washington, D.C.: National Transportation Safety Board. May 12, 1980. NTSB-RAR-80-5.
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.
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.
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.
There are few interior shots available on PhillyHistory.org. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
St. Andrew’s Chapel, one of Philadelphia’s finest examples of neo-Gothic architecture, is the only quiet place on its tree-shaded block. The locked building is surrounded by the bustle of the children attending the Penn Alexander School and the Parent Infant Center. From the 1924 to 1974, this church was the centerpiece of the now-closed Philadelphia Episcopal Seminary.
Founded in 1857 by Bishop Alonzo Potter of Pennsylvania, the seminary had a strong connection with the University of Pennsylvania — a strange irony since the Church of England had violently persecuted Quakers (the Penn mascot) back in Great Britain. In the early 1920s, the estate of financier Clarence Clark came on the market. This five-acre “Chestnutwold” compound had once been one of the finest properties in West Philadelphia, boasting a brownstone Renaissance Revival mansion, and arboretum, and even a private zoo. Looking for a new home, the Philadelphia Divinity School snapped up the Clark estate, razed all the buildings (only the iron gates remain) and made plans to build an elaborate new campus. It hired an architectural firm with myriad Penn alumni connections: Zantzinger, Borie and Medary. The firm had made a name for itself as a designer of office buidings, museums, collegiate Gothic dormitories at Princeton, and suburban homes for Philadelphia’s upper class. It helped that partner Clarence Clark Zantzinger was the grandson of Clarence Clark and an heir to the E.W. Clark & Company banking fortune. Zantzinger and his partners, all Penn alumni, frequently collaborated with Paul-Philippe Cret, distinguished professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. The Zantzinger firm’s most famous alumnus was a Jewish immigrant from Estonia named Louis Kahn, a 1922 graduate of Penn’s architecture school.
The Zantzinger firm’s vision for the new Philadelphia Divinty School was ambitious: a complex of dormitories, dining halls, libraries, administrative buildings, and residences centered around the magnficient St. Andrew’s Chapel. Completed in 1924, the grandeur of St. Andrew’s Chapel reflected the booming economy of the Roaring Twenties. The interior boasted ironwork by Samuel Yellin and stained glass windows by the studios of Nicola D’Ascenzo, and a carved limestone reredos echoing the famous one at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York.
Yet the Great Depression slammed the brakes on the Philadelphia Divinity School’s grand plans. Only six of of the planned twenty-two structures were built. And unfortunately, in its badly reduced circumstances, the Episcopal Seminary could never quite match the prestige and drawing power of its counterparts in New York (General Theological Seminary) or Cambridge, Massachusetts (Episcopal Divinity School). The school limped along until 1974, when it closed its doors and the University of Pennsylvania took possession of the property.
Today, St. Andrew’s Chapel, although sealed shut, is completely intact on the inside. The public gets a peak at one of the finest sacred spaces in Philadelphia only at an occassional concert or art installation.
“At the Former Philadelphia Divinity School Site: Discovering Inspiration from the Past and Creating Spaces to Learn and Grow,” University of Pennsylvania Almanac, March 30, 2010, Volume 56, No. 27., accessed November 13, 2018.
“In an age in which the individual is merely a number to his employer, his bank, his insurance company and his government, humanizing influences are sadly needed. It is our belief that books and the libraries that make them available constitute one of the most powerful of these influences.”
As the Friends Free Library bustled with activity, Germantown Friends School became one of Philadelphia’s leading independent school. During the late 19th century, Philadelphia flourished as an industrial and financial center, and many other private schools were founded to educate the children of the burgeoning managerial class. Northwest Philadelphia’s suburban communities supported a whole ecosystem of schools, social clubs, and retail shops. Unlike its nearby competitors, Springside School and Chestnut Hill Academy, which were based on single-sex English models, GFS had been co-ed since it’s “refounding” in 1858. As an educational institution, it had more in common with the co-ed, progressive “Hicksite” Swarthmore College than the all-male “Orthodox” Haverford College.
In an era of increasing affluence and luxury, GFS strove to maintain its founding Quaker principles of simplicity and equality.
Unlike the Gothic finery and Georgian grandeur of the era’s preparatory school campuses, the architecture of Germantown Friends School was deliberately restrained, almost austere. The color palate was predominately tan, gray, and brown. There were no soaring spires or stained glass windows in the Meeting House. It grew cautiously, constructing new buildings as needed but also freely adapting nearby older structures to meet its social club on Coulter Street became a new classroom building (fragments of the original bowling alley survive in the basement) and a converted bank on Germantown Avenue housed staff offices (the steel bank vault still resides in the basement). The Main Building, originally dating from the 1860s, was expanded many times over the years. The present-day neo-classical façade, with its arched auditorium windows and Doric columns, was completed in 1925. According to Tim Wood, present day archivist at Germantown Friends School, “The previous version of the front, from 1896-97 renovations, was thought by some to be too ostentatious.” Francis Cope, of the Cope shipping family, added “They had made quite a respectable looking building of it, somewhat marred by the addition of a prominent and incongruous porch.” The school’s student publication, The Pastorian, though, called it “a grand new building.”
The Main Building’s entrance hall showcases a collection of plays and literature that once belonged to long-time teacher and administrator Irvin C. Poley, the man who brought the arts to Germantown Friends. If kept out of the school’s main library, fiction flourished in Poley’s classroom. Poley graduated from GFS in 1908, and after college returned to his alma mater to teach English. There, the Quaker instructor urged his students to dive into the classics of Western literature, especially Shakespeare. Poley helped Germantown Friends pivot toward rather than away from the arts, for, as he wrote, “the wise educator wants the arts prominent in general education not primarily for vocational use later.”
“Include in your capital of experience vicarious experience,” he urged GFS students in one speech, “what you learn from observing your parents and teachers, from friends, from first-class books, particularly fiction. Even if you ‘re the kind of person that people like to talk to intimately and if you thus know the inner life of a great many friends and acquaintances and chance contacts, you can still learn about people and about yourself from great literature, particularly from plays and poetry and essays and biography.”
Good fiction is, of course, experience minus the irrelevant,” he added, “the life of a person given unity and clarity.”
He also fostered the development of the school’s drama program. According to one yearbook, his “energetic” readings of Shakespeare’s MacbethandJulius Caesarheld students “spellbound.”
One of his students, Henry Scattergood (related to the famed cricketer Henry Scattergood) said that it was Poley who inspired him to go into teaching after graduating from Haverford College. “Some of my clearest memories of my school life come from his classroom,” Scattergood recalled of his teacher. “I recall particularly a ninth-grade class when we acted scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and from Galsworthy’sThe Silver Box,or his clever ways of putting across less glamorous subjects such as spelling. His sentence ‘Neither leisurely foreigner seized the weird height” straightened me out on the major exceptions to the ‘i before e except after c words.’ In all his teaching, Irvin Poley was always resourceful and always stretching his students. He knew and understood his students well, their weaknesses and strengths, and he continually played up the latter, so that all wanted to be their best to justify his belief in them. Even more important, he seemed every alert to seize the opportunity to relate whatever he was teaching to important issues — such as justice, fair play, decency, humility.”
Irvin C. Poley, “A Word in Parting,” June 11, 1958. Collection of Germantown Friends School.
Henry Scattergood, “From a Former Student,” undated. Collection of Germantown Friends School.
During the hot summer of July 1900, Franklin Rorke was faced with mounting bills and a failing construction business. His new mansion at 41st and Ogden, an extravagant gift from his late father, had every modern convenience, and boasted mosaics, hardwood floors, marble trim, and onyx fireplaces, as well as a fully equipped stable in the rear. Yet Rorke couldn’t afford to maintain or staff it. The $300 he had received from his late father’s estate almost certainly had run out.
Rorke’s wife Helen was terrified of the man once heralded as the scion of an “exceedingly clever” clan. “He had hallucinations of hearing and sight,” she alleged, “and thought persons were secreted about the house, and that detectives were following him in an effort to kill him.” Rorke then started making threats on his wife’s life, and drove her from the house in one of his rages. Then, Rorke turned his fury on his own mother, attacking her with a razor blade.
The Rorke mansion, built as a glittering testament to the Rorke family’s wealth, had become a 7,000 square foot house of horrors.
Helen Rorke finally had her husband committed to a new West Philadelphia home: the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital at 49th and Market Street.
A year later, the Republican politician and former Philadelphia District Attorney George S. Graham successfully petitioned the Quarter Sessions Court to release Franklin Rorke from the insane asylum. Judge Stevenson signed off on the release. According to thePhiladelphia Times, “Rorke had only been in the institution temporarily and was in his proper mind, and it would be manifestly wrong to keep him there any longer.” What Rorke’s mother and wife thought of Franklin’s release in unclear, but it may have been one last political favor by Graham for his late friend and fellow Union League member Allen B. Rorke.
In 1906, Barber, Hartman & Company listed the former Franklin Rorke mansion for sale. “This property was built and owned by the famous Philadelphia contractor,” the advertisement stated, “and no expense was spared to erect one of the handsomest properties in West Philadelphia. The premises are in a first-class condition, and will be sold at a great sacrifice.” That same year, Franklin Rorke was thrown in jail for “creat[ing] a scene with a pistol in a West Philadelphia Saloon.” He and his wife long-suffering wife Helen, who stated he had been “drinking excessively and abusing her,” were now residing in a modest dwelling at 4043 Baring Street. An unnamed family friend bailed out the miscreant former construction heir for $1,000, or about $20,000 today. This was approximately the same amount Allen Rorke had left his children seven years earlier.
Franklin Rorke died in 1915, working as a bailiff for the Philadelphia Court of Common Please, a position that was almost certainly another favor from one his father’s friends. His brother Allen B. Rorke Jr. led a much quieter life, carrying on what was left of the family business and last appearing in thePhiladelphia City Directory in 1926.
The Franklin Rorke mansion still stands at the corner of 41st and Ogden Street, a boarded-up, vandalized shell. It is a sad home of “might-have-beens.” The mansion never fulfilled its builder’s desire as a happy home for future generations of Rorkes, or as a glittering backdrop for balls and parties. The cast-iron oriel window at the center of its main facade is gone, as are the elaborate railings. The lawn is completely overgrown. Yet the mansion’s stone walls and turrets are still sturdy, and the roof is still on, a testament to the care and attention Allen B. Rorke, once lauded as “the nation’s greatest builder,” put into this gift for his son 120 years ago.
One can fault would-be patriarch Allen B. Rorke for his spendthrift ways and the dynastic ambitions he placed on his very troubled son Franklin. The once-lauded Rorkes have been long forgotten. Yet the house survives, and it could be argued that Rorke indeed lived up his reputation of doing “more rather than less than his specifications called for.”