The original Rittenhouse Hotel was opened in 1893 on the 2200 block of Chestnut Street. Its designer was the now-forgotten Angus S. Wade. Wade was a Yankee transplant, born in Montpelier, Vermont in 1868. As a young man, he moved to Philadelphia to train in the studio of the highflying Willis Hale, the favorite architect of trolley tycoon Peter A. B. Widener. Like his mentor, Wade was more of a theatrical set designer than an architectural artist. He skillfully layered ornamentation onto rather formulaic structures. His buildings, although beguiling and playful on the surface, lacked the lively silhouettes and bold massings that characterized the oeuvre of Frank Furness. As commercial structures, Angus’s buildings were meant to charm and entice, rather than impress or trascend, the passerby.
The Rittenhouse Hotel fulfilled its theatrical role admirably, serving as a fashionable lodging house during its namesake square’s Gilded Age heyday. An advertisement for the Hotel Rittenhouse in a 1904 edition of The Apothecary advertised that the establishment was only half a block from the College of Physicians, and that it “gave special attention to ladies traveling alone.” The hotel offered both so-called “European” and “American” plans. The former meant that patrons could pay $1.50 (about $43 today) and up per night for rooms only, and the latter $4.00 (about $115 today) and up per night for rooms and all meals in the dining room.
By the end of World War I, however, Victorian hostelries like the Rittenhouse Hotel were looking dated, even chintzy. A photo taken in the autumn of 1920 shows that the entrance marquee adorned with theater style lights that advertised the hotel’s night club (“The Box”) rather than the hotel’s name. The featured band at “The Box” was the “Tierney Five” ensemble, which probably played a mixture of ragtime and early hot jazz. The advertisement is oddly suggestive: a dancing girl superimposed on the profile of an old man.
“Have you dined and danced in The Box?” the advertisement queried.
Since Prohibition had gone into effect only ten months earlier, it is probable that “The Box” was also a speakeasy. If so, it probably earned more money for the owners than the hotel rooms. The sign certainly is a clue!
The dowdy “grande dame” came crashing down in the 1940s, and was replaced by Louis Magaziner’s modernist Sidney Hillman Medical Center. The current Rittenhouse Hotel arose on the site of the old Alexander Cassatt mansion in the 1980s.
“Angus S. Wade,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 24, 1932.
Robert Morris Skaler and Thomas Keels, Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square (Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), p.33.
The Evening Public Ledger, October 15, 1920, p.4.
The Apothecary, Volume 21, MCP Publications, 1909, p.27.
Reverend William Henry Furness (1802-1896), the minister of Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church, complained that Philadelphia’s architects should liberate themselves from the demure and boring “Quaker style…marble steps, and wooden shutters.” Yet exuberant ornamentation was not only anathema to Philadelphia taste, but it was also expensive, even in the Victorian era of cheap labor. Reverend Furness raised his own family in a plain but substantial “Quaker style” rowhouse at 1426 Pine Street. It was well-situated and within the bounds of the Furness family’s middle class budget.
His son Frank Furness broke the mold of Philadelphia’s sober and conservative architectural language, designing buildings in an aggressive, flamboyant style that still captures our imagination. A fine Frank Furness building, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Library and the First Unitarian Church (built for his father’s congregation), shouted “look at me” in defiance of all Quaker modesty.
However, when it came to his own house, the architect Frank Furness found himself in the same budgetary dilemma as his minister father. Although he rubbed elbows with some of Philadelphia’s richest families, he and his wife Fannie could not afford to build a showcase house for himself, of his own design. His architecture practice, although financially successful for the last quarter of the 19th century, simply did not bring in enough money for him to travel in the Rittenhouse Square set. So, he and his wife did the next best thing: purchasing a proper four story townhouse in the Washington Square neighborhood, which was still respectable but had fallen in status somewhat in since the Civil War. It was still safely between the “acceptable” boundaries of Market and Pine streets, a calling card detail to which Furness’s client base would have paid attention.
If Furness’s house at 711 Locust Street was Quaker plain on the outside, the architect made the interior a glittering showcase of his own design skill. Yet it was the “smoking room” that really caught the attention of the visitors, if they were allowed into Furness’s inner-sanctum. Or, in modern parlance, his “man cave.”
The “smoking room” at 711 Locust Street looked as if it had been plucked from a Rocky Mountain hunting cabin and dropped right in Center City Philadelphia. It was filled with Native American art and textiles, pelts, unframed prints, antlers, and guns that Furness had purchased on his frequent journeys out west. Like his fellow “proper Philadelphian” creative-type Owen Wister, he was fascinated with the ethos (and mythos) of the American West. Here, in this rustic one story addition that he built with his own hands, he would entertain his comrades from his Civil War cavalry regiment, as well as John Foster Kirk of Lippincott’s Monthly and the poet Walt Whitman.
In the early 1880s, the publisher D. Appleton & Company released Artistic Houses, a lavish book that featured interior photographs of some of the grandest homes on the United States, including several in Philadelphia. They were built by tycoons such as William Henry Vanderbilt, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Marshall Field. Yet there was only featured photograph of the inside of an architect’s home: the smoking room at 711 Locust Street. The editors of Artistic Houses wrote of this space:
What Mr. Furness has really achieved, from a chromatic point of view, can barely be surmised from our reproduction in black and white…but those who have seen the interior of this cozy little sanctum will agree that, in felicity of arrangement, both of lines and tones, it is artistic to a high degree, while its literary interest, if we must express ourselves–its absolutely unique.
Frank Furness’s good fortune–an endless flow of commissions and long evenings with bohemian friends in the “smoking room”–did not last. By the early 1900s, his vibrant, bold architecture of Furness & Evans was woefully out-of-fashion, and he fell on hard times. He moved out to Media to be near his beloved brother Horace and other extended family. He died in 1912. His Locust Street townhouse, with its famous smoking room, is now a distant memory.
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.
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.
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.”