Point Breeze

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Since the time of its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, Point Breeze has been a no-frills working class neighborhood.  It was first settled by Eastern European Jews, many of whom set up shops on Point Breeze Avenue and lived in apartments above their businesses. Italian and Irish immigrants soon followed.i Conditions were primitive: chickens in backyards were a common sight. By the 1930s, these immigrant groups were joined by African-Americans from the Deep South, who had come to Philadelphia looking for work and to escape Jim Crow.

During the nineteenth century, Philadelphia’s African-American community was centered east of Broad Street, near Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 8th and Lombard. The Great Migration, however, pushed the boundaries of the African-American settlement west of Broad Street to Point Breeze. This expansion often brought them into conflict with neighboring Irish-Americans, described by W.E.B. DuBois as the “hereditary enemy” of urban African-Americans.” ii Many of Point Breeze’s African-Americans worked for Center City hotels, the Pennsylvania Railroad, local factories, and city government.

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Until the late 1960s, Point Breeze was a relatively stable, self-sufficient neighborhood. Its residents almost never went into Center City, as they had everything they needed within a few blocks of their two story rowhouses. At night, Point Breeze Avenue (known by residents as “The Breeze”) was illuminated by scores of shop signs advertising clothing, fresh produce, appliances, ice cream, and soda. There were two five and dime stores (Woolworth’s and Kresge’s), and the Curson family operated a dress shop patronized by residents for First Communion and weddings. There were also kosher butcher shops that catered to the still-large Jewish community.iii

“It was a very busy, beautiful area,” remembered Claudia Sherrod, whose parents came to Philadelphia from Georgia during the Great Depression. “There used to be over a hundred stores on the Breeze.”

Claudia spent her childhood in a rowhouse at 21st and Kater, just south of Fitler Square. The family had no refrigerator, indoor plumbing, or hot water until the early 1950s. As a ten year old, Claudia took the lead in beautifying her block by planting the first flowerbox. “It was a diversified community, with Caucasians and African-Americans living and working together,” she said. “We had a beautiful community growing up. I could go to anyone’s house and eat a meal. As children, we never looked at culture. We knew one was white and one was black and that was it.”

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After Claudia married in 1959, she and her husband – who worked for the city — moved across Washington Avenue to Point Breeze. “It was a great place for raising our children,” Claudia said. “My husband would go to the Landreth School to play ball with the kids…I didn’t have to worry about my kids being out-of-hand. If the neighbors felt they were, they’d call me. And we don’t have enough of that today.”

On Sundays, Claudia returned to her old neighborhood to attend New Central Baptist Church at 21st and Lombard, where she had worshipped and sang in the choir since she was a child. “It was my whole life,” she said. “We lived to go to church, and we spent all Sunday there.”

Claudia and her husband raised four children and two grandchildren in Point Breeze. “My children recently told me we thought we were rich,” Claudia Sherrod concluded. “We were rich,” she replied “…with love.”

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Claudia’s friend Alice Gabbadon, who grew up at 22nd and Dickinson, also had fond memories of life in Point Breeze. “After church, we would look in the store windows and fantasize about what we could buy,” Alice remembered about her childhood. “It was safe. We were allowed to go as a group to the 1700 block of Point Breeze to buy water ice.” When she wanted to go to see a movie at the Victory or the Dixie on Point Breeze Avenue, her mother would give her 16 cents: 5 cents for a bag of pretzels, 10 cents for the movie, and a penny for the tax.

Yet Alice realized she was not welcome in certain places. One day, she went to see a film at The Breeze, another theater on Point Breeze Avenue. But when she and her friends entered the theater, the white audience began harassing them. Alice stood in back, endured the tormenting, and never came back. There was no “Whites Only” sign, but segregation at this movie theater was an unspoken rule.

And at the 26th and Morris playground, Alice and her friends would wait for the white kids to get off the swings. They would often wait for a long time, then give up and go home.

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Wharton Square, one of the few green spaces in the area, was a friendlier place for Point Breeze’s African-American community, popular with picnickers. The three story houses fronting the square were the largest in the neighborhood. During the 1950s, Wharton Square was the home of Congressman Bill Barrett, who made sure Point Breeze got its fair share of city services. “If you had a problem,” Alice remembered, “you were told to ‘Go see Bill Barrett.’”

The race riots of the 1960s — which triggered mass “white flight” –signaled the decline of Point Breeze as a self-sustaining, relatively integrated neighborhood. Many Jewish shopkeepers sold their businesses and moved elsewhere, part of a pattern that repeated itself throughout the city of Philadelphia.iv Then, like adjacent Grays Ferry, Point Breeze was hit by the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and then the crack scourge of the early 1990s. Residents went into alleys to shoot up, and often never came out alive. Houses were abandoned and fell into disrepair.

In recent years, however, groups such as South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S. and the Universal Companies built new affordable housing to replace some of Point Breeze’s dated and deteriorating housing stock, as well as help entrepreneurs start new businesses on the decimated The Breeze. The Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, founded in 1984, has helped keep neighborhood kids off the streets with its intensive music and dance programs. During the past few decades, immigrants from Korea and Southeast Asia have moved to Point Breeze, steadily taking the place of those residents who left many years ago.

Alice Gabbadon is optimistic about the future of her native Point Breeze, citing rebuilding of businesses on The Breeze and positive involvement with members of the community. “We went through some rough times,” she said recently, “but now I think we are going through some positive changes.”


[i] “A History of the Point…” The Power of the Point: A Pictorial History of Point Breeze, July 1, 1996. Collection of South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S., Inc.

[ii] W.E.B. DuBois, as quoted by Murray Dubin, South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories, and the Melrose Diner (Philadelphia: Temple University Press 1996), p.60

[iii] Nintha C. Johnson, “My Memories of Point Breeze: Businesses As I Remember Them,” The Power of the Point: A Pictorial History of Point Breeze, July 1, 1996. Collection of South Philadelphia H.O.M.E.S., Inc.

[iv] Jennifer Lee, “The Comparative Disadvantage of African-American Owned Enterprises: Ethnic Succession and Social Capital in Black Communities,” from Richardson Dilworth, ed., Social Capital in the City: Community and Civic Life in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press), 2006, p.142.

Interview of Claudia Sherrod by Steven Ujifusa, July 21, 2010.

Interview of Alice Gabbadon by Steven Ujifusa, July 28, 2010.


West Philadelphia: A Suburb in a City

When the University of Pennsylvania moved to its new campus in 1873, West Philadelphia was almost entirely rural. The University enrollment at the time was small and the student body almost entirely local. There would be no dormitories for another thirty years. Students either lived in rooming houses or commuted to campus from their parents’ homes. Each undergraduate class had fewer than 20 students. Law students spent most of their time learning on the job from partners at the prominent downtown firms, not in the classroom.

Penn’s relative calm ended in 1883, when the trustees appointed Dr. William Pepper Jr. as provost–the highest administrative position in the University. To fund professorial chairs and libraries, Pepper zealously went about asking Philadelphia’s most distinguished citizens for money. The University’s student body doubled from 1,043 to 2,680, and he also established the Wharton School of Business. So talented was Dr. Pepper at his job that the Philadelphia Times noted that “he could get donations from flinty hearted sources that were never known to give in their lives before.” i Sadly, Pepper worked himself into an early grave, retiring exhausted in 1894 and dying a few years later.ii

The physical expansion of the University from 1881 to 1900 fueled the desirability of West Philadelphia as a residential neighborhood. It was financier Clarence H. Clark who kicked up the development to the next level. Clark was one of several millionaires ensconced in family compounds just west of the new Penn campus; his block sized estate encompassed the entire 4200 block of Locust Street. His son lived down the street at 4200 Spruce. The Drexels owned several houses at the intersection of 39th and Locust, while the Potts family had a brick mansion at 3905 Spruce. Much the surrounding land remained undeveloped, described by one historian as a “crazy quilt of farms and estates, crisscrossed by free-running creeks.” iii

Seeing an opportunity to make profit from the expansion of the University, the Clarks and the Drexels commissioned prominent architects like the Hewitt brothers to design Second Empire and Queen Anne homes on lots adjacent to their estates.iv This neighborhood became known as Spruce Hill. Notable surviving examples of this housing stock are St. Mark’s Square (a small side street linking Walnut and Locust between 42nd and 43rd Streets) and an extravagant row of houses at 4206-4218 Spruce Street, complete with “fish scale” shingles and turrets. The three story rowhouses on St. Mark’s Square were popular with Penn professors.v In 1895, Clark donated a nine acre green space to the City of Philadelphia, a gesture that no doubt boosted nearby property values. Bounded by 43rd Street, 45th Street, Baltimore Avenue, and Woodland Avenue, Clark Park attracted strollers, picnickers and school children from all over the neighborhood. Its centerpiece was a life-sized bronze statue of author Charles Dickens, with a representation of Little Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop standing at the

By the 1890s, electric trolleys made the area even more attractive to commuting professionals who wanted out of congested Center City. By 1910, developers Charles Budd and George Henderson had erected a new crop of homes in a section called Cedar Park, located to the south and west of Spruce Hill.vii Cedar Park was built up more densely than comparable in-town bedroom communities like Mount Airy or Chestnut Hill. Houses on main thoroughfares were usually twins, while houses on the side streets tended to be attached. These squarish, somewhat bulky brick homes were built in a loose interpretation of the “Colonial Revival” style, although they included eclectic stylistic elements such as Spanish tiles and scalloped Flemish gables. All had front porches, as well as three-sided bay windows on the second floor. Servants’ quarters were located on the top floor, and the kitchens in the rear.

As the neighborhood expanded, large churches mushroomed at major intersections throughout Spruce Hill and Cedar Park. Most prominent was St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church, designed in 1907 by Henry Dagit. Modeled on Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia, the church boasted two bell towers and a shimmering Guastavino dome that soared above the mansard roofs and chimney tops of the surrounding houses.

The MacMurtries, who lived in a colonial revival twin at 912 S.49th Street, were typical of the prosperous families that called West Philadelphia home. Dr. MacMurtrie, who purchased the house in 1921, was an obstetrician who kept an office at home. His wife reared their five children and managed the household. The MacMurtrie home was three stories high, with a finished basement that served as a playroom for the children. A maid came by every day at 7 am to prepare breakfast. During the day, she would do the family washing and cleaning and left after the evening meal. Homes were still heated by anthracite coal, and the boys of the family had to stoke the furnaces by hand.

Even during the 1920s, cars were not part of the daily lives of well-to-do West Philadelphians. The Number 70 trolley ran right in front of the MacMurtrie house, its bell clanging at each stop. “We didn’t have any garages attached to our houses,” Dr. MacMurtrie’s daughter Ann Hill remembered. “There were no cars parked on the street. Daddy left his car in a big garage on Warrington Avenue, and used it only when he made calls. Mother either took the trolley or called a taxi cab when she went into Center City.”

The MacMurtrie children did not attend the local public or parochial schools. Each morning, Ann took the trolley to Notre Dame Academy on Rittenhouse Square. Her brother Bill attended St. Joseph’s Preparatory in North Philadelphia, an even longer commute. On Sundays, the MacMurtries always attended the 8 am Mass at St. Francis de Sales. “We always walked with Mother and Daddy unless it was raining or there was a bad snowstorm,” she remembered. “There were a lot of priests there in those days. There were five curates, and the pastor was Bishop Crane.” Ann’s brother Bill MacMurtrie sang in the choir of men and boys, which was conducted by Albert Dooner, an eminent musician who counted Belgian composer César Franck among his friends.

When school was out of session, Ann, Bill and their siblings had plenty of things to do within walking distance of 912 South 49th Street. There were two movie theaters and rows of shops on 47th Street. During the hot summer months, residents pulled red-and-white striped awnings over windows and porches to keep their homes cool. Bill and his friends played touch football on tree-shaded Warrington Avenue. A police man who drove around in a little red car (their “natural enemy”) sometimes broke up these games. The boys also played basketball at the Kingsessing Recreation Center on 51st Street. In winter, Clark Park’s drained millpond (known as “The Bowl”) was popular with sledders.

In 1944, with the war raging and their children either out of school or serving in the military, Dr. and Mrs. MacMurtrie moved out of 912 S. 49th Street and purchased a more spacious home on the Main Line. Yet the long-time neighborhood obstetrician kept an office in the house for a few more years and rented out the upper floors to a young doctor and his family. His children Ann Hill and Bill MacMurtrie still have fond memories of growing up in West Philadelphia. “It was a very safe, secure environment,” Bill remembered. “It was a suburban existence even though we lived in an urban area.”


[i] Clipping from unknown newspaper, Papers of Dr. William Pepper, Jr., Volume 7, p.1507. Collection of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, University of Pennsylvania.

[ii] E. Digby Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia (New York, New York: The Free Press, 1979), p.261.

[iii] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.50.

[iv] “West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District,” Placed on the National Register of Historic Places, February 5, 1998. Accessed June 23, 2010.

[v] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.46.

[vi] “About Clark Park,” Friends of Clark Park Accessed June 22, 2010.

[vii] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), pp.59, 62.


Interview of James Hill by Steven Ujifusa, June 23, 2010.

Interview of Bill MacMurtrie by Steven Ujifusa, June 23, 2010.

Interview of Ann Hill by Steven Ujifusa, June 22, 2010.


An Irish Village in Philadelphia: Grays Ferry

The area now known as Grays Ferry was named after George Gray, who maintained a floating bridge across the Schuylkill in the mid-18th century. He also operated a well-known pleasure garden popular with Philadelphians who, according to one guidebook, “sought a few hours’ relaxation from the cares of business; near enough to court the visits of the idler and pleasure-seeker, and abounding in facilities for rational enjoyment…”

But as the nineteenth century progressed, so did the march of industry. As the same publication lamented, “the age of utility has shorn Gray’s Gardens of its beauties, and the ‘classic stream,’ which once echoed with festivity and mirth, now re-echo to the hoarse trumpet of the locomotive.” i The once verdant banks of the Schuylkill sprouted wharfs, tanneries, and factories. Brick streets and rowhouses replaced forests and fields. By 1900, Grays Ferry was a sprawling, working class neighborhood, home to a tight-knit immigrant Irish-American community. Its unofficial boundaries were Grays Ferry Avenue and 32nd Street on the west, Moore Street on the south, and 25th Street on the east.

Nora McCarthy arrived from County Limerick, Ireland in 1909. Ten years later, she married Patrick Delargey, a wagon driver fresh from the trenches of World War I. The newly-weds purchased a rowhouse on Oakford Street and started a family. Patrick, like many men in Grays Ferry, took a job at the nearby DuPont plant. They had three daughters (Nora, Mary, Elizabeth) and one son (Jack). Tragically, Patrick Delargey died in 1932, at the nadir of the Great Depression. There was no welfare or child assistance, so Nora Delargey cleaned houses and cooked meals at a nearby convent to make ends meet. She also relied on the support of the community, which was full of friends and relations. Eventually, Nora’s family received a small stipend from the Mothers’ Assistance Program: $40 a month.

“It was a poor time but there was such a feeling of unity,” remembered her daughter Nora Schneider. “People make a big pot of soup and shared it with their neighbors. My mother got sick a few times and a neighbor would do her wash. This was a time when there were no dryers, and you had to use a wringer. Everyone knew each other’s needs.”

The Delargey house was a typical Grays Ferry rowhome–most of the neighborhood’s housing stock was constructed between 1880 and 1910. It was two bays wide, with steps leading up to the front door. The first floor consisted of a parlor, dining room, and a kitchen in the rear. A narrow staircase led to three bedrooms on the second floor. A coal-fired furnace in the kitchen heated the entire house, but not well. Boys were usually relegated to the back bedroom, which was icy in winter. Although the houses were modest in size, they were almost always well-kept. Sweeping the steps, washing the windows, and polishing the doorknobs were weekly family rituals in Grays Ferry.

Big Catholic families meant close quarters indoors, so young Nora and her friends made the streets their playground. Green spaces were few, and there were no trees shading the streets. Since money was tight, they made toys out of whatever they found. “We learned to use our minds and hands,” Schneider remembered. “We had to make our own entertainment. Kids made their own scooters and skateboards. We built snow forts in winter. We played jacks on the steps. We were proud of the things we built. It was a nice way to grow up.”

Yet dating someone from outside the neighborhood was not just taboo; it was dangerous. “If a boy wanted to take a girl out from Schuylkill,” Schneider remembered. “he’d come back from Schuylkill with a black eye and no girl.”

The years following World War II were an improvement from the bleakness of the Great Depression, but life for Grays Ferry residents was still basic. Most of the men still worked at the DuPont paint plant, which spewed waste into the river and fumes into the air. Others worked at Bond Bread, the Sun Oil storage facilities, or the slaughterhouses along the Schuylkill. After their shifts, men would gather for drinks at Tom’s Café, cheek-by-jowl with the Grays Ferry Avenue railroad tracks. Few families owned cars, relying instead on buses and trolleys to visit relatives in other parts of the city. House cleaning was still a weekly ritual. Step railings had holders where the milkman left a bottle each day. Some houses were still heated by coal and had cast-iron boot scrapers outside. A home telephone was still considered a luxury until the late 1940s. Because there were few public parks, kids still played on the streets, and fire hydrants gushed freely during the sweltering summer months. Toys were still mostly cobbled together from found objects. And although families looked out for each other, bullies and hooligans were constant menaces to Grays Ferry youth.

One place where the residents of Grays Ferry sought solace was St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church at 29th and Dickinson. The massive Romanesque structure was constructed around 1900, its foundations dug and walls lofted by the young men of the community. Its polychrome nave, resplendent with marble and stained glass, was a beautiful oasis in the heart of the stark, tree-less neighborhood.

Nora Schneider’s nephews Kenneth J. Powell Jr. and Thomas Curley attended St. Gabriel’s both for church and parochial school. For young Ken Powell, church was where he picked up his lifelong love of singing. “I sang in the church choir which required about two hours of rehearsal a week and two hours on Sunday,” he remembered. Yet he was pressured by his mother and the St. Gabriel’s nuns to be an altar boy, which meant dropping choir. “I resisted because I loved to sing. I finally succumbed and became an altar boy when a nun convinced me that smart boys should serve God at the altar.”

As in Ireland, church festivals overflowed into the streets. “We went to church every day in October –the month of the Holy Rosary—and every day in May –the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary,” Powell continued. The climax of the May festivities was a neighborhood procession, “reigned over by the May Queen, usually one of the most pious eighth grade girls.” Church was a strictly formal affair, and social life in Grays Ferry revolved around the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Even for families on a tight budget, white gloves and polished shoes were de rigeur at Mass.

“Any holiday was a big deal,” remembered Tom Curley, whose mother Elizabeth had been May Queen in her home parish of St. Anthony’s. “You bought new clothes and planned big family celebrations and meals. You didn’t eat meat on Friday and every Saturday you had to go to Confession.”

Churches in Grays Ferry were also rigidly segregated by ethnicity. St. Gabriel’s was strictly Irish. St. Aloysius was German. King of Peace was Italian. Few Irish boys dared go to Confession at King of Peace. Powell and his brother once did, and the parish priest told them to leave and never come back. Interactions between boys and girls were strictly controlled. Teen pregnancies were unthinkable. If they did occur, the girls were packed off to a convent for the duration of their “shameful pregnancies.”

By the early 1970s, racial unrest and a heroin scourge shook Grays Ferry to its foundations. As a result, many third and fourth generation residents who could afford to move out did so. “I had a great time growing up there,” recalled Tom Curley, now an artist and gallery director residing in Upper Darby. “The kind of upbringing I received sustains me now.” Ken Powell, now a municipal court judge living in Chestnut Hill, agreed with his cousin. “It was a neighborhood of great joy, but also of great anxiety,” he said. “I have a quick wit, necessary to survive cut-up fights…You always knew where you were and constantly looked over your shoulder…I have achieved a lot but am still unabashedly a Grays Ferry boy.”

Their 87 year old aunt Nora Schneider now lives in the Northeast. She still fondly remembers her immigrant mother’s reaction when she heard people singing nostalgically about Ireland: “I never want to go back!”

For a musical portrait of Gray’s Ferry, listen to “Tom’s Café” by neighborhood native James Curley (Tom Curley’s brother):


[i] Charles P. Dare, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore railroad guide (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fitzgibbon and Van Ness, c.1856), p.118-119.

Primary Sources:

Interview with Thomas Curley, June 8, 2010.

Interview with Kenneth Powell Jr., June 10, 2010.

Kenneth Powell Jr. to Steven Ujifusa, November 13, 2008.

Interview with Nora Schneider, June 9, 2010.


The Lost World of North Broad Street

Mention North Broad Street today, and the image that comes to mind is one of desolation and decay. But in the late nineteenth century, this thoroughfare was a boulevard for the Gilded Age industrial rich. Rittenhouse Square might have been Philadelphia’s most prestigious residential address, but North Broad Street was arguably the most colorful and fanciful. There was a Frank Furness-designed temple for Congregation Rodeph Shalom, a Willis Hale-designed baroque castle for Peter Widener, and the world’s largest opera house designed by William H. McElfatrick. These large structures, to borrow a phrase from architectural historian Robert Morris Skaler, were “great exclamation points” on the brownstone and brick streetscape.i Most of these structures proved to be as ephemeral as they were exuberant.

Because this new neighborhood was north of the Market Street railroad viaduct, the city’s old elite, who clustered around Rittenhouse Square, deemed it declassé. Yet North Broad Street was convenient for rich industrialists for two reasons. First, many of their factories and mills were located in adjacent industrial areas; a North Broad Street residence gave its entrepreneurial owner easy access to his thriving enterprises. Second, the area’s main developer was streetcar magnate Peter Arrell Brown Widener, a brilliant, self-made former butcher who was the kingpin of Philadelphia’s nineteenth century industrial and real estate boom. Widener’s massive Germanic mansion at 1200 North Broad—at the center of his city land holdings–was as much a real estate advertisement as a monument to his own taste.

For aggressive, driven men like Widener, the “Workshop of the World” offered endless ways to make a fortune. The city was a Victorian Silicon Valley, a laboratory for entrepreneurship and technology. Widener himself diversified his holdings into shipping, manufacturing, gas lines, and real estate. By 1900, he was the richest man in Philadelphia, worth over $100 million. Many of those who bought homes near the Widener mansion were also poor boys who had struck it rich—such as the swashbuckling promoter William Warren Gibbs, a one-time business partner of Widener’s who lived at 1216 North Broad. Gibbs was said to sit on more boards of directors than any other man in America. The area was also popular with German Jews who, despite their wealth and culture, were shunned by the Philadelphia establishment. The social discrimination against Jew and gentile denizens of North Broad Street ran deep and lasted long after their descendants had decamped to the suburbs. As one social chronicler observed, it took “families such as the Wideners several generations and removals to live down the fact that they had not merely had a house but a mansion on North Broad Street. The bigger the house, the more flagrant the offense.” ii

As a response to these snubs, one-time farm boys from New Jersey and Jewish immigrants from Frankfurt formed their own clubs and institutions. North Broad Street was analogous to Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which was developed at exactly the same time. For Philadelphia’s nouveaux riches, a brick Rittenhouse Square rowhouse might have been the more “proper” and “traditional” option, but a freestanding, ornate mansion on North Broad was the more “fun” and “modern” one.

One modern residential concept pioneered on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was the so-called apartment hotel. One of the first of its kind was the Dakota Apartments on New York’s Central Park West, completed in 1885 and a huge financial success. These buildings were luxury apartment buildings with the amenities and service of a grand hotel. Suites of rooms often came fully furnished and usually included servants quarters. Well-to-do families or unmarried people who did not want the burden of a townhouse found this to be a convenient arrangement. In addition, the hotel’s ample ballrooms could accommodate bigger parties than most private city homes.

Inspired by the success of the Dakota, Philadelphia developers built apartment hotels of their own. The Lorraine (at Fairmount Avenue) and the Majestic (at Girard Avenue) were two such structures that graced North Broad Street. The Lorraine, designed by Willis Hale and finished in 1894, was the more architecturally cohesive of the two. Built of yellow Pompeian brick, the Lorraine soared ten stories above the neighborhood — the first high-rise residential structure in Philadelphia. Many of the suites boasted fireplaces. The ground floor contained a columned lobby and twin lounges. Perched on the tenth floor were two barrel vaulted ballrooms, whose high arched windows provided spectacular views of the city.

Further up North Broad Street, the architects of the Majestic cleverly incorporated the old William Lukens Elkins mansion into their establishment. The original brownstone house—which boasted a pillared facade similar to the Union League’s–contained the main public rooms, while high rise towers on the south and east sides of the lot housed the guest rooms.iii

Sadly, the Majestic was pulled down (old Elkins mansion and all) in 1971, but not before its façade had been mutilated by storefronts. In 1948, Father Divine, spiritual leader of the Peace Mission, purchased the Lorraine for the bargain basement price of $485,000. After adding his name and a red neon sign to the building, he transformed it into the first racially-integrated hotel in the United States. iv Abandoned since 2003, it survives, but the Divine Lorraine is a soot-smeared, gutted ghost of its former self.

Along with hotels, private clubs were key fixtures of North Broad Street social life. Since many North Broad Street residents were excluded from older establishments, they set up their own clubs that were just as grand as their Center City counterparts. v One such establishment was the Columbia Club, a turreted Queen Anne structure built in 1889 at 1600 North Broad Street. A massive flying eagle crowned its balconied façade. The most imposing of the North Broad Street clubs was the Mercantile Club, once located at the intersection of North Broad and Jefferson Streets. The membership consisted primarily of German Jewish families such as the Gimbels and the Snellenburgs (owners of big Center City department stores), as well as prominent attorneys and professionals. The luxurious facility boasted public spaces such as a Turkish smoking room. vi Oddly enough, the Mercantile Club was reluctant to admit Jews of non-German ancestry until the 1920s. Albert Greenfield, an immigrant from the Ukraine and the largest real estate operator in the city, was nearly blackballed. vii

The exuberant Gilded Age grandeur (or swagger) of North Broad Street proved all too fleeting. Today, almost all of North Broad Street’s social and residential gems have fallen to the wrecker’s ball. A few remnants of past glory – a score of crumbling rowhouses, a rotting old hotel, and a few heavily altered mansions – remind passersby of a time when North Broad Street was the street of dreams of Philadelphia’s Gilded Age.


[i] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.53.

[ii] Nathaniel Burt, The Perennial Philadelphian: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1963, p.529

[iii] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.90-91.

[iv] Mike Newall, “Left Behind: A Rare Look inside North Broad’s Divine Lorraine, a hotel with a heavenly past on the cusp of a (commercial) resurrection,” The Philadelphia City Paper, January 13-19, 2005. Accessed June 1, 2010.

[v] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: Philadelphia’s Broad Street, South and North (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2003, p.104.

[vi] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: Philadelphia’s Broad Street, South and North (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2003, p.98.

[vii] Nathaniel Burt, The Perennial Philadelphian: The Anatomy of an American Aristocracy (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press), 1963, p.571.


After the Fair: The Development of Parkside

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After the 1876 Centennial Exposition closed, all but two of the fair’s buildings, as well as the surrounding temporary hotels on Elm Avenue, were torn down. Even the Main Exhibition Building – its 21.5 acres of floor space made it the largest building in the world — wasn’t spared from the wreckers.i Only Memorial Hall, a massive granite edifice capped by a glass-and-cast-iron dome, remained as a visible reminder of the exposition that attracted over 10 million visitors and showcased industrial Philadelphia to the world.


As part of Fairmount Park, the now-cleared fairground was protected in perpetuity as green space. The area around it remained largely undeveloped. Most of West Philadelphia was dotted Inflatable Football Soccer Dart with forests, shantytowns, farms, and summer villas. One big institution west of the Schuylkill was the University of Pennsylvania, which had pulled up stakes from Center City and moved to its new campus in 1873. The Philadelphia Zoo opened its doors on West Girard Avenue a year later. Would the area around the Centennial fairground return to its previous pastoral state?

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The answer was decidedly no. From 1870 to 1890, the city’s population nearly doubled from 674,000 to just over 1 million. Center City was congested and open space was at a premium. Industry befouled the air with coal smoke and other noxious fumes. For those who could afford it, a new West Philadelphia neighborhood fronting a verdant park – with its tree-shaded promenades and carriage trails — could be an attractive alternative to Rittenhouse Square or Fairmount.

The problem was access. After the demolition of the Centennial depot, the Pennsylvania Railroad did not provide a commuter service to the area as it did to the Main Line and Chestnut Hill. Finally, in 1895, following the growth of Powelton and Mantua to the south, a new trolley line connected the former Centennial fairgrounds with the rest of the city. Around the same time, Memorial Hall became the new home for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, packed with treasures from William Wilstach’s private collection.

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The area now seemed ripe for residential development. Frederick Poth and Joseph Schmidt, two enterprising German-American brewers, envisioned a modern, upper-class district of large houses and spacious apartment buildings.ii With the Zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art as nearby cultural attractions, perhaps their development could be Philadelphia’s answer to New York’s Upper Fifth Avenue?

The new development would be called Parkside, which also became the new name for Elm Avenue. The exuberance of the Centennial Exposition would be reflected in its residential architecture. The developers commissioned architects such as H.E. Flower, Angus Wade, John C. Worthington, and Willis Hale to design eclectic homes for prosperous professionals and businessmen. Flemish gables, copper bay windows, tiled dormers, and terra-cotta cornices sprouted from houses built of orange Pompeian brick. Spindly, conical towers topped the Queen Anne-style Lansdowne Apartments.iii One critic described Hale and his colleagues as providing a “stylistically pragmatic architecture expressive of a self-confident individualism and optimistic commercial expansion.” Others were not so kind. “Every precaution has been taken, and with success, to insure that the building shall lack unity, shall lack harmony, shall lack repose and shall be a restless jumble,” complained one critic of Hale’s work.iv

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No matter. Parkside’s big, superbly-crafted houses were a hit among newly-affluent Philadelphians, many of German origin. During Parkside’s glory days, weekend coaching enthusiasts flocked to the carriage trails. To the pedestrians, this parade presented a magnificent spectacle of rippling horseflesh, gleaming brass work, parasols and top hats. Parkside gained a place in art history when Eakins set his famous painting “The Fairman Rogers Four-in-Hand” on Lansdowne Drive, just north of Memorial Hall. One of Eakins’ artistic goals was to accurately depict a horse’s real gait as it had been recently discovered by photographer Eadward Muybridge.v

In 1912, workers completed the Richard Smith Civil War Memorial, a triumphal gateway flanked by two columns and adorned with bronze statues of Generals Meade, McClellan, and Hancock. Sunday strollers discovered that if they sat on benches on one side of the memorial, they could hear conversations from people on the other side. These seats became known as the “Whispering Benches.”

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However, Parkside’s splendor was fleeting. Despite the trolley connection and bridges spanning the Pennsylvania railroad tracks, Parkside still remained relatively isolated from the rest of the city. Commuting to the city’s central business district was still a headache, and many of the original residents moved either to more convenient Philadelphia neighborhoods or to the suburbs. By World War I, the area’s demographics shifted from wealthy German-American to middle-class Eastern European Jewish. For most, it was a big step up from the tiny row houses of South Philadelphia. Parkside’s first synagogue opened on the 3900 block of Girard Avenue in In 1929, the Philadelphia Museum of Art moved into its new home in Fairmount, depriving Parkside of a major cultural attraction. Memorial Hall was converted into a community gymnasium, then a police station. Not surprisingly, the underutilized structure suffered from deferred maintenance. The Great Depression dealt a major blow to the neighborhood, and most the big houses fronting Parkside Avenue were cut up into apartments.


Following World War II, the Great Migration coupled with “white flight” transformed Parkside into a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Landlords found the big houses difficult to maintain as multi-family residences, and either abandoned or neglected them. The old Girard Avenue commercial corridor also suffered from divestment. In recent years, efforts have been made to revitalize Parkside. The neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and community groups have renovated many of the mansions along Parkside Avenue into affordable apartments. Quicker access to the neighborhood from other parts of the city came in 2005 with the restoration of Girard Avenue trolley service. In 2009, the Please Touch Museum moved into a restored Memorial Hall. The neighborhood also boasts the Philadelphia Stars Negro Baseball League baseball diamond and monument. This May, the Philadelphia Historic Commission will designate East Parkside a local historic district, granting its structures stronger protection against demolition and alteration. Today, Parkside can once again proudly boast of being Philadelphia’s “Centennial District.”


[i] Dorothy Gondos Beer, “The Centennial City, 1865-1876,” from Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (New York, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1982), p.462.

[ii] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.117.

[iii] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.121.

[iv] James Foss and Montgomery Schuyler, as quoted in Willis Hale, Architect: 1848 – 1907,

[v] Gordon Hendricks, “A May Morning in the Park,” The Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol.60, no.285 (Spring 1965), p.48.

[vi] Robert Morris Skaler, Images of America: West Philadelphia – University City to 52nd Street (Charleston, South Carolina: The Arcadia Press, 2002), p.117.


The Callowhill Neighborhood

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Located north of Center City, the Callowhill neighborhood is bordered roughly by the Vine Street Expressway to the south, Spring Garden Street to the north, 8th Street to the east, and Broad Street to the west. The neighborhood takes its name from Callowhill Street, which runs east-west through the center of the neighborhood. Originally designated by William Penn as New Street, Callowhill was later renamed to honor Hannah Callowhill, Penn’s second wife.

Much of Callowhill was farmland until the 1840s. When the gigantic Baldwin Locomotive Company built its plant near Buttonwood Street west of Broad Street in the 1830s, men and families seeking employment began to settle in the neighborhood. Boarding houses and restaurants provided rooms and meals for single men who sought work in the coal yards, factories, and Locomotive Company, and families found housing in the many row houses. Additional factories, workshops, and machine shops moved to the area, and by the late 1800s, Callowhill served as both a residential and industrial neighborhood where workers could live near their workplaces. The 1895 Atlas of Philadelphia created by George and Walter Bromley shows small homes and residences as well as a number of businesses including the Hoopes & Townsend Nut and Bolt Works, the Knickerbocker Ice Company, a creamery, a brewery, a carriage factory, and an iron foundry.

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In 1897, the landscape of the Callowhill neighborhood changed dramatically with construction along the City Branch line of the Reading Railroad. With the creation of a new passenger station at 12th and Market, Reading Railroad was required to remove its tracks from street level. The railroad decided to place the tracks, which ran just north of Callowhill Street from 20th Street to 13th Street, below street grade level in an open subway. Lowering the tracks required the excavation of tons of earth, the construction of temporary bridges, and the rerouting of sewer lines. Despite the immensity of the project, work was completed by 1900 and the new railroad lines provided manufacturers and businesses in Callowhill with improved access to transportation routes. The Reading Railroad also contributed another major feature to Callowhill in the form of the Reading Viaduct, a rail line that ran from Reading Terminal at 12th and Market all the way to Reading, Pennsylvania and was in use until 1984. Although portions of the line were destroyed for the construction of Septa lines and the Vine Street Expressway, two branches of the Viaduct still run through Callowhill and neighboring Chinatown.

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Both the 1942 and 1962 Philadelphia Land Use Maps depict the same mixture of residential and industrial space. In 1942, buildings and yards belonging to the Reading Company dominated the space along Callowhill Road while the blocks between Noble and Spring Garden Streets contained more homes and small businesses. Twenty years later, the 1962 map shows that some older businesses have disappeared while newer companies have moved to the neighborhood. A few buildings remain the same. In both 1895 and 1962, Esslinger’s Brewery sits at the northeast intersection of 10th and Callowhill Streets and the United States Armory remains at the southeast intersection of Broad and Callowhill.

Beginning in the 1960s, the population of Callowhill declined as residents and businesses moved to the suburbs or other parts of Philadelphia. In the 1980s, the construction of the Vine Street Expressway and the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the Chinatown neighborhood just south of Callowhill caused further changes as homes and businesses that were previously cited in Chinatown became part of the Callowhill neighborhood. For this reason, Callowhill is sometimes also referred to as Chinatown North. The connection between the two neighborhoods has led to much discussion over the past decades as various individuals and organizations attempt to encourage urban growth and renewal while still meeting the needs of members of several communities.

Construction in the neighborhood began to increase again in the late 1990s and 2000s as developers renovated former factories and warehouses into new loft-style housing. In 2000, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association formed to assist with neighborhood development through community watches, clean-ups, and other activities.


[1] Alotta, Robert I. Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer: The Stories Behind Philadelphia Street Names. Chicago: Bonus Books Inc., 1990.

[2] Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1895. George W. & Walter S. Bromley, Civil Engineers.

[3] Callowhill Neighborhood Association.

[4] Hoess, Ron. “The Reading Railroad’s Turn of the Century Big Dig, Part One.” Blog. May 7, 2009.

[5] Hoess, Ron. “The Reading Railroad’s Turn of the Century Big Dig, Part Two.” Blog. June 10, 2009.

[6] Miller, Fredric M., Morris J. Vogel, Allen F. Davis. Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

[7] Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1942. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

[8] Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1962. Plans & Registry Division, Bureau of Engineering Surveys & Zoning, Department of Public Works, Federal Works Progress Administration for Pennsylvania.

[9] Sloe, Phoebee. “Lemon Ridge: A Tree Story.” Callowhill News Fall/Winter 2006, Vol. 2, Quarter 4.

Neighborhoods Public Services

Immigrant Jewish Philadelphia: School Days

Going through photographs on, I was struck by the number of photos showing Philadelphia public grade schools from years ago, most now torn down although some still remain. These photographs show the construction of new schools during the period of heavy immigration into the country at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries as well as the inside of classrooms, the first day of school, schoolyards, formally posed photographs of classes and informal scenes of children playing in the schoolyards. In The Immigrant Jew in America, edited by Edmund J. James, Ph. D., LL.D., with the collaboration of Charles S. Bernheimer from Philadelphia, and published by New York, B. F. Buck & Company in 1907, I found on page 202 a record of schools located in the Russian Jewish areas of South Philadelphia and the population of Jewish children for each school given as both a number and as a percentage of the total number of students. The area covered is from Locust Street on the north, Moore Street on the south, the Delaware River on the east and 19th Street on the west—the district composing the greater portion of the Russian Jewish community of the city in 1905.

Generally, the greatest percentage of Jewish children is in the schools located immediately surrounding the 5th Street and South Street areas. Other large percentages of Jewish students are in schools north of Washington Avenue, east of 8th Street, south of Locust Street and west of 2nd Street, although there are several exceptions such as the Fletcher School near Front Street that had a Jewish population of 79 per cent. There are only a few schools west of Broad Street, and the largest percentage of Jewish students in these “western” schools was 18 per cent. The schools with the highest percentage of Jews were those in the Jewish quarter surrounding the eastern end of South Street. The listing on page 202 described the total and percentage distribution of Jewish children in 39 kindergarten and grade schools in the area in 1905. Some of the schools with the largest Jewish percentage of children are presented below in chart form. I have also included a few other schools to demonstrate that the farther you went from 5th and South Streets the fewer number of Jewish children were enrolled in these schools. For a more complete listing of the schools, see The Immigrant Jew in America.


School Location Number of Students Number of Jewish Students Percentage of Students who were Jewish
Horace Binney Spruce below 6th 935 700 75
George M. Wharton 3rd below Pine 1345 1210 90
Wm. M. Meredith   5th & Fitzwater 1011 950 95
James Campbell  8th & Fitzwater 1560 782 50
Fagen 12th & Fitzwater 585 285 49
Mt. Vernon Catharine above 3rd 1200 1070 89
Fletcher Christian above Front 958 755 79
Geo. W. Nebinger 6th & Carpenter  1158 671 58
Wharton 5th below Wash’ton 1885 1411 74
John Stockdale 13th below Wash’ton 258 17 6
Washington Carpenter above 9th 1338 30 2

From the above figures, it can be determined that the school populations were determined by the neighborhood patterns of ethnic growth during the immigrant years. If we had the above statistics for earlier and later years, it would be dramatic in demonstrating just how quickly this south Philadelphia neighborhood changed from one ethnic group to the next. The above figures demonstrate how many grade schools there were years ago and how close they were to one another. Determining school boundaries is beyond the scope of this little blog, but I am sure that there are old school records held by the School Board of the City of Philadelphia which would describe, by streets and perhaps house numbers, the boundaries for each school.


The photographs on, especially those of the Mt. Vernon School, give you a good picture of what school life was like in the year 1909, the year that many of the photos were taken of the Mt. Vernon School, the schoolyard and what appears to be the first day of school. Children still went to school barefoot and the girls were dressed in the finest that the immigrant families could afford. Perhaps you will not find a photographs of your own grandparents or great grandparents among the treasures being displayed on the web site, but you can learn something about how they were educated, where they were educated and how they grew up to become American citizens.

When the immigrants came to Philadelphia in the 1880s and 1890s, many families—especially those where an immigrant father died young—required the help of younger children to run a business and make a living. Children left school after 4th grade to help out. Why after 4th grade is not clear, but anecdotal stories note children dropping out of school after the 4th grade. In the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s, economic conditions improved. According to The Immigrant Jew, during this period there was “a steady growth in attendance in the upper grades, the high schools and the professional institutions” among the Russian Jewish immigrants. It was during this time that the colleges, especially Temple College (now University) and the University of Pennsylvania enrolled a remarkably large number of Russian Jewish students. 


Ironically, many of the students who enrolled at Penn during this time got there first real taste of knowledge at the Hebrew Literature Society, 312 Catharine Street, directly across the street from the Mt. Vernon School. Children of the immigrants clamored for more learning and a group of the leaders of the Hebrew Literature Society contacted Penn. Penn agreed to send professors to the Society’s meetings on Sundays afternoons to instruct the youngsters on subjects that were either not taught in the local high schools, like bacteriology, astronomy, etc., or that augmented and advanced studies taught at schools such as Central High School. In the year 1905, Penn furnished over a dozen professors as part of this program to help educate the children of the immigrants.

The article on the Philadelphia schools in The Immigrant Jew contains the following paragraph written in 1905: “Probably no single agency has a more far-reaching educational influence, especially in molding ideas in accordance with standards of our country and our time, than the public school. It gives to the son of the immigrant the same advantages as to the son of the native born, and in many instances the transformation to similarity with the latter is swift and complete.” Although daughters would not have all the same educational opportunities for two more generations, daughters did attend Mt. Vernon School, the other schools in the area and were openly welcomed by the Hebrew Literature Society at their Sunday afternoon sessions. 

James, Edmund J. ed. The Immigrant Jew in America. New York: B. F. Buck & Company, 1907.


The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia

Years ago, cities and towns in Europe had Jewish quarters. Most were finitely defined. When the east European Jewish immigrants began coming to the United States en masse, Jewish quarters sprung up in cities along the eastern seaboard. Some were loosely defined, others more precisely. In the early years of Jewish mass immigration, a fairly sizeable Jewish quarter was established in a well-defined area of old Philadelphia, today known as Society Hill and Queen Village. In The Presbyterian, a weekly journal published in Philadelphia in 1889 for the Presbyterian community, the editor wrote: “In Philadelphia we are likely to have a Jewish section, where emigrants from Eastern Europe will congregate. From Fifth Street to the Delaware River and south of Lombard Street these foreign Jews are crowding in, and being very poor, the Hebrew Charities are drawn upon heavily.”1 The Jewish press saw a more confined and a smaller quarter, extending from Spruce Street in the north to Christian Street in the South and from 3rd Street to 6th Street east to west. Within this narrow rectangle, bearded Yiddish-speaking men and their large families settled. This was at a time when sweatshops were moving south from Kensington to Northern Liberties and then south of Market Street to Bank and Strawberry Streets. At this time, German-Jewish wholesale clothiers, like Snellenberg’s, had their businesses on N. 3rd Street between Market and Arch streets. Many of these buildings stand today.2

When immigrant steamers from Liverpool would arrive, trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad backed down onto the piers of the American Line to whisk away immigrants on their journeys to Chicago and places in the West. However, a sizeable number of Russian-Jewish immigrants stayed in Philadelphia and settled in the Jewish quarter. Many concentrated around the eastern end of South Street for three primary reasons: the rent was cheap, housing was near the sweatshops and the neighborhood was near the Emigrant Depot at the foot of Washington Avenue and the Delaware River. Prior to 1900, hardly any Jews lived south of Washington Avenue. The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia was hemmed in by the Poles and the Irish to the east, by African Americans to the west and Italians to the southwest and, to the south, by the Irish. Crossing well defined boundaries was dangerous for the immigrants. Within this narrowly defined area, a new life sprang up. Curbside and pushcart markets were established; teams of horses flying over cobblestone streets made daily runs to the Dock Street wholesale market. Seen on the pavement of the new S. 4th Street pavement market were pickle barrels and union enforcers, dreamers and paupers, curbside bookies and curbside elections, saloons, pool halls and feed stores—and in the middle of all this excitement were the synagogues, dozens of them.

Central to the new immigrant neighborhood was South Street, called “the great Street for Polish Jews and huckstering of every variety.” Some writers called it the Russian quarter because so many of the newcomers were from the Imperial Russian Empire.3 In 1887, the Public Ledger wrote: “On South Street many “neat” stores have been built and indications point to the further improvement of that old down-town avenue of retail trade.” Dock Street, the wholesale food market of its day, “is not a handsome street; it is old, full of crude commercial bustle in the hours of the day, and after night fall or in the early hours of the night until the nocturnal preparations for the next day begin, it is almost wholly deserted.”4 The first Yiddish theatre was in the center of the quarter, located at the corner of 5th & Gaskill Streets. It was here that the greatest actors of the Yiddish theatre performed, Jacob Adler and Boris Thomashevsky.5 And it was here, in the late 1880s on the little stage lit by candle light, that real horses were used in the tragedies and comedies of that era. In the 1890s, the S. 4th Street vegetable and meat market was started on the sidewalks; it eventually grew into the fabled S. 4th Street pushcart market, still remembered till this day.

Most of the immigrants worked in the nearby sweatshops or in the markets. Markets were located in the shambles along S. 2nd Street, the Washington Market along Bainbridge Street from 3rd to 5th Streets and in the 4th Street pushcart market. Sweatshops in the quarter numbered over one hundred. On the 300 block of Lombard Street alone there were five sweatshops. In 1895, men in these shops were paid $6.00 per week for working 58 hours and women, for the same work and hours, were paid $3.00 a week and sometimes as little as $1.80.

After 1900, Jews moved south across Washington Avenue and within just a few years they lived in great numbers south of Washington Avenue and east of Broad Street. Many Jews in the clothing trade prospered during the 1920s and moved to West Philadelphia and Strawberry Mansion. After Congress cut off immigration from Eastern Europe in 1924, the old Jewish quarter began to die out. Although its demise was slowed, first by the Depression and then by the effects of World War II, outward movement from the quarter accelerated after the war ended. Today, there are four synagogues remaining from the original Jewish quarter. Two buildings built as synagogues—B’nai Abraham, 527 Lombard Street (built in 1910), and B’nai Rueben, 6th & Kater Streets (built in 1905 but used for commercial purposes since 1956)—survive. Today, the twin religious houses of Mother Bethel Church (built in 1889) and Congregation B’nai Abraham stand proudly together at the corner of 6th & Lombard streets—and have stood together since 1910.


1 The Presbyterian, Vol. LIX, No. 9, March 2, 1889 (Presbyterian Historical Society).

2 For a listing of the wholesale clothiers and sweatshops on Bank and Strawberry Streets, see Harry D. Boonin, The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia (JWT of Philadelphia, Inc., 1999), Appendix B.

3 The Life of Michael Valentine Ball (1868-1945), Transcribed and Researched by Edward L. Ball (Warren, PA, June 2003), p. 167. (Privately printed).

4 Rudoph J. Walther, Happenings in Ye Olde Philadelphia (Walther Printing House, Philadelphia, 1925), p. 176, and Dock Street from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 27, 1919, by Penn (William Perrine).

5 David B. Tierkel, History of the Yiddish Theatre in Philadelphia, unpublished Yiddish typescript, 1934, Yiddisher Visnshaftlikher Institue, YIVO, New York.


    Rittenhouse Square

    Originally named Southwest Square and later renamed after David Rittenhouse, a famous Philadelphian astronomer, Rittenhouse Square is one of five original open-space parks planned by William Penn. Although it is now one of the most fashionable public spaces in Philadelphia, the park was not always a popular gathering place for the city’s residents. In the eighteenth century the park provided pasturage for local livestock and by the late 1700s brickyards surrounded the square. Not until the 1880s, when the city’s elite began to move into the area, did the park begin to take on its modern elegance.

    The park’s current beauty is not necessarily a product of city government’s commitment to public gathering places. Since the early nineteenth century local residents have played an important role in the park’s beautification and maintenance. In the decade before the Civil War local residents raised funds to build fountains in the park. Although the fountains created so much mud that the City Council removed them, the lack of foresight did not deter future benefactors from donating money to improve the park. In 1913, the newly formed Rittenhouse Square Improvement Association contracted Paul Philippe Cret to redesign the park. Cret’s design, which connected diagonal walkways beginning at the corners at a central meeting point, reflects the park’s current layout. The Friends of Rittenhouse Square, a nonprofit organization established in 1976, carries on the tradition of community support. The organization finances weekly landscaping in the square, the planting of new trees and shrubs, bench installation, and sidewalk cleaning.

    The area around the park is still home to the city’s elite. High-rise condos and five-star hotels replaced mansions in the twentieth century. Despite the area’s high price tag, the square is one of the city’s most democratic public spaces. Rittenhouse Square brings together perhaps the most diverse sampling of Philadelphia’s residents. It also serves as a host to public art. The park boasts several of the city’s most well-known outdoor sculptures. Among them are Antoine-Louis Barye’s Lion Crushing the Serpent, Paul Manship’s Duck Girl, and Albert Laessle’s Billy.



    Philadelphia’s Italian Market


    In the late 1880s, 9th and Fitzwater was outside of the plan for Philadelphia. Not included in William Penn’s original outline for his city, the neighborhood sprang up quite by accident. Antonio Palumbo built his boarding house there, and received an influx of immigrants looking for work in the developing city. As the community grew they began to open up stores along 9th Street until it took on an appearance not dissimilar to what one finds in the same neighborhood today. Some of the many stores included butchers, cheese shops, cook ware stores, and the vast variety of goods one might find in a European outdoor market. There was nothing that the new immigrant could not purchase on 9th Street. Several shops survive to this day in a vibrant market that is the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States.

    Even today, wandering between stands and storefronts, visitors feel transported. Despite the fact that William Penn did not include this area in within his planned city limits, it has been lovingly embraced by city residents and has become a major economic and tourist draw for the city. The Italian Market, and the residential area surrounding which borrows its name, is still a vibrant community with year round shopping. In the winter, fire barrels keep shoppers warm as they browse beneath awnings. Cannuli’s Meats and Isgro Pasticceria have both survived since the first decade of the 20th century. Shoppers may buy their food in the same store their parents, grandparents, and possibly great grandparents did.

    Of course, the market has not remained static through the years. As immigration patterns and the neighborhood changed, so did the market. In the past 30 years the market has diversified well beyond its name and sells a variety of ethnic foods from Vietnamese to Mexican, as well as jewelry, souvenirs, and even Philadelphia’s famous cheesesteaks. Many Philadelphia restaurants even buy their ingredients straight from the market, to support local business and get the freshest ingredients possible. The cobblestones and carriages may be gone, but the market has not lost its rustic charm.