Categories
Urban Planning

Views from Center City

As the geographic heart and Central Business District (CBD) of Philadelphia, Center City is busy hub of activity. It is bounded by South Street to the South, the Delaware River to the east, the Schuykill River to the West, and either Vine Street or Spring Garden Street (depending on whom you ask) at the North. While Center City continues to grow and transform, the following images from the past offer unique glimpses of the area’s physical continuities and changes.


 
The first markets were held at the corner of Front and High (Market) Streets during Philadelphia’s early years. The location of market houses shifted and expanded over time. One impressed traveler wrote in 1824, “The market house, which is nothing more than a roof supported by pillars and quite open to each side, begins on the banks of the Delaware, and runs more than one mile, that is eight squares in length!” (Alotta 150). This photograph, taken almost 90 years later, shows the inside of the market house at 2nd and Pine Streets.


 
At the City Archives, there are many photographs taken from the heights of City Hall. This spectacular shot demonstrates why, as it captures parts of Center City and Fairmount in gorgeous detail. Aside from its world-class collection, the Art Museum, of course, brings to mind Rocky, but this photo was taken many years before the first bad imitation of the fictional boxer’s run up the museum steps.


 
Heat indexes of over 100 degrees may leave us begging for cold weather. This 1914 image, which looks north from Broad and Walnut Streets, offers a reminder that Philadelphia winters can be as equally punishing. The caption says it all: “Snowing Like Hell.”


 
Here is a portrait of (controlled) chaos. The landscape around North Broad Street goes up in smoke in this 1913 photograph depicting a fire demonstration.


 
The Drake rises imposingly from its location on the 1500 block of Spruce. Built in 1929 as a luxury hotel, its 32-story structure is now restored to its former glory. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and operates today as an apartment building–with a great view.

Reference:

  • Alotta, Robert I. Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer: The Stories behind Philadelphia Street Names. Chicago: Bonus Books, 1990.

Categories
Events and People

The Calm after the Storm


 

Philadelphia’s first public recreation facility, Starr Garden, was built at the corner of 7th and Lombard Streets in 1908. Seeing the location in this 1907 photograph and the many people there enjoying free time outdoors, it is hard to imagine that this same location laid along a path of violence and destruction in the fall of 1842. Marked today by one of the many familiar blue and yellow markers of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission at 6th and Lombard Streets, the area between 5th and 8th Streets on Lombard was the location of a major race riot that occurred August 1-2, 1842, when local African Americans marched to celebrate the end of slavery in the British Empire.

In the decades preceding the riots on Lombard Street, many freed and fugitive slaves, as well as other immigrants, moved into the city. Understandably, such a large increase in population (in the period from 1810 to 1830, the African American population increased by 48 percent) caused tension among the residents (DuBois 26). When African Americans marched that day in support of the temperance movement and in celebration of abolition, the anger of neighboring whites grew. The mob of angry whites that subsequently formed assaulted African Americans, looting and burning their homes and public buildings along the way. Among the buildings torched were Smith’s Hall, a meeting place for abolitionists, and the Second African American Presbyterian Church. The mob continued to grow throughout the night and into the next morning when it was stopped by the militia.

The Lombard Street Riot of 1842 was the last–at least momentarily–in a series of race-related riots that had begun thirteen years earlier (DuBois 27-30). The increase in the number of African Americans in the city brought about fear in white inhabitants, who perceived the newcomers as a threat. This was especially the case when the African American community expanded in both wealth and population. Unfortunately, whites’ coped with their racial fears through violence.

References:

Categories
Urban Planning

The Hidden River, Part Two


 

In the early decades of the twentieth century, Philadelphia matured into a fully-grown industrial city. Awash in new office buildings, new factories, new neighborhoods, and new citizens, the city underwent a dramatic transformation. Immigrant newspapers proliferated. South Philadelphia developed into an enclave for Italian immigrants. German immigrants headed into North Philadelphia and Germantown. And many middle-class workers capitalized on their newfound economic stability and headed across the Schuylkill River. There they made West Philadelphia the city’s first true suburb.

As the largest tributary of the Delaware River, the Schuylkill River was an integral part of Philadelphia’s growth. Inland sections of the river brought coal and other goods into the city from Pennsylvania’s interior. The open areas along the river’s southern regions were also developed. Large oil refineries were built to service Philadelphia and beyond. Transport vessels became ubiquitous on the river. Workers filled tankers with oil along the river’s banks while smoke billowed from tall smokestacks in the background. Many of the vessels crossed the Atlantic and helped supply the nations of Europe with the oil they needed to continue their own industrial growth. The Hidden River, it seemed, was not so hidden anymore.


 

The largest of the refineries constructed along the Schuylkill was that of the Atlantic Refining Company. Originally founded in 1866 as the Atlantic Petroleum Storage Company, the company did not come into its own until it was bought out by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller in 1874 and integrated into his Standard Oil Trust. The break-up of Standard Oil in 1911 left Atlantic on its own and in control of the oil supply for Pennsylvania and Delaware (Standard Oil of New Jersey had jurisdiction in that state). The large refinery located near the Point Breeze section of the Schuylkill became the hub of its operations.

By the time the Great Depression swept the nation in the 1930s, Atlantic had expanded west and into the field of oil production. Despite its broad corporate goals however, the company remained rooted in Philadelphia along the Schuylkill. In 1966, Atlantic merged with Richfield Oil, a California based company, to form ARCO, one of the nation’s largest oil-companies. Later, after a series of mergers and spin-offs in the 1970s and 1980s, Atlantic was purchased by Sunoco, another Philadelphia-based oil company with a presence along the Schuylkill.


 

Today, Philadelphia is the largest oil-refining center on the eastern seaboard with seven oil refining plants producing over $100 million in petroleum and oil-based products. Yet, the legacy of industrialization, oil, and refining along the Schuylkill is mixed. Years of overuse and neglect along the river have led to dramatic environmental changes that continue to plague the river and those that inhabit the neighborhoods close to its shores. Decades of conservation efforts on the part of the city and community groups have helped restore some of the Schuylkill’s lost beauty although this work is not complete. The increased presence of new, environmentally-friendly technologies within the oil industry offers hope that commerce and environment will find a way to amicably coexist along the shores of the Hidden River.

References:

Categories
Urban Planning

The Hidden River, Part One


 

Dividing Center City and West Philadelphia, and stretching more than 100 miles into the interior of Pennsylvania, the Schuylkill River has long been an integral part of life in the Philadelphia region. Native Americans used the river as a food and water source and called it Ganshohawanee, meaning “rushing and roaring waters.” Early European settlers later gave the river its current name, which means “Hidden River,” because of its secluded entrance near its confluence with the Delaware River. Yet, despite its proximity to Philadelphia and the Atlantic Ocean, the Schuylkill River did not develop as a highly used port during the colonial era. The Delaware River dominated that aspect of economic life in early Philadelphia. Instead, during the nineteenth century, it was mainly used to feed the city’s increasing water demands through the Fairmount Waterworks. However, as the industrial age descended upon Philadelphia, the Schuylkill emerged as a key component to the city’s economy. Technological innovations in production and transportation allowed people and companies to expand into previously underutilized areas during the industrial period. As a result, Philadelphia underwent a rapid expansion westward and northward. Thus, the Schuylkill’s location made it a highly attractive location for expanding businesses. In 1912, the Penn-Lippincott Publishing Company hired renowned local architect Mahlon Dickinson to design its new production facility (pictured above) along the Schuylkill at the corner of 25th Street and Locust Street. Locating the new plant along the river promised an ample supply of water for generating steam-based power and placed it within close proximity to Center City and the local rail yards. It should be no surprise that Penn-Lippincott was among the first wave of corporations to develop the Schuylkill River within Philadelphia’s borders. The company was founded in 1792 when two local bookstall operators, Jacob Johnson and Benjamin Warner began publishing small texts. By the mid-nineteenth century, Penn-Lippincott had grown into one of largest publishers in the English-speaking world. Its presence, along with that of the Curtis Publishing Company, helped make Philadelphia the hub of the nation’s publishing industry, a status the city held until well into the twentieth century.


 

The new factory (along with the monotype facility, pictured at left) drew workers to the edge of the Schuylkill. The numbers of families living in the Rittenhouse and Fitler Square neighborhoods rapidly increased. In these vibrant communities workers walked to work and, along with their families, often used the river and its banks as a source of recreation.

In keeping with the growth of the local community, the factory became both a neighborhood and city landmark. A renovation in the 1980s converted the factory into a loft-style apartment building. Now, the factory houses many students and young professionals, thereby continuing its legacy as a central part of life along the Hidden River.

References:

Categories
Historic Sites

In League with Lincoln


 

A striking building in a city of arresting architecture, the Union League of Philadelphia building stands at 140 South Broad Street in the heart of Center City. It was completed in 1865 and features a French Renaissance design.

The story of the League began in December 1862 when two weeks after the crushing Federal defeat at Fredericksburg, Virginia, Dr. J. Forsythe Meigs held an organizational meeting for a “Union Club” at his Walnut Street home. Members dedicated themselves to upholding the Constitution and to supporting President Abraham Lincoln’s often unpopular policies. Lincoln’s vigorous measures to stifle disloyalty alienated many northerners already fatigued by a protracted war. Union Leagues (a.k.a. Loyal Leagues), including the Philadelphia chapter, lent their unwavering patriotism to a weary chief executive and to a grueling war effort. By the time of the Philadelphia Union Club’s founding, the pro-war enthusiasm of 1861 had dissipated. The peace wing of the Democratic Party enjoyed considerable strength in the city. Unconditional Unionists were disturbed. During the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania in June-July 1863, lawyer and political essayist Sidney George Fisher wrote that in Philadelphia “the people looked careless & indifferent,” demoralized by popular rhetoric that portrayed the war as unwinnable (quoted in Weigley 408).

The Union Club sought to reinvigorate Unionist fervor. Originally limited to fifty members of Philadelphia’s aristocracy, the organization rechristened itself the Union League and expanded its membership to several thousand by the end of the Civil War. The League functioned as a society for the burgeoning business class being ushered in by rapid industrialization. Members supported many efforts on the home front, including the United States Sanitary Commission’s commitment to improving health conditions in military camps and hospitals. At the USSC Fair in 1864, the Philadelphia League raised money for wounded and disabled soldiers. Its Committee on Employment located jobs for thousands of veterans and widows.

Other Union Leagues sprouted up throughout the North and loyal areas of the South during the second half of the Civil War. During Reconstruction, ex-slaves and white Republicans in the former Confederate states formed leagues (although rarely together) in order to facilitate black voter registration and support for the Republican Party.

Today the Philadelphia Union League retains its philanthropic mission. Its 3,000 members are leaders in the realms of business, education, religion, the arts, healthcare, and technology.

References:

  • “History/Foundations: Timeline.” 2006. The Union League of Philadelphia. http://www.unionleague.org/timeline.php (accessed 10 July 2006).
  • Weigley, Russell F., Ed. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1982.

Further Reading:

  • Lawson, Melinda. “The Civil War Union Leagues and the Construction of a New National Patriotism.” Civil War History. 48, no. 4 (2002): 338-364.

Categories
Entertainment

Does This Look Like a Stadium Yet?


 

The Stadium Complex in South Philadelphia is a mecca for area sports fans. How about a baseball game? Check. Football? Yep. Basketball? It’s covered. And eating contests? Oh, my . . . .

Philadelphia Municipal Stadium, renamed John F. Kennedy Stadium in 1964, stood here for over 65 years. It hosted a variety of sporting events and received notoriety as a venue for Army-Navy football games. Big touring bands often stopped by. The Beatles and Barbra Streisand both performed here in 1966. Live Aid occupied the venue in 1985, proving that nothing rocks like a good cause.

Designed by the Simon & Simon architect firm, workers still had their work cut out for them when this picture was taken. They labored hard to complete it in time for the 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition. Over 10 million people participated in the event where they saw, among other things, an 80-foot replica of the Liberty Bell strung with 26,000 light bulbs.

That same year heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey faced challenger Gene Tunney in the first of their two fights. A record 120,557 people reportedly attended the event. Boxing proved especially appealing to an urban-industrial society in which the idea of rugged individualism appeared under attack. The sport allowed spectators to live vicariously–if only briefly–through two fighters duking it out in a display of manliness that would have made Theodore Roosevelt weep. Tunney established an early edge over Dempsey, landing a couple of hard punches. “Thereafter[,]” the challenger later recalled, “it was a methodical matter of outboxing him, foiling his rushes, piling up points, clipping him with repeated, damaging blows, [and] correct sparring.” Tunney’s diligence and careful training paid off; he won by decision after ten rounds.

In succeeding years, the city allowed the stadium to fall into disrepair. Mayor Wilson Goode condemned it in July 1989, shortly after a Grateful Dead concert (there is no apparent correlation between the two events). Demolition commenced three years later. The Wachovia Center, opened in 1996, now occupies the site.

References:

  • “John F. Kennedy Stadium.” 28 June 2006. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JFK_Stadium (accessed 7 July 2006).
  • Tunney, Gene. “My Fights with Jack Dempsey” in Emra, Bruce, ed. Sports in Literature: Experiencing Literature and Writing Through Poems, Stories, and Nonfiction. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company, 1991. Online at http://www.genetunney.org/sportsliterature.html (accessed 7 July 2006).

Categories
Events and People

Cradle of Independence


 

Every July Fourth, the nation gears up for a big party celebrating its independence from Great Britain. Nowhere is this more true than in Philadelphia, which has been at times called the “Birthplace of a Nation.” It was here in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress met to commission and adopt the Declaration of Independence. Meeting in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall, above), the body selected a “Committee of Five” to draft a list of their grievances against the British Crown. For a time after independence–between 1790 and 1800–Philadelphia stood again in a position of great importance, serving as the country’s capital.

With such a background, it is not surprising that the government and the American people became interested in preserving the architecture surrounding these events. On June 28, 1948, President Truman signed into law a bill allowing for the creation of Independence National Historical Park, which included such sites as Independence Hall.

The area around Independence Hall did not always appear as open as it does today. When plans began to create the park, the surrounding locale was a commercial district, as is somewhat evidenced in this much earlier photograph, taken in 1900. The plans called for the demolition of “non-historic” nineteenth-century buildings, leaving behind only Revolutionary-era structures. However, because the federal government did not own the land in the proposed park, it became the first national park to require the purchase of the property it was to be built upon. The government spent close to $3 million alone for the block opposite Independence Hall (Chestnut and Market Streets). Some local businessmen opposed the proposal, suggesting that the money could be better spent cleaning up Philadelphia’s rivers and slums. Planners moved forward, regardless, ultimately creating the park we know and celebrate today.

References:

  • Grieff, Constance M. Independence: The Creation of a National Park. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.
  • Mires, Charlene. Independence Hall in American Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
  • National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Independence National Historical Park. http://www.nps.gov/inde/ (accessed 29 June 2006).

Categories
Entertainment

See and Hear the World’s Greatest Entertainer!


 

In 1921, the Stanley Company opened the 1303-capacity Aldine Theatre at the southeast corner of 19th and Chestnut Streets. The theater played movies for some seventy years, with a few gaps during the 1950s-1970s. Over the years, it was rechristened the Viking Theatre, then the Cinema 19 Theatre, and finally, Sam’s Place Twin, after Sam Shapiro’s Sameric Company purchased the movie house and divided it into two smaller screening rooms in 1980. The building today houses a pharmacy.

This October 1928 photograph shows the lavish displays for director Lloyd Bacon’s The Singing Fool. The film marked singing sensation Al Jolson’s follow-up to the 1927 smash-hit The Jazz Singer. Like the earlier film, The Singing Fool was a “talkie.” It contributed to the popularity of musicals and the standardization of sound in motion pictures. One can imagine the excitement with which Philadelphians and other Americans greeted the new technology. Although Top 40 music charts did not exist in 1927, it is estimated that the film’s song “Sonny Boy” achieved the equivalent of number-one status.

During The Singing Fool’s finale, Jolson performed “Sonny Boy” in blackface. White working-class entertainers popularized this convention during the mid-1800s. They applied burnt cork to their faces in order to portray dimwitted “darky” or “coon” characters. Blackface remained popular during the vaudeville era. We rightfully find such overtly racist imagery repellent, but, at the time, many white theatergoers accepted and enjoyed these performances, as evidenced by the prominent displays of a “blacked up” Jolson on the theatre posters. Blackface’s popularity highlights the complicated nature of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century race relations. One recent historian argues that white society’s feelings toward blacks and their culture combined resentment, sympathy, and cooptation, or both “love and theft.” In the post-vaudeville era, more enlightened racial sensibilities emerged, leading to a decline in public tolerance for blackface. The practice serves as a painful reminder of America’s struggles with bigotry.

References:

Categories
Urban Planning

Buying Happiness


 

A pioneer in advertising, John Wanamaker opened his first store in Philadelphia in 1876. He later moved the store to the location in this photograph, the site of the old Pennsylvania Railroad Depot (seen on the right). This new store, the “Grand Depot,” was the first department store in the city, and at one time also the city’s largest store. It was billed as “the largest space in the world devoted to retail selling on a single floor.”

Unlike the owners of other stores, Wanamaker used a great deal of advertising to gain customers. He ran ads and columns in newspapers, advertising not only the goods he had for sale, but what could be done with these goods and telling stories about where they came from.

Wanamaker’s Department Store is also a famous example of the emergence of shopping as a form of entertainment. Not only could shoppers come to the store knowing exactly what they wanted, thanks to the advertisements they read, but they could also take in the shopping experience. Wanamaker’s store was among the first stores to use electric lights to illuminate its interiors. Shoppers could also listen to music from the second largest organ in the world, installed during the store’s 1911 expansion.

References:

Categories
Urban Planning

Back to Nature


 

Founded in 1855, Fairmount Park was created by the City Council in an effort to protect both the Philadelphia’s water supply and the general health of the people. Several epidemics across the city, including an outbreak of yellow fever in the 1790s, prompted this interest in protecting municipal drinking water. In addition, rising pollution from factories and industry endangered the waterways.

As time passed, the park grew both in size and in popularity as a recreation spot. The park, like many of the Victorian era, was intended to be a quiet area for relaxation and a place in which people could escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Disadvantaged schoolchildren went on field trips to the park, and there were numerous opportunities for others to vacation there by staying in one of the many inns along Wissahickon Creek. Many of these buildings, however, were demolished when the park was created. The Valley Green Hotel (now the Valley Green Inn restaurant), seen in the photograph above, is the last of these roadhouses to survive.

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