Hidden City Philadelphia

Preservation Group Mobilizes to Save Lynnewood Hall

The superlatives begin to feel overused, but they are the only ways to describe Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park and its founder. At 110 rooms, it is currently the largest surviving Gilded Age mansion in the Philadelphia area. Its 268-foot enfilade–a suite of rooms aligned to create an unobstructed view from one end of its east wing to the other end of the west wing–is the longest in any residential building in the United States. The estate was built between 1897 and 1899 for Peter A. B. Widener, who owned the most Rembrandts of any private collector except Buckingham Palace.
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Photographer Captures Heaven on Earth at Devil’s Pool

Author’s Note: Devil’s Pool in Wissahickon Valley Park has been a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming for centuries. In the past few decades the site has become the focus of much handwringing, endless Philadelphia Inquirer op-eds, neighborhood organizing, and trash pick-ups. Devil’s Pool is often described as suffering from overuse. During the summer of 2020, when public pools across the city closed due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, people flooded into the Wissahickon. The City briefly introduced “social distancing ambassadors” there and placed a ban on bringing food. City Councilmember Curtis Jones even announced his support of filling Devil’s Pool with gravel to end the trash problem and illegal swimming.
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Manauynk Mill Now an Oasis of Visual Arts

Canton Mills, a former textile factory next to the Manayunk Bridge Trail, stands proudly in an oversized lot between Baker Street and High Street. While the building today has found a new life in the neighborhood, its long history dates back to the late 1860s when business partners Timothy Fitzpatrick and William Holt started a textile business together.

Polishing up Silverman Hall at Penn Law

Getting into any law school isn’t easy. Getting into the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School can be a moonshot. So it stands to reason that students there had a lot to say about the renovation of three classrooms in Silverman Hall, the jewel of Penn’s law school campus, by Philadelphia firm Voith & Mactavish Architects.

Unearthing an Enigma in Washington Square

Washington Square’s history and monuments mostly herald the war for independence, from the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier to the renaming the original park, Southeastern Square, after the country’s first president. However, there is a small, modest plaque surrounded by a line of trees—two basswoods, a...

Ghost Signs of Philadelphia: Reedmor Books in Center City

Those familiar with the busy intersection of 11th and Chestnut Streets have undoubtedly noticed the ghost signs above MilkBoy, a popular cafe and bar. The sign, with its large arrow pointing south on 11th Street, reads, “This Way To 1229 Walnut Street.” More subtle are the signs and images that are partially cut off by newer garage bay doors. “Reedmor BOOKS” with an image of a hand pointing at a book, still catches the eye. One can only think of it as an all too perfect name for a bookstore.

Uncovering Philly’s First Big Dig

Construction of Philadelphia’s passenger subway system was a vast undertaking over many years that defined the city’s direction of growth. The Market-Frankford Line opening in 1905 drove residential development in West Philadelphia and the Northeast while department store development blossomed on Market Street. The Broad Street Subway, completed in 1928, likewise created access to Olney and Oak Lane. Projects of such enormity must have seemed to Philadelphians at the time to rival the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza. These efforts followed a massive excavation project that few recognize today: the creation of the Pennsylvania Avenue Subway.

Philly Modernism Takes Center Stage at National Symposium

Philadelphia’s national image is embodied by the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. For outsiders it is easy to digest the city’s Colonial past, while overlooking the dense history and architecture of other eras. This month visitors will join locals to celebrate Philadelphia’s rich, often surprising, contributions to Modernism when Docomomo US hosts its 2022 national symposium here.

Ghost Signs of Philadelphia: Maritime Phantoms in Old City

Recent news regarding the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s plans for the Central Delaware includes a new 11.5-acre park to reconnect the city to the Delaware River. The proposed amenity effectively tunnels Columbus Boulevard and I-95 between Front Street to the river and north to south between Chestnut and Walnut Streets. Understanding Philadelphia’s historical connection to the river is vital for developing the waterfront for recreational and residential use. Some of the first settlers took up shelter in caves along the banks of the Delaware. William Penn landed near what is now Penn Treaty Park. Dock Creek provided a natural harbor for commerce. The city expanded north and south along the river, and generations have found employment and past time enjoyment on the waterfront. The original high water line has moved due to dredging, and the creation of Columbus Boulevard and I-95 destroyed much of the residential life that thrived along the banks of the Delaware, while effectively cutting off the pedestrian connection to the oldest parts of the city. The new park is an attempt to reestablish that connection by drawing businesses, residences, tourism and recreation back to the water.

Animal-Humans, Living Appliances, and Exquisite Tortures: The Life and Art of Arnold Hendrickson

This story begins in Philadelphia during 1967. The Summer of Love was in full swing, and vibrant countercultural communities were thriving on the 2000 block of Sansom Street and in Powelton Village. Brian Zahn, a local artist and musician, was planning an underground newspaper to publish artwork, poetry, and essays. Zahn was a well-connected maven of the underground arts scene. He would solicit work both from his own cohort in Philly as well as folks from the scene in San Francisco. The title of his publication, Yarrowstalks, was a reference to a divinatory practice drawn from the I Ching and resonant with the nascent interest in Eastern philosophies among his milieu at the time.

Wissahickon Inn: the Hotel that Launched Chestnut Hill

“Enough is never enough,” Henry H. Houston allegedly once said. After making his first fortune in railroads, oil, and gold mines during the Civil War, the 19th century industrialist transformed himself into a developer. Houston’s ambition? To turn pastoral farmland northwest of Philadelphia into a cash crop. Instead of raising corn or sheep, Houston wanted to raise real estate prices and create an enclave for those who shared his values: wealth of the Episcopalian sort.

Digging Deep

Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. When archeologists began excavating at 6th and Market Streets in 2007, they weren’t certain they would even find any remnants of the 1767 house where George and Martha Washington famously once lived. It was likely, they believed, that any substantial physical evidence of the President’s House had been obliterated by development in the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead, they found astonishing discoveries–foundations that revealed not just the layout of the house, including a bow-windowed presidential office to be echoed later in the White House, but also an underground connection between the kitchen to the main house, along with root cellars, remnants of food, and household objects. These excavations illuminated the division between freedom and enslavement with evidence not found in the historic record and deepened our understanding of the lives of nine individuals enslaved by the Washingtons.

Unlisted Philadelphia: North Broad Street Station

Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Spring 2022 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. Unlisted Philadelphia highlights interesting and significant Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. To learn more about the local designation process and how you can participate in nominating a building to the Philadelphia Register, visit the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s website for more information.