Blocks We Love: 1900 Block of Waverly Street

Step right up…and up and up the unusual 9-step front stoops of the whimsically tall and narrow houses on the 1900 block of Waverly Street! Deeply historic, wonderfully urban, this block is one of the most unique in Philadelphia, in both appearance and in backstory. Step right up to step back in time!

The 1900 block of Waverly Street is comprised of 16 rowhomes, each 14 feet wide by 20 feet deep, with the above-mentioned elevated stoops accommodating a raised basement kitchen at street level.

Waverly is barely the width of a sedan, with no street parking. The skinny stature of the street adds to the Seussian nature of the block. But the Seuss comparisons stop there, as the properties themselves are a classic brick with stately window shutters and decorative elements.

The narrow cartway of the 1900 block of Waverly
The narrow cartway of the 1900 block of Waverly

When these properties were built in 1862, the street was called Ringgold Place, after Colonel Samuel Ringgold. Stone inlays bearing that name can still be seen on the corner properties. Construction during the Civil War era necessitated the small size and simple design of the houses, due to the scarcity of materials in wartime.

The small size was also due to their original use as workers’ housing, likely for the Berkshire Cotton Mill located on the next block at 20th Street and Ringgold Place.

Ringold Place sign context
The original street name, Ringgold Place, can still be seen on this ingraved, inlaid stone sign on a corner property

While 1,000 square feet may seem petite for one family, it is possible that multiple families may have occupied each rowhouse on Ringgold Place! The multiple door (basement and first floor) entries lend themselves to subdivision, and the tendency at the time was to squeeze workers into small quarters and to make the most out of existing housing stock.

A rendering of Berkshire Mills - the houses on 1900 Waverly were likely built to house its workers
A rendering of Berkshire Mills – the houses on 1900 Waverly were likely built to house its workers

By 1895 the Berkshire Mills was closed, and the homes promptly transformed into more fashionable abodes, largely encouraged by the growing influence of Rittenhouse Square.

In 1925, architect George Howe purchased the block, and proceeded to update the properties, clean the facades, and added some decorative elements. The corner property of 1900 Waverly served as his office while working on his acclaimed PSFS building. He sold the homes in 1934.

Ringgold Place formally changed to Waverly Street sometime between 1895-1942, and the block was added National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

City Paper founder Bruce Schimmel and graphic designer Kate Maskar lived on the block from 1983 to 1995, and recount that the street wasn’t always tree-lined. “There were no trees- we had a barbeque fundraiser to purchase and plant trees on the block,” Schimmel recalls.

Today, much of the significant historic charm remains with their classic brick exteriors, raised basement-level kitchens, wood detailing, built-in features, and a wood-burning fireplace. Of it’s density, Schimmel remarks, “It seems close, but there’s intimacy…with privacy. Best stoops in the city.”

Doorways to the raised basement-level kitchens, with whimsically tall stoops arching above them
Doorways to the raised basement-level kitchens, with whimsically tall stoops arching above them

The properties simultaneously have modern appeal with a 2 bed/2.5 bath ratio,  granite counter tops,  and stainless steel appliances.

Moreover, these petite properties remain a relatively affordable sliver of Rittenhouse Square. In recent years properties have sold for less than $500,000, a steal considering prices in the area!

Historic rendering of Berkshire Mills image courtesy of The Necessity for Ruins.