Blocks We Love: 4000-4037 Pine Street

Just south of UPenn’s grungy frat houses sits a pleasant surprise: some of Philadelphia’s most over-the-top Victorian architecture. Indeed despite its rowdy neighbors, history and beauty are all over Spruce Hill.

 

The 4000 block of Pine Street in Spruce Hill is one of these true West Philadelphia gems. This particular block has been called “one of the handsomest and best preserved mid-19th century suburban streetscapes of Philadelphia”, earning the block a place on the National Historic Registry.

 

The fact that the block merits historic preservation is immediately obvious even to casual visitors. Compared to Center City’s flat, tightly-packed streetscape, the 4000 block of Pine has over a dozen grand Victorian homes, most sitting on green slopes above the street. The effect is both beautiful and distinctly different from most areas just across the Schuylkill.

 

The houses themselves are stand-outs too. From ornately carved wooden front porches to cupolas to even spooky-looking towers with mansard roofs, few blocks in Philadelphia have so much 19th century character. While a some homes could use a little TLC, most are in solid shape.

 

Two unusual yet beautiful Victorian front porches on the 4000 block of Pine Street.

 

In addition, these houses give a taste of Philadelphia’s fascinating 19th century history. As the city’s industrial wealth grew, the newly rich left the crowded, polluted spaces of Victorian-era Center City for homes like these, founding some of the nation’s first suburbs.

 

Comparing 19th century drawings of the 4000 block of Pine (left) to photos from today (right) shows the block’s remarkable preservation.

 

The preservation of the 4000 block’s historic legacy has recently become an issue however. Located on the southwest corner of 40th and Pine, the Levy-Leas House remains Spruce Hill’s earliest and largest Italianate mansions. In the 1970s though the home was badly renovated; it served as a nursing home for decades and now sits unused. In recent years multiple plans from both private developers and UPenn have called for tearing down the home and redeveloping the site itself.

 

While the house’s fate remains uncertain one thing is for sure: destroying the home would further alter the block historic character, and not necessarily for the better.

 

People ought to come and experience this amazing slice of Spruce Hill then while they still can.

 

Drawings courtesy of Hidden City.