philadelphia history

Neighborhood Histories: Fitler Square

Just south and west of the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood is a highly desirable residential area that takes its name from one of Philly’s most charming parks Fitler Square. Bordered by Spruce Street to the north, Bainbridge to the south, 23rd Street to the east, and the Schuylkill River to the west, this neighborhood is favored by young professionals today, but that was not always the case. 

Fitler Square Park. Image: Friends of Fitler Square Park
Fitler Square Park. Image: Friends of Fitler Square Park

19th Century History

Named for a late 19th century Philadelphia mayor, Edwin Henry Fitler, Fitler Square was created from a former brickyard in 1896. Previously, in the 1830s and 1840s, it was a poor area of predominantly Irish immigrants who worked along the wharves of the Schuylkill and in the growing textile industry. Many of Fitler Square’s most charming alleys and streets – Panama, Naudain, and Addison – were once the homes of factory workers working twelve-hour days.

By the 1870s, the increasing size of ships made docking along the relatively shallow Schuylkill less profitable and its value as a port quickly declined. The neighborhood began to slowly change to one of primarily residential housing, eventually becoming the home of some of the city’s most prominent citizens. Historical residences include the home of the naturalist Edward Drinker Cope, 2000-2012 Pine Street. 

Home of naturalist Edward Drinker Cope, 2000-2012 Pine Street. 
Home of naturalist Edward Drinker Cope, 2000-2012 Pine Street. 

20th Century History

By the early 1920s, however, the park and much of the neighborhood that surrounded it had slowly deteriorated. Once again, Fitler Square changed due to an influx of influential residents, including University of Pennsylvania architecture instructor, James P. Methaney at 2420 Pine Street and Joseph H. Horn’s residence at 2410 Pine Street. Joseph H. Horn was one of the founders of Horn & Hardart, the nation’s first automat, which was founded on Chestnut Street in 1902. ne of the founders of Horn & Hardart, the nation’s first automat, founded on Chestnut Street in 1902. According to the Fitler Square Improvement Association, Horn was persuaded to build his home in the neighborhood by James Methaney. A bronze plaque dedicated to Methaney, who died in 1948, was added to the park in 1968 and still stands today.

Before the 1950s the neighborhood was a prime example of the urban blight that had overcome much of the city. In 1953, the Center City Residents’ Association asked local architect Norman Rice to draft a rehabilitation plan. He redesigned Fitler Square in 1954. His mid-century modern studio at 24th and Pine stood until the early 2000’s when it was replaced with a large modern residence.

Within a few years of the redesign, vandals mutilated benches and ripped-up brick seating areas. In 1962, fed-up residents formed the Fitler Square Improvement Association, dedicated to raising money for the maintenance and enhancement of the park. Also threatening the neighborhood was the proposed Crosstown Expressway. Its construction would demolish much of the neighborhood, reduce property values and add to the neighborhood’s blight. The Residents’ Association was successful in changing these plans and in the following years the neighborhood drastically improved largely due to efforts of the Center City Residents Association and the Fitler Square Improvement Association.

Fitler square fountain
Fitler square fountain

 In 1981, Fitler Square again underwent a major restoration. Brick walkways were added, new lighting was installed, and the park was enclosed within an attractive wrought iron fence. A Victorian cast-iron fountain and pool in the center of the Square were installed in 1976. In the 1980s, animal sculptures by Gerd Hesness, and Eric Berg, were added to the delight of area children. The popular tortoise sculptures inspired the neighborhood icon on our website (see below) designed by illustrator Gregory Dyson.

Fitler square

21st Century Resurgence

In 2010, the Fitler Square Improvement Association generated a project, funded by neighborhood donations and a grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to change the Victorian fountain in Fitler Square park into one that recirculates all of its water with a pumping system saving huge amounts of water each year.

Today, Fitler Square is mostly composed of single-family homes within a short walk of the City’s cultural and business districts. Its charming residential alleys have become popular destinations for tourists and couples seeking a romantic backdrop for engagement photos. 

A nice way to get to know the area is to take walk around the neighborhood or explore a self-guided Public Art tour of Fitler Square which includes art and history-filled sites like the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Union Baptist Church, and the former headquarters of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. 

2408 Spruce St 1F is a studio apartment available in Fitler Square.
2408 Spruce St 1F

Solo Properties in Fitler Square

Interested in moving to the neighborhood? Speak with Alex Franqui about renting a beautiful studio apartment at 2408 Spruce St.

We frequently have rentals available in Rittenhouse and Fitler Square so be sure to bookmark our rentals page and check back for more listings. If you’re looking to purchase a home in the area, drop us a note!

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