Famous Artist Makes His Mark on a Northern Liberties Home

Tucked inside an interior wall of Victorian-era rowhome in northern Liberties lies a small but significant moment in Art History. In 1980, renowned artist Sol LeWitt visited the homeowners and fellow artists, Helen Herrick and Milton Bruton. The current owner, Erika Katz, with the help of Deborah Solo, purchased the home from Herrick and Bruton over two decades ago and says “the walls were filled with the ghosts of art on the walls, floor to ceiling.” And though the former owners took much of the art with them, a sketch drawn onto the wall by LeWitt remained.

“For Milton & Helen” Sol LeWitt 4/20/80

Dated 4/20/80, LeWitt’s drawing depicts “Lines In Four Directions”, a concept he iterated upon throughout the late 70s and early 80s. LeWitt, a founder of minimalism, sought to explore art in it’s most fundamental elements: line, color, space, and form. With this interest in the system used for making art, “Lines In Four Directions” uses a limited visual vocabulary and basic geometry to express his ideas.

In 1981, LeWitt would return to Philadelphia to meet with the Fairmount Park Art Association (currently known as the Association for Public Art)  to propose a public artwork for a site in Fairmount Park. He selected the long, rectangular plot of land known as the Reilly Memorial and submitted a drawing with instructions. Installed from 2012 to 2015, thirty years after its conception, Lines in Four Directions in Flowers was a work of monumental scale, made up of more than 7,000 plantings arranged in strategically configured rows.

LeWitt’s 1981 Public Art Proposal

We’d like to think that this stunning public art installation had some humble beginnings on the wall of a Northern Liberties Rowhome.

Blocks We Love: 700 Block of Corinthian Avenue

Who thinks living across from a prison is an asset? We do, when that prison is historic Eastern State Penitentiary! Now a historic landmark, museum, and gothic revival wonder, Eastern State makes for a mighty fine neighbor for the 700 block of Corinthian Avenue.


Nestled in the heart of the charming Fairmount neighborhood, Corinthian Avenue is one of four streets that ring the Penitentiary. What sets this street apart from the others on the historic prison’s periphery is the lush Corinthian Gardens that serves as a buffer between the soaring stone wall of Eastern State and the street below.


Corinthian Gardens was established about a year ago through the work of volunteers and funds from the City, Friends of Eastern State, and additional donors. The green space consists of individual community garden plots, grassy swaths of land and picnic benches.


On the eastern side of the 700 block of Corinthian Avenue, mature street trees mirror the billowing greenery of the Gardens. The attractive and sizable three-story townhomes bear a colorful assortment of cornices that playfully contrast with the gray stone wall of the prison.


The colorful cornices of Corinthian Avenue (left), Eastern State Penitentiary wall and Corinthian Gardens (right)


That wall and the prison within predate the residential neighborhood that encircles them. The construction of Eastern State Penitentiary began in 1822 in what was then a suburb of Philadelphia. In the decades that followed the formerly isolated prison became surrounded by a vibrant neighborhood of factories and factory-worker housing.


While the prison closed in 1971 and the factories are long gone, the vibrancy of the neighborhood remains. Eastern State’s expanded museum programming keeps the site contemporary, and includes the recently launched exhibit The Big Graph as well as a tour of the kitchen wing, featuring an old prison menu that is sure to delight foodies and history buffs alike.


The 700 block of Corinthian Avenue appears to have it all: beauty and greenery from Corinthian Gardens, immediate proximity to the shops and restaurants of Fairmount Avenue, the history and splendor of Eastern State, and extra parking too!


For more information about Corinthian Gardens and its volunteer opportunities, click here.

Blocks We Love: 2200-2232 Green Street

Located in the Fairmount neighborhood just blocks from Philadelphia’s collection of world-class museums, the ornate town houses and greenery of the 2200 block of Green Street make this community a work of art unto itself. Indeed, the street is a truly impressive example of the architectural and design legacy of Philadelphia’s industrial-era wealth.


On a block marked by imposingly designed houses, no home is as beautiful or quite frankly as enormous as the Bergdoll-Kemble Mansion (seen in the image on the left). Built in 1882, this 14,000 square foot Italianate mansion was constructed for the Bergdolls, a family of successful brewers. The house was also once home to Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, a notorious early 20th century socialite, playboy and criminal. Most recently, the mansion boasted one of Philadelphia’s highest-ever asking prices before being converted into apartments. Whatever the building’s fate though, the Bergdoll-Kemble Mansion’s size and ornate design will forever make it part of the character of this historic block.


2200 Green Collage
Daffodils poke through the block’s unique front lawns (left) as the buildings’ impressive details (right) draw the eyes as well.


Aside from its grand architecture, one of the most unique aspects of the 2200 block is its collection of front yards. Built on a hill sloping down to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, these homes are set on flat ground away from the street’s incline, and the resulting open space features rich expanses of grass and mature trees. These front gardens are a rare and beautiful quality in the otherwise narrow stone and concrete streetscape of Philadelphia.


In the end, this block typifies what Fairmount residents like best about their neighborhood – it has all the beauty, charm and history of urban life without quite the hustle and bustle of Center City. It’s surely a block not to be missed.