Passive House: The Future of Sustainable Housing

A Passive House is a sustainable building that is built adhering to rigorous energy-efficiency standards and requires minimal energy for heating or cooling. It employs the use of smart architectural design and clever engineering to generate heat and avoid losing it.

If you’ve not yet heard of a passive house, you are not alone. They are less common in the US than in Europe where energy costs are very high. However, as more homeowners seek out ways to make their homes more efficient, they are beginning to gain traction in US cities like Philadelphia and revolutionizing sustainable development. We hope this guide inspires you to retrofit your home with energy-efficient technology and, perhaps, consider someday owning a passive house.

Diagram showing Passive House principles for a retrofit. Source: Bright Common

What is a Passive House?

The concept of Passive House was developed by Swedish structural engineer Bo Adamson and German physicist Wolfgang Feist. They were based in Europe, but their studies began by investigating North American projects of the 1970s that were responding to the oil embargo. The first Passive House in North America was built in Urbana, Illinois, in 2003 by German architect Katrin Klingenberg. These early passive house projects helped pioneer energy-efficient housing and led the way to new building standards. 

A Passive House is a very well-insulated, virtually airtight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gains and internal heat gains from occupants, cooking, bathing, electrical equipment, etc. Control of summer heat through passive and active shading, window orientation, and passive ventilation helps to limit the cooling load. The remaining minimized heating or cooling demand can then be provided by a small source instead of a larger conventional HVAC system.

Shading your home, particularly windows, can have a significant impact on summer comfort and energy costs. Think of the use of wooden shutters in homes in the Sun Belt. Shading can also be provided by eaves, trees, adjustable louvers, and light-blocking blinds. The same goes for sealing drafts in winter.

Passive House Principles. Source: Remodelista 

To be officially called a passive house, the home must meet strict criteria. Some of the requirements from the International Passive House Association include using 86% less energy for heating and 46% less for cooling compared with other buildings in the same climate. PHIUS certifies the majority of passive house projects in North America with a locally tailored, globally applicable passive building standard.

Passive George

Solo Real Estate collaborated with Jeremy Avellino, principal and design director at Bright Common Architecture & Design previously on the development of Kensington Yards and we’re excited to share that we are working together again on a new sustainable multi-family housing project. Solo’s first passive house development, Passive George, at 1931-1933 W. George Street in Francisville will not be completed until the Spring of 2025, but it generated excitement when a preview was shared with attendees at SBN’s latest sustainable walking tour.

Solo Real Estate and Bright Common worked together on the development of Kensington Yards

“Solo came to me and said they had two small parcels which we re-created to give the 3,200 sq. ft. space the appearance of a single structure,” said Avellino. “Deborah Solo has been a real devotee of sustainability, since before it was cool. Alejandro said ‘it has to be passive.’ They are as passionate about achieving zero energy as I am.”

Sketches for Passive George. Source: Bright Common

Passive George is intended to be perceived as one building, while it is actually a semidetached structure, and Avellino’s design is based on quilts. “The exterior design borrows from established quilting practices,” he said. “The blue terracotta cladding of the primary facade is complimented by the materials which weave and bound its edges.” The main entry and electric vehicle parking space are tucked strategically under the upper levels to provide protection from the elements. A solar array contributes to the project’s goal of zero energy use.

Elevations and Section for Passive Geroge.  Source: Bright Common

As one of Philly’s leading designers of passive houses, Avellino explained, “It’s taken us years of research and design iterations to understand how Passive House opportunities interact with the complexities of urban development constraints, market fluctuations, and workforce conventions. I’m happy to see the industry begin to take the climate crisis seriously, but it has not been fast enough. We need everyone involved in the education, policy, regulatory, development, design, and construction sectors, as well as individuals in the market, to demand a built environment that supports the welfare of people, communities, and the planet.”

Jeremy Avellino

Meanwhile, the demand in urban cities like Philadelphia is growing. “Clients are coming to us with different requests. Some are concerned about noise levels, others want a house that will be resilient during power outages and some just don’t want to pay energy bills.  More recently, we have been asked about eliminating natural gas from homes or how to control indoor air quality when forest fires from across the country impact the air quality here in Philadelphia.  Passive House does a remarkable job of addressing each of these concerns not just individually, but as a holistic integrated process.”

Passive House Benefits

  • Airtight design and balanced ventilation provide superior indoor air quality
  • Thermal control helps keep the inside warmer when it’s cold outside, and cooler when it’s hot outside reducing heating and cooling costs
  • The material and mechanical systems employed maintain appropriate moisture levels in the space to reduce mold and provide comfort
  • Some of these projects have operational carbon neutrality and are set up for energy independence
  • Easy to use and maintain

Even if you are not in the market – yet – for a passive house, we encourage you to explore the many ways of making your current home more energy-efficient. Not ready to install solar panels? Invest in energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting, and the best windows you can afford. As winter approaches, seal off drafts and make sure that both your roof and basement are in good condition. If you are a renter, consider the advantages of renting in a low-energy building.

Featured Business: Good Buy Supply

For Emily Rodia and Jason Rusnack, founders of Good Buy Supply, 1737 E. Passyunk Ave, having a general store was a long-held dream. “We met as students at UArts,” said Emily. “The inspiration came to us on a trip to Canada. We discovered several amazing zero-waste stores and we wondered, “Why don’t we have something like this?”

Emily has always been interested in environmental conservation. “Even after we graduated and had jobs, we kept writing down ideas about our shared vision. We wanted to have a place that provided products that were good for the earth and good for people.” Those dreams had to be put on hold while Emily worked as a manager for another business. “I did a lot of buying and customer service, so I learned the ins and outs while running someone else business,” she said. In 2020, they opened Good Buy Supply in the heart of East Passyunk and the middle of the pandemic. 

Owners Emily Rodia and Jason Rusnack opened Good Buy Supply in East Passyunk in 2020. Image: Jason Rusnock of Good Buy Supply.
Owners Emily Rodia and Jason Rusnack opened Good Buy Supply in East Passyunk in 2020. Image: Jason Rusnock of Good Buy Supply.

Today, Emily handles the day-to-day ordering, inventory, and assisting customers while Jason does the photography for the website and handles what Emily dubs “the heavy work,” refilling 30-gallon drums. They hired their first part-time employee a month ago. A good sign that business is growing.

“We have a lot more products than when we initially opened,” said Emily. “What’s cool is that the recycling and sustainability movement is evolving and we are constantly finding new items. For instance, we have a reusable paper towel. It’s a cotton cloth that has the same thinness and absorbency as a paper towel, but you can put it in a washing machine and use it to repeatedly wipe off counters.” 

Their most popular products are found at the refill bar: hand soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, and body wash. These bulk products come in unscented as well as popular aromas such as Citrus, Lemongrass, Grapefruit, Lavender, and Rosemary Mint Vanilla. To earn 20% off your tenth in-store refill, bring your own clean, dry containers; refill them with any bulk products; and receive a Refill Rewards card and stamp for each container filled. 

You’ll also find things like bamboo toothbrushes and lip balm, plus an extensive selection of food-related items that can really help create a waste-free kitchen. These include reusable beeswax wraps, linen coffee filters, and stainless steel coffee filters instead of plastic ones.

Good Buy Supply features a refill bar with hand soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, and body wash. They also stock sustainable household products like bamboo toothbrushes,  beeswax wraps, and stainless steel coffee filters
Image: Jason Rusnock of Good Buy Supply.
Good Buy Supply features a refill bar with hand soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, and body wash. They also stock sustainable household products like bamboo toothbrushes, beeswax wraps, and stainless steel coffee filters
Image: Jason Rusnock of Good Buy Supply.

In their home, Emily and Jason cook a mostly plant-based diet and compost all food scraps to reduce waste which is why they made it a point to stock the shop with attractive stainless steel kitchen compost bins with a carbon filter to reduce odors.

The interior of Good Buy Supply, a sustainable general store in East Passyunk, Philadelphia.
Image: Jason Rusnock of Good Buy Supply.
The interior of Good Buy Supply, a sustainable general store in East Passyunk, Philadelphia.
Image: Jason Rusnock of Good Buy Supply.

Good Buy Supply is located in East Passyunk, a great neighborhood with a thriving and eclectic suite of small businesses just steps away from each other. “Next door is Philly Typewriter repair shop; their customer base is similar to ours. Nearby is A Novel Idea bookstore and August Moon, a woman’s boutique,” said Emily. “You can get everything you need for your home on the Avenue, from plants at Urban Jungle to flowers at Creations by Coppola. Over half our customers live in the immediate neighborhood,” said Emily who lives with her husband just a ten-minute walk from her shop.  

Another plus? “We are all independent businesses, protected by the business district so we’ll never get a Starbucks or other chain store. It’s also the highest concentration of women owners and we all support one another,” she said.

“We are proud to say that very little waste makes it to the curb at Good Buy Supply,” said Emily. “We have set up programs with Circle Compost, Bottle Underground, Rabbit Recycling, and TerraCycle to keep the shop waste from heading to the landfill. We reuse as much of our vendor packaging as possible for things like our online shipments, business cards, etc.” 

“We ship completely plastic-free! Our packaging is reused from other shipments, so packaging will vary from time to time,” said Emily. “We also have an option for carbon-neutral shipping through Cloverly.”

An interesting footnote for urban anthropologists: Going back to the 1950s, East Passyunk Avenue had previously been filled with mom-and-pop shops serving the needs of local residents. While many are gone, they have been replaced by young owners equally invested in the well-being of the community.

SBN Sustainable and Local Guided Tour of East Passyunk

Good Buy Supply is one of the featured shops that will be part of the Sustainable Business Network’s 2nd Annual Sustainable & Local Tour of East Passyunk. The event will be held on Saturday, September 30, from 11am – 3pm and is sponsored by Solo Real Estate. Guided tours begin at 11am, 12pm, and 1pm. Self guided tours will be throughout the day, as well as scavenger hunts. Stop by to visit Emily and Jason at Good Buy Supply and support sustainable businesses in Philadelphia.

Managing Stormwater & Protecting Our Watershed

The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society have joined forces to create the Rain Check Program to help homeowners and renters manage stormwater runoff. Unlike water absorbed by the soil, stormwater runoff carries heavy metals, petroleum products, pathogens, and other pollutants into our rivers and oceans. Billions of gallons of stormwater and diluted sewage flow into local waterways each year. This is the biggest threat to the health of Philadelphia’s waterways and to our homes. Sidewalks buckle, roofs leak, basements grow mold. 

In 2011, PWD created Green City, Clean Waters, a 25-year plan to reduce the volume of stormwater using green infrastructure and traditional infrastructure improvements. As a result, Philadelphia is poised to meet pollution reduction goals by 2036. These goals include improving air quality, saving energy, reducing the heat island effect in the inner city, creating green jobs, increasing property values, boosting the local economy, and restoring our waterways. But they can’t do it alone. They need your help! 

Start by taking a Stormwater Quiz to determine the right stormwater tool for you. The Rain Check Program will share the cost of all the below options:

  • Free rain barrels, 55-gallon food-grade plastic barrels, that capture stormwater runoff from the roof. PWD provides professional installation including spigots, gaskets, winter caps, and a downspout diverter. You can use the stored water for your non-edible plants or outdoor cleaning.
  • Downspout planters are designed to absorb and filter stormwater before it enters the sewer system. All planters come with complementary, low-maintenance plants that are native, adaptive, and drought-tolerant. These plants will come back every spring and have deep, extensive root systems that allow them to absorb and filter stormwater runoff.
  • Rain gardens absorb water from your roof, allowing it to drain directly into the soil.
  • Rain Check will contribute $15 per square foot for permeable pavers, up to a maximum of $1,500 to replace impervious surfaces like concrete or asphalt. With a variety of colors and styles available, this can make a big visual improvement to your property and manage stormwater at the same time.

To be eligible to participate in the program and receive cost benefits, you’ll first need to attend a virtual Rain Check workshop. The workshops are typically hosted twice a month. To be notified when the next session will be, sign up on their website.

Rain garden diagram,

Apply for Watershed Certification

The watershed certification process recognizes residents and building managers, including renters, who employ best practices in managing water resources where they live in their everyday lives, including lifestyle choices that minimize water quality impacts. It applies to anyone who manages a private or shared outdoor space measuring less than 1/4 acre or manages a patio or rooftop garden. This includes container plantings on a sidewalk, roof, or patio, or maintain community green spaces that reduce stormwater runoff. 

To certify your property, navigate to the online application and select the appropriate category. There is no cost for the application or certificate. However, successful applicants will receive a free window/door decal or purchase the Watershed-Friendly Property sign.

Other Ways to Protect our Waterways

  • Wash cars using nontoxic soaps to prevent dirty water from running into your nearest stream.
  • Maintain clean, clear storm drains by removing litter or debris that may cause a blockage. 
  • Avoid flushing or pouring fats, oils, greases, wipes, or toxic substances down storm drains.
  • Use native plants in your yard or container plantings. 
  • Mulch flower beds so they retain water better.
  • Use a broom instead of cleaning patios and driveways solely with water.
  • Use water from a rain barrel to water flower beds and potted plants.
  • Limit lawn watering. Grasses are adapted to periodic drying, and they will green up again once it rains.
  • Turning off faucets when not actively in use, such as when brushing teeth.
  • Capture water for reuse while waiting for shower or bath water to warm up.
  • Control invasive species that impair ecosystem health.

As a homeowner, investor, developer or renter you can make a difference. For more information on financial incentives and grants that the Philadelphia Water Department offers to property owners, project managers, and developers to increase stormwater management on their property visit their site here. They also have a helpful Home Stormwater Guide that offers simple DIYs and educational resources for anyone interested in protecting our waterways.

We hope you will join us and do your part in restoring and protecting Philadelphia’s precious watershed.

The Secret Life of Buildings: Gilded Era Landmarks in Philadelphia

From the 1870s to 1910, Philadelphia flexed its industrial muscles, generating a new class of elites: Robber Barons, railroad and steel magnets, real estate developers, and business tycoons. Eager to display their wealth, they engaged the leading architects of their day to design lavish estates and palaces of culture to rival those of Europe. Come with us on a tour of Gilded Age landmarks that remain beautifully preserved in Center City and the surrounding suburbs.

City Hall, Broad & Market 

City Hall, the intricate and iconic building that turns driving into a white knuckle competition is a prime example of Gilded Age architecture. William Penn planned it in the 17th century, but it took 200 years to happen and another 30 years to be completed. Designed by John McArthur in Second Empire style in 1871, all of City Hall’s 250 sculptures were designed by Alexander Milne Calder, including the 27-ton statue of William Penn atop the tower. (Yes, Calder is the grandfather of contemporary sculptor Alexander Calder.)

At 548 feet high, City Hall was the tallest structure in the world until 1908 and remained the tallest building in Philly until 1986. However, it is still the largest municipal building in the United States. Regardless of how you feel about its exterior design, the inside of City Hall is worth seeing for its Gilded Era grandeur. For guided tours, including City Hall Tower, visit the Philly Visitor Center. You can also read more about City Hall and its history in our feature here.

Union League, 104 S. Broad St.

The curving double stairs at the entrance to the Union League announce an era where form no longer followed function but instead announced opulence. Originally designed by John Fraser in Second Empire style in May 1865, additions in the Beaux-Arts style were made in 1905 by Horace Trumbauer, expanding it to a full city block. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the Union League is one of the few existing buildings that reflects the architectural elegance of Broad Street during the Gilded Age. Its exterior and interior grandeur were meant to showcase the power and wealth of the City’s industry scions. It closely resembles the same style of architecture used in Paris at that time. 

PAFA, 1900s. Image: Old Images of Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), 118 N. Broad

The oldest art academy and museum in the nation, PAFA was designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt in the Gothic Revival style in 1871-1876. Here, is an opportunity to literally step inside the elegance of the Gilded Age and marvel at the beauty of the Museum’s second floor with its gilded walls, stained glass windows, cathedral arches, vintage light fixtures, and marble floors. Plus, it showcases American Art. It’s no surprise that PAFA is one of the City’s most popular wedding and event venues. 

Lippincott Mansion Interior.

Lippincott Mansion, 507 S. Broad

Built in 1886 and designed by architect George Pearson, this magnificent mansion was originally the home of James Dundas Lippincott and his wife Alice. It is one of the last remaining mansions of South Broad Street’s “Millionaires Row.” The grand home was once owned by religious leader Father Divine. Since 2008, it has been the showroom and workshop of Frederick Oster’s Vintage Instruments. (This is where the Rolling Stones come to check out a new guitar.) Amazingly, all of the original architectural grandeur is intact. The interior woodwork was milled and carved from oak, chestnut, and mahogany. The stunner? A 10 x 20-foot stained glass skylight can be seen from every floor due to the mansion’s atrium design. 

Charles Ellis Mansion. Image: The RowHouse City

Ellis Mansion, 1439 N. Broad

If you wanted to own a Gilded Age property you had your chance this past May when the mansion, originally owned by streetcar magnate Charles T. Ellis was sold at auction. It was designed by William Drecker in a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Classical elements and constructed in 1890 when North Broad Street was a prestigious address. In 1952, it became another home of Father Divine who invested heavily in real estate and whose organization retained ownership until the recent auction.

Lynnewood Hall, 920 Spring Ave, Elkins Park

With 110 rooms, this is the largest surviving Gilded Age mansion in the Philadelphia area. Designed by Horace Trumbaurer in the Neo-Classical Revival style when he was only 29 for Peter Widener, founder of the City’s trolley lines and one of the 40 richest men in America of his time. Built-in 1897-1900 in limestone, the gigantic mansion was dubbed “the last of the American Versailles.” Note: Some of the furniture at Lynnewood Hall actually came from the Palace of Versailles!

Supposedly, Widener instructed Trumbaurer to create a home where his children would be “comfortable.” Somehow, that resulted in 55 bedrooms, an immense art gallery, a ballroom large enough for 1,000 guests, a swimming pool, wine cellars, a farm, carpentry and upholstery studios, and an electrical power plant. This required a house staff of 60, plus another 60 full-time gardeners. 

All of this opulence foreshadowed a great tragedy when, in 1912, Widener’s son and grandson were among the passengers who died on the Titanic. Three years later Weidener died and his invaluable art collection was gifted to the National Gallery. The estate’s 480 acres were whittled down to 33, making way for the development of Lynnewood Gardens Apartments as well as a separate development of single homes.

Shrouded in grief, the Widener family moved out in the 1940s and the estate changed hands several times and became vacant and overgrown until the Lynnewood Hall Preservation Foundation was established in 2022 with the goal of restoring it to its former breathtaking glory. In June 2023, the house’s sale was completed, and ownership passed to the nonprofit Lynnewood Hall Preservation Foundation. Their plan calls for restoration of the estate’s formal gardens which are to be open to the public as well as historic restoration of Lynnewood Hall for educational purposes.

These are just a sampling of Philadelphia’s Gilded Age architectural treasures. For information about walking tours, contact The Preservation Alliance, Virtuoso, or try a Self-Guided Walking Tour.

This article is part of a series titled “The Secret Life of Buildings” where we cover the history and architecture behind Philadelphia’s storied buildings. We’ve written about row house stylescourtyardsand star bolts, among other topics. What else would you like to learn about? Follow us and DM us on Facebook or Instagram to let us know!

Featured Business: Fishtown Seafood Company

If you love fish stories, wait till you hear Bryan Szeliga’s! Before opening Fishtown Seafood Company at 339 Belgrade St. in 2022, this guy paid his dues. “I grew up fly-fishing, then I worked in the kitchens of James Beard Award-winning chefs in Portland, before working in seafood importing,” Szeliga said. Committed to sustainability and supporting local, women-owned businesses, he doesn’t just want to sell fish. Szeliga wants to “reinvent the customer experience” by educating them on the complex world of aquaculture, starting with where the fish you are eating really comes from.

“What chefs think they know about seafood is generally not correct,” he said.  The same goes for the guy behind the seafood counter at Whole Foods or Giant. According to Szeliga, there’s really not a major difference between wild salmon and farmed.

“Nobody’s talking about the fact that hatcheries release five billion so-called ‘wild’ fish into the rivers,” he said. Another myth buster? ”Sourcing local seafood isn’t practical in Philadelphia. Alaska produces far more seafood than that state can consume,” he said. “I buy domestic Cod, not something imported from Iceland.”

One more fish fact?  Szelig points out that fresh seafood is not necessarily better than frozen, especially if it has spent time being transported in a refrigerated truck or plane. “Compared to regular frozen fish, Super Freezing (-60% C) directly after being caught is much fresher,” he said. 

“Our scallops come from Maine. They are true dayboat scallops by law and they have no added moisture. Once landed, they are Super Frozen to -76 degrees. Our mussels are from the pristine waters of Mount Desert Island. The sustainable Dutch style farming that is used is an environmentally friendly process that yields plump and flavorful mussels,” said Szeliga. “Our littleneck clams are from Reval Island Virginia. Stop in to see if we are currently carrying middle neck or cherrystones.”

“Our shop is cutting edge and forward-thinking on sustainability. Most of our products, I buy direct. We don’t carry Atlantic Salmon. For wild salmon, we have two sources, sockeye from Bristol Bay Salmon and coho salmon from southeast Alaska. Our King Salmon is farm raised in freshwater canals from glacial runoff in New Zealand. This fattier cut is rich and delicious.” 

Szeliga also imports fish from Ecuador and Peru. His Dungeness and Johna crabs are from Kent Island, VA and his lobster is from Canada. “We have the best oyster selection in Philadelphia,” said Szeliga. “We offer top quality East Coast Oysters from Atlantic Canada through New England, New Jersey, and all the way down to Chesapeake Bay,  Our rotating selection allows you to try something different each time you come in.”  If your oyster shucking skills need an upgrade, sign up for a class at Fishtown Seafood.

Not your usual fish store, Fishtown Seafood stocks other products for one-stop dinner shopping. “We are thrilled to partner with Midnight Pasta Company for our house-made selection of pasta and Metropolitan for our baguettes,” said Szeliga. “We also have other grocery staples like eggs, rice, sauces, and drinks. We support as many local businesses as we can. We carry spice and oyster plates made by local women.”

Fishtown Seafood offers specials such as buy one 12 oz bag of shrimp and get one free every Wednesday.  Stop by for Friday Happy Hour, 1-6 pm, when oysters are just a dollar each as long as you purchase a minimum of six per variety selected. From Friday to Sunday, get 18 oysters and caviar for $50 while the supply lasts. Note: Their caviar comes from the roe of sturgeon and trout harvested by sport fishermen.

Want to eat seafood at home but are unsure how to prepare it? Have concerns about sustainability and human rights associated with seafood? No problem, stop in and ask.  “We care about sustainability and human rights and are happy to share industry and culinary knowledge about the products we sell,” said Szeliga.

Love Where You Live: 5 Reasons Philadelphia Is A Great Place To Live

How do I love thee, Philadelphia? Let me count the ways! Some fall hard for Philadelphia’s history and architecture. Others are passionate about our sports teams (Go Eagles!), and many swoon over Philadelphia’s cultural offerings. Here are our top 5 reasons we love where we live; and why you too should fall in love with Philadelphia.

1. History: Philadelphia is a City of Firsts!

We were the nation’s first capital, had the first hospital, and were the first to grant religious freedom. We had the first fire department; university; botanical garden; stock exchange; mint; art school; art museum; zoo; African American church; world’s fair. Philadelphia also had the first Thanksgiving Parade! Did you know the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in NYC came later?

Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1975.
Gimbels Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1975. Temple Digital Collections.

2. World-Class Architecture

Philly is an architect’s paradise, from our 18th-century Federal and Georgian structures to 19th-century Greek Revival and Victorian buildings designed by William Strickland, John Haviland, Frank Miles Day, and Frank Furness. We also have the distinction of having the first skyscraper, the former PSFS office tower, designed in the International Style by George Howe and William Lascaze in 1931.

Deborah Solo, Solo Real Estate owner and broker, appreciates Philadelphia’s architectural treasures.

“Having trained as an architect, living in the Rittenhouse Square area offers me constant opportunities to explore some of Philadelphia’s architectural treasures. While as a lover of history, I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to seeing the layers of this city’s past continue to inform our communities and futures,” said Solo Real Estate owner and broker, Deborah Solo.

Solo Property Manager, Amy Noroski shares Deborah’s love of Rittenhouse Square, especially in the Spring and Fall. “It’s a great spot to have a picnic, people watch, and enjoy whatever musicians are playing,” she said.

3. Abundant Green Space: Parks, Gardens, Trails

William Penn’s “Greene Country Towne” was designed in 1638 with five public squares for the health of its residents. Logan Circle, Rittenhouse Square, Franklin Square, Washington Square, and Centre Square, now known as Penn Center, continue to be a source of pleasure for Philadelphians. Within the City limits, we also have Fairmount Park’s 2,000 acres of rolling hills and natural landscapes on both sides of the Schuylkill River, offering a vast recreation area for city dwellers.

The piece de resistance is the Schuylkill River Trail. A favorite spot for Solo agent, Rebecca Nichols-Franqui, the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) offers 30 miles of scenic walking, jogging, and bicycling. “You can hop on through the South Street Bridge ramp, and enjoy the views leading up to the Art Museum, up Kelly Drive, and, if you’re ambitious, all the way to the Wissahickon!” she said.

Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk

Deborah Solo appreciates the city’s abundance of parks and public spaces with historic charm. “The walkability, ease of access to shops, restaurants, and attractions like the Rittenhouse Farmers Market, River Walk, and the charm of Fitler Square are just some of the wonderful things about where I live. I am also proud to have been a part of creating Liberty Lands Park in Northern Liberties where I lived and raised my children for thirty years.”

Another of Deborah’s favorite places is Columbus Park in the Passyunk Square Neighborhood. “I have spent many hours at the park with my beloved granddaughter Miriam and look forward to taking her sister, Gloria there as well,” said Deborah.

Solo Property Manager Amy Noroski on a hike in Philadelphia.
Solo Property Manager Amy Noroski on a hike in Philadelphia.

“I love where I live because there is always something to do,” said Solo Property Manager Amy Noroski, “Sporting events, live music venues, green spaces in Fairmount park and the Wissahickon Trails, plus exceptional bars and restaurants. My favorite places are The Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in West Fairmount Park, the Horticultural Society Grounds, and the Azalea Garden behind the Art Museum. They take you away from the hustle and bustle of the city, allow you to decompress, and enjoy the magnificent array of flowers and greenery.”

Shofuso Japanese Garden. Image: Visit Philly.

Amy also loves Matthias Baldwin Park at 423 N. 19h St. “Friends of the Park maintain it so well and the landscape architect designed a truly beautiful space with a view of the skyline and the moon as it rises in the evenings.” Like many Phillies fans, another of Noroski’s favorite places is Citizens Bank Park when her team is in the playoffs.

4. Renowned Arts & Cultural Institutions

When it comes to the arts, Philly has few competitors. Voice and music students come from around the world to study at Curtis Institute and the Academy of Vocal Arts. The Philadelphia Orchestra takes no prisoners! The same can be said of our theaters, including the Wilma, Suzanne Roberts, and Arden. Art lovers from Manhattan to Paris flock to our Barnes Foundation which houses the world’s largest collection of French Impressionist painters. (Even the Louvre is envious.) When it comes to dance, Philly is on the move, from the PA Ballet to PhilDanco and the Koresh Dance Company. And let’s not forget, “the Philly sound” was created by Gamble and Huff at Philadelphia International Records. If you love jazz, we’ve got you covered at Chris Jazz Cafe, South Jazz Kitchen, and the Clef Club.

Academy of Music. Image: Visit Philly.

Solo Blogger Stacia Freedman has a deep appreciation for the narrow cobblestone streets, charming alleys, and Trinity houses that echo the City’s past but her favorite places in Philadelphia are all about the city’s art and cultural offerings. “I love the Academy of Music and its younger sister the Kimmel Center. Whenever I have out-of-town guests, I always take them to the Constitution Center and the Barnes Foundation,” she said.

5. Culinary Mecca: Restaurants and International Cuisine

Foodies rejoice! With several James Beard Awards under our belt, Philly is now officially a nationally recognized culinary mecca. Not just at expense account restaurants with two-month waiting lists, but at intimate eateries featuring inventive international cuisines.

One of Deborah’s favorite places is Reading Terminal Market. “This is such a Philadelphia institution and it represents what I love so much about our city. The communal experience of buying and enjoying multi-ethnic food in a historic building displays our diversity, culture, and vibrancy,” she said.

A Philly favorite. Reading Terminal Market Interior. Image: Visit Philly

Solo agents Alejandro Franqui and Rebecca Nichols-Franqui also love Reading Terminal Market for its variety and vibrant ‘city feel’. “Reading Terminal Market will always be on the top of my Philly favorites lists. I love the commotion, the mix of tourists and locals on lunch breaks, and trying something different every time I go,” said Rebecca.

Rebecca Nichols-Franqui and Alejandro Franqui love the variety and vibrancy of Reading Terminal Market.
Rebecca Nichols-Franqui and Alejandro Franqui love the variety and vibrancy of Reading Terminal Market.

Alejandro agreed and added “it’s a place where seemingly everyone in Philadelphia goes to shop and eat — and tourists love it too so it strikes a great balance. Similar markets in other cities lack the vitality that Reading Terminal has. Probably because they lack the locals coming to buy from butchers, produce sellers, and shops.”

A City Of Neighborhoods

Philadelphia is a City of neighborhoods, each with something to love.

Rebecca Nichols-Franqui lives in Passyunk Square and appreciates the neighborhood feel. “I love that Passyunk very much feels like a neighborhood, yet still has such easy access to all that Philadelphia has to offer. We know our neighbors, recognize kids at the park, and still can walk to dinner in Center City easily as well. We are also an easy few BSL stops away from the stadiums — so of course we had to finally get our Phillies season tickets!” added Rebecca.

Whether you live in University City, East Passyunk, Bella Vista, Queen Village, Old City, Fairmount, Germantown or Fishtown, there is a strong sense of community. You can participate in community clean ups, gardens and street fairs, enjoy local parks, support independently owned shops, buy fresh produce at farmers’ markets, develop lasting friendships and take pride in your neighborhood.

The Secret Life of Buildings: Philadelphia’s Iconic City Hall

Philadelphia’s City Hall commands attention. Placed at the crossroads of Broad and Market Streets, it serves as an architectural compass, dividing the City into north, south, east, and west. Walking through its monumental archways inspires awe. Driving around it requires Indie 500 skills. No other American city has such a colossal building that, literally, stops traffic. How did it come to be? Read on to find out!

City Hall History

Philly’s first City Hall was built during the time of William Penn and was located on 2nd Street. Its ground floor served as a jail. In 1791, the second City Hall, now known as Old City Hall,  opened in a Federal-style red brick building which still stands today adjacent to Independence Hall. During the 1790s, it served as the US. Supreme Court and is open to the public today.

Old City Hall, Philadelphia’s first City Hall is adjacent to Independence Hall. Image: Antoine Taveneaux via Wikimedia Commons.

As the City grew, so did its ambition.  In 1870, voters selected City Hall’s current site at what is now Dilworth Plaza (formerly Penn Square) for what would be the largest City Hall in the nation. Designed in the Second-Empire Mode of French Renaissance Revival architectural style by architect John McArthur, Jr., construction began in 1872.

City Hall plaque. Image: Asce.org

Completed in 1901, Philadelphia’s current City Hall is an iconic building but it was also an engineering feat. A 2006 brass plaque at its base from the American Society of Civil Engineers states, “The building is still the world’s tallest masonry load-bearing structure made of 88 million bricks and thousands of tons of stone…it is the nation’s most elaborate seat of municipal government.” 

Philadelphia City Hall, 1910. Photo: Phillyhistory.org

City Hall Architecture and Sculptures

The walls are brick, faced with white marble, and the seven-story building measures 486 feet by 470 feet. The Tacony Iron and Metal Company hired civil engineer C.R. Grimm to design the upper wrought-iron frame, metal-clad portion of the tower, which surmounted the masonry tower and supported the 37-foot-tall, 27-ton bronze statue of William Penn. Sculptor Alexander Milne Calder designed the 37-foot high, 27-ton bronze statue, cast in fourteen sections at Tacony Iron and Metal Company.  It took two years to complete and was installed in 1894. 

City Hall’s Observation Deck is currently closed. Photo: M. Edlow for Independence Visitor Center.

At one time, every eighth grader in the City was taken to the top of William Penn’s hat for a spectacular view of the City.  The creation of an observation deck below Penn’s feet brought the view down to 548 feet, but it is currently closed due to the pandemic but tours of City Hall are still available at the Love Park Visitor Center kiosk.

The William Penn statue. Photo by M.Edlow for Visit Philadelphia.

Did you know William Penn is not alone up there? Take a close look and you’ll find 250 sculptures of nature, artists, educators, and engineers who embodied American ideals, including several sculptures of the building’s designer McArthur and two Native Americans. BillyPenn.com has a guide to all 250 sculptures, including bison and cats.

Preservation & Restoration

Did you know our iconic City Hall building was almost demolished? In the mid-1950s, the city considered demolishing the building and erecting a new one elsewhere. According to an article in the New York Times, “calls for the demolition of City Hall began when it was less than 20 years old and persisted for decades.”

At the time, Edmund Bacon was the Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and renowned architect Louis I. Kahn was the master planning consultant. Both advocated for demolishing the building due to the building’s disruption of traffic as well as its Second Empire architectural style, which had already fallen out of fashion by the time it was built. Louis I. Kahn called it “the most disreputable and disrespected building in Philadelphia.”

In a victory for historic preservation, the building was saved and remains today, not because of public outcry but because cost estimates to demolish it came in equal to the cost of construction. The high cost of removing it and objections from members of the American Institute of Architects caused the city to acquiesce.

As early as 1910, City Hall Tower was covered in a layer of black soot, due to coal being the primary source of power in the city. The soot was not removed until the 1960s and again in the 1980s during a restoration project that lasted more than 5 years. Yimby provides is a closer look at the restoration that took place in the 1980s.

Dilworth Park: The Heart Of The City

Surrounding City Hall is Dilworth Park. In 2014, Dilworth Plaza, named for Mayor Richardson Dilworth (1956-1962), originally designed in 1972,  was totally redesigned and renamed Dilworth Park. This transformation turned an under-utilized and unsafe area into a brightly lit recreational center currently featuring the Rothman Orthopedics Ice Rink, the Deck the Hall Light Show and it recently hosted the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market.

In the spring, Dilworth Park hosts fitness classes, roller skating specials, and performances from some of Philadelphia’s many arts and cultural organizations. A beautifully appointed park with an interactive fountain, lawn, and tree grove seating areas, it features a café. Festivals live musical performances, outdoor movie screenings, and happy hour specials bring an audience to the park at all hours of the day and night. All of this takes place above a major transit hub and under the watchful eyes of our City’s founder, William Penn.

This article is part of a series titled “The Secret Life of Buildings” where we cover the history and architecture behind Philadelphia’s storied buildings. We’ve written about row house stylescourtyardsand star bolts, among other topics. What else would you like to learn about? Follow us and DM us on Facebook or Instagram to let us know!

FABSCRAP: Philly’s Textile Recycling Center

First came Slow Fashion, a global movement championing concern for the environment over cheap, disposable goods made by underpaid foreign workers. But how can we counter the constantly rising tide of textiles from American manufacturers of clothing, drapes, upholstery, and bedding?  The answer is FABSCRAP, a textile recycling center located at the Bok Building, 1901 S 9th St.

Originally launched in 2016 in Brooklyn to meet New York City’s commercial textile recycling needs, FABSCRAP, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, is celebrating its one-year anniversary at its Philly warehouse this November. 

“The concept was started by FABSCAP founder and CEO, Jessica Schreiber, who was working in New York City’s Municipal Waste Department and noticing that manufacturers wanted to recycle their textile waste,” said Haven DeAngelis, Philly Reuse Coordinator. Materials that traditionally would have gone to the landfill are now being properly recycled and made available for reuse.


The variety of fabrics available for sale at FABSCRAP is as diverse as the textiles used by the local brands that recycle. “In NYC, we have 700 brand partners. Here in Philadelphia, we have 27, including Urban Outfitters, QVC, J. Jill, and sustainable local brand Lobo Mau whose design studio is also at the Bok building. 60% is reusable and available for sale in our mini storefront and online. The other 40% is recycled into commercial insulation and carpet padding.” This means you will find a huge assortment of prints and solids, knits, corduroy, mesh, and just about every weight of fabric from tulle to leather. You can make an appointment to come to the warehouse to shop for scraps. Larger pieces are sold online. Smaller ScrapPacks for crafting, quilts, and doll clothes are also available. 

Reams of fabric at the FABSCRAP warehouse

Don’t see what you want online? Virtual shopping via Zoom is available in thirty-minute time slots for $75 minimum orders. Shopping appointments at the FABSCRAP Warehouse are one-hour time slots with a limit of one person per appointment. If you would like to shop with a partner, you will both need to register in advance.

“The service fee covers operational costs and allows us to give away fabric to students, artists, local designers, and crafters for reuse,” said DeAngelis who has her own side business, Stitch and Destroy, which upcycles used textiles into eco-friendly punk rock-inspired clothing.

The impact of FABSCRAP

Volunteer at FABSCRAP

“We offer volunteer sorting sessions and have a good group of repeat volunteers, including school groups and corporations,” said DeAngelis. “This month, Philly FABSCAP celebrates its one-year anniversary with a special volunteer sorting session that will include drinks, giveaways, and a party atmosphere.”

A graphic showing FABSCRAP’s process

Each session is three hours long with morning and afternoon sessions. They include an intro to FABSCRAP, how to sort fabric scraps, how to separate unusable scraps, and the process of removing staples or cardboard from swatches. After the session, you are welcome to 5 pounds of free fabric, plus a 30% volunteer discount on any additional material.

Attend a Workshop

Once a month, FabScrap Philly invites a creative professional to skill share with the community, offering both digital and in-person workshops. Past events include: Mend Your Knits, Intro to Patternmaking, and Mixed Media Embroidery. A donation of $10 is suggested to view recent demos on video. Have a craft skill to share? Fill out their online form to apply.

“I love working here and educating others about why we need to recycle clothing and textiles,” said DeAngelis. “Our goal is to provide these saved-from-landfill materials at an accessible and affordable rate to our community of makers.” 

Solo Real Estate congratulates FABSCRAP Philly on its one-year anniversary and welcomes their efforts to help our City achieve its sustainability goals.

5 Philly Architectural Details Hiding in Plain Sight

If you are a history and architecture enthusiast like us, you’re likely constantly looking up (or down) to spot hidden details from Philly’s past in its buildings and alleys. Here are 5 details you will find throughout Philly that are hiding in plain sight. 

1. Ghost Signs

No, ghost signs do not point the way toward haunted houses. They are faded advertisements or business logos that can be found all over the City, often painted on highly visible brick walls. Most are relics of the 20th century, such as the Camac Market sign at 1216 Spruce, now the home of Mercato, a BYOB restaurant. 

T.J. Cobourn, Grocer and Camac Food Market Ghost Signs- Images: Ghost Sign Project
T.J. Cobourn, Grocer and Camac Food Market Ghost Signs- Images: Ghost Sign Project and Philadelphia Department of Records.

Patrick Grossi, advocacy director for the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, said that ghost signs are, “physical and tangible windows into the past” and they give “the building some context and color.” 

Hidden City Project Director Pete Woodall has been photographing ghost signs for years, and he’s turned 28 of his favorite ones into a poster available for sale. 

If you would like to get some aerobic exercise, take a ghost sign running tour with City Running Tours which follows a 5-mile loop passing 30 ghost signs in Old City, Northern Liberties, Callowhill, Center City, and Society Hill.   

2. Blue Street Signs

A close-up image of a blue street sign on Locust Street in Philadelphia

Small metal blue street signs with white letters on the sides of buildings are one of the remains of Philadelphia’s evolving street signage since the Colonial days. You will find them in the older parts of the City, including Waverly St. and 16th, Pine and Ninth St., and  N. 10th & Lemon St. They are part of the evolution of our City’s efforts to keep people from getting lost.

The first street name signs were carved into the masonry of buildings at intersections. Later, wooden boards with street names were affixed to buildings. In the early 20th century, they were also on lamp posts or carved into curb stones. It wasn’t until 1970 that the City adopted a green sign affixed to street light poles.  

3. Fire Marks

Between the second and third stories of houses in Society Hill, you’ll often see a plaque or badge, made of lead or iron, sometimes mounted on wood. These are fire marks that indicate that the house was insured for fire and which company insured it dating back to 1752 when Benjamin Franklin founded The Philadelphia Contributionship, the longest-tenured insurance company in the country. In 1755, The Contributionship’s directors required that all policyholders attach fire marks to their properties. 

This United Firemen’s Insurance Company plaque is an example of a fire mark on a home’s exterior.

Early fire marks were colorfully painted and contained the owner’s policy number. In addition to identifying the property for the insurance company, they may have also served to discourage arson, and possibly encourage other policyholders to pitch in and help fight the fire if they saw a burning building.  Philadelphia Fireman’s Hall Museum, 147 N. 2nd St., has one of the largest collections of fire marks.

4. Hitching Posts

Think of hitching posts as parking spaces for horses. In 1900, there were over 50,000 horses and mules stabled in the City. If deliverymen with horse-drawn wagons and coachmen taking the elite to the opera wanted their mode of transport to be where they left them, hitching posts were a necessity.

Close-up of horse-hitching post. Image: GoNomad
Close-up of horse-hitching post. Image: GoNomad

A charming example of black metal hitching posts can be found on the 1800 block of Carlton Street in the Art Museum area, as well as throughout the Colonial-era sections of the City. There are also several replicas installed on the 2000 block of Chancellor Street in Rittenhouse, right in front of the Solo office!

5. Cobblestones & Belgian Blocks

Philly’s earliest streets, such as Elfreth’s Alley, were lined with cobblestone which was pulled from river beds and had rounded soft edges. Then came Belgian blocks which were quarried and have more of a rectangular shape.

Belgian blocks. Image: Terren Landscapes
Belgian blocks. Image: Terren Landscapes

Both are tough to traverse on high heels, but add charm to our most admired streets like the 200 block of Delancey, the 200 block of Quince, and the 8400 block of Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill. 

Philly alley. Image: Cory J Popp, Solo Real Estate

Fall is the perfect time to take advantage of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s free self-guided tours including Old City, Rittenhouse, and Chestnut Hill. The air is crisp, the leaves are starting to fall – get out there and explore!