Neighborhood Histories: Society Hill

If you are an architecture or history buff, the Society Hill section of Philadelphia is a must-see neighborhood. Bounded by the Delaware River to 8th Street and Walnut Street to Lombard, it contains more eighteenth and nineteenth-century buildings than any other City in the country.  We hope the below overview of Society Hill will give you a deeper appreciation of its past, present, and perhaps its future.

society hill neighborhood badge - philadelphia. illustration by gregory w dyson.

Society Hill History

Society Hill is named after the 17th-century Free Society of Traders, a company of elite merchants. The Society flew its flag on the top of a small hill that soon become known as “The Society’s Hill.”  But it was originally known as the Dock Ward, referring to the area’s association with shipping, trade, and the famous Dock Street Market which served as a major food distribution center from the 1700s through the 1960s. 

Powel House. Image: M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

By 1776, the neighborhood had a diverse population including enslaved and free Black people. The elite built freestanding mansions such as the 1786 Hill-Physick House, 321 S. 4th St., and the 1765 Powel House, 244 S. Third Street. Pennsylvania Hospital, 800 Spruce St., founded by Benjamin Franklin and designed by architect Samuel Rhoads in 1751, combines Colonial and Federal styles. It was the first private hospital in the country. 

Pennsylvania Hospital. Image: PennMedicine.org
Pennsylvania Hospital. Image: PennMedicine.org

Historic Houses of Worship

St. Peter’s Church, 3rd & Pine, was constructed between 1758 and 1761, Congregation Kesher Israel, 412 Lombard St, occupies a former church built in 1796. Society Hill Synagogue, 418 Spruce Street, was also originally designed in 1829. Mother Bethel Church, 419 S, 6th St., founded in 1861, was the epicenter of the black community and still stands today. In 1915, Lithuanian Jewish immigrants formed the Vilna Congregation at 509 Pine Street. It now functions as a Chabad Synagogue. 

One of the most famous 19th-century structures still in use today, is the Merchants’ Exchange Building, 3rd and Walnut, designed by William Strickland in 1832 in the Greek Revival style.  It was the Philadelphia stock exchange and now serves as the National Park Service headquarters. Another building of distinction is the Athenaeum, a special collections library and museum at 219 S. 6th St, built in 1845 in the Italianate style by John Notman. 

Modernism & 20th Century Renewal

Starting in the 1950s, urban renewal programs restored historic buildings and neighborhoods. The Dock Street Market was relocated and the 31 acres surrounding it were demolished to make way for the three 32-story Society Hill Towers, 258 St. James Place, designed by I.M.Pei in the modernist style in 1964. At the same time, the 33-story Hopkinson House at 604 Washington Square, also designed in the modernist style by Isaac Stonorov, was going up in Washington Square. 

Sometimes a neighborhood doesn’t develop a “cache” until a major player moves there. That was the thinking of Philadelphia Mayor Dilworth who built a house in the colonial style at 223 South 6th street on Washington Square now dubbed the ‘Dilworth House’. Dilworth’s executive director of the City Planning Commission, Edmund Bacon, shared his passion for preservation and renewal. Under Bacon’s direction, replicas of 18th-century street lights and brick sidewalks were added to enhance the colonial atmosphere. Empty lots and demolished buildings were replaced with parks, walkways, and modern townhouses. Meanwhile, Architect Louis Sauer designed dozens of row house projects for the area around Society Hill, including Waverly Court and Penn’s Landing Square.

Present: Society Hill Today

Now considered one of the City’s most affluent neighborhoods, Society Hill is a designated historic district on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. It is also known for its Franklin Street Lamps, cobblestone streets, and brick row houses in Federal and Georgian styles.

The effort to adapt historic architecture to contemporary use and be seen in The Willings, the former headquarters of the Reading Railroad transformed into a 4-story luxury condo building at 211-225 South 4th St and the 45-story Saint James at 200 W Washington Sq. which arose behind the façade of a nineteenth–century bank. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a condo project on the site of the Dilworth house that preserves the original structure is also underway.

A 2022 rendering from Astoban investments shows the towers that will be built directly behind the Dilworth house.
A 2022 rendering from Astoban investments shows the towers that will be built directly behind the Dilworth house.

Society Hill Walking Tours

One of the best ways to get to know a neighborhood is to walk through its streets. The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia offers walking tours of Washington Square and Preserving Society Hill offers free 1-2 hour self-guided tours of Society Hill. The Society Hill Civic Association also offers an online self-guided tour, which you can download to your smartphone or print out. If you are interested in living in this historic area, reach out. One of our agents at Solo Real Estate can guide you in your home-buying search and help find the right fit for you.

Neighborhood Histories: Pennsport

One of the oldest parts of Philly, Pennsport, is also one of the least understood, but that’s about to change. Major investment in its waterfront, revitalization of its neighborhoods, and an influx of new small businesses, eateries, and bars are shining a new light on this section of the City. Read this guide to learn its history and discover what makes Pennsport a great place for renters, homeowners, and a night on the town.

Pennsport Neighborhood Badge illustrated by Greg Dyson.


 Pennsport was originally Lenape land known as Moyamensing which means “place of judgment” or “place of pigeon droppings,” depending on your intonation. Today, it is bordered by the Delaware River to the east, 4th Street to the west, Washington Avenue to the north, and Snyder Avenue to the south. In 1684, the Dutch turned the area over to the British, but it wasn’t incorporated into the City of Philadelphia until 1854. Its access to the River made it a natural center of shipbuilding and trade, as well as a location for troops during the Revolution. In 1801 the country’s first naval yard opened on the Delaware River at the end of Federal Street. 

Old Swedes Church. Image: National Park Service

Pennsport is also home to Old Swedes Church (Gloria Dei), 929 South Water Street. Founded in 1700, it is the oldest brick building in Philadelphia, the oldest church in Pennsylvania, and the oldest congregation in continuous existence in the United States. In the adjacent cemetery are sea captains and Revolutionary War soldiers.

If your ancestors were immigrants, chances are they arrived in Philadelphia via the Washington Avenue Immigration Station, now Pier 53. This was where over one and a half million Eastern European Jews, Italians, and Irish first set foot on American soil from 1873-1915. 

Mummer’s Parade. Image: Kevin Burkett via Wikimedia Commons

In 1901, a thriving Irish community started the annual New Year’s Parade that is now known as the Mummers. Previously, a blue-collar neighborhood, Pennsport became known as “Two Street” to its predominantly Irish residents. Today, South 2nd Street is still the place to catch the Mummers strut their stuff following the Parade on New Year’s Day. South 2nd St. is also where you’ll find many Mummers Clubs and the Mummers Museum, 1100 S. 2nd St. Visit the Museum to learn how to do the Mummers strut and view their elaborate costumes.

If you think Eastern State Penitentiary is scary, you’ve never seen Pennsport’s most notorious landmark, Moyamensing Prison. Built in the Gothic fortress style at Passyunk and Reed in 1832, one of its most famous overnight guests was Edgar Allan Poe who was detained there for insobriety. The prison was demolished in 1968 to make way for the Acme Market Shopping Center. Moyamensing was renamed Pennsport in the early 1970s when the former working-class neighborhood transitioned into a middle-class community.

Waterfront Attractions

In 2014 Pier 52 at Washington Ave and Columbus Blvd reopened as Washington Avenue Pier after a $2.15 million renovation. This public space protects the surrounding wetlands with eco-friendly plantings and an elevated boardwalk from which to capture panoramic views. Adults and children will enjoy climbing the 55-foot spiral staircase Land Buoy by artist Jody Pinto which honors the immigrants who arrived via this Pier.  

A mile and a half from Washington Avenue Pier you can also find Pier 68 which has been transformed into a waterfront oasis ideal for fishing, lounging, and embracing nature. Serving as the southern terminus of the Delaware River Trail, this is a great picnic space with trees and greenery in addition to river views.

Green Space

Jefferson Square Park. Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia.

Jefferson Square Park

300 Washington Avenue, was originally constructed in the early 19th century when the area was part of the Village of Southwark. During the Civil War, the park was used by the Union Army as an encampment site.  Thanks to urban revitalization in 2002 which replaced decaying homes surrounding the park with new homes, a renovation of the park began in 2007. Today, the community hosts a monthly clean-up of the park on the second Saturday of the month.

Dickinson Square Park. Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia
Dickinson Square Park. Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

Dickinson Square Park

1600 E. Moyamensing Avenue, features a playground, chess tables, basketball, and shade trees with three acres of classic turn-of-the-century park design, dating back to 1900.

Food & Drink

Here are a few of our favorite restaurants and bars in Pennsport today:

  • Ginza Sushi & Ramen, 1100 S. Front St. is is the hot spot for Sashimi, “Lobster Cha Cha Roll,” Poke Bowls, Ramen and Noodles.
  • Pho Saigon, 1100 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., Vietnamese food and drink featuring Pho, Buns, Rice Noodle Soups, Bubble Tea, and Vietnamese Coffee.
  • Grindcore House, 1515 S 4th St, is an all-vegan heavy metal-themed coffee house serving delicious coffee, beer, and pastries.
  • Pennsport Beer Boutique, 242 Wharton, offers 500 varieties of beer plus a year-round, heated, outdoor beer garden.

While adjacent neighborhoods are awash with construction, hip eateries, and new bars, Pennsport remains a quiet family neighborhood where you can still find great rental and homeownership values, along with that most desired commodity in South Philly – a parking space! If you would like to know more about purchasing a home or investing in Pennsport, drop us a note.

This blog post is part of a series titled Neighborhood Histories where we discuss the history of our beloved Philadelphia neighborhoods, their architecture, and communities. We’ve written about FrancisvilleFitler SquareRittenhouseNorthern Liberties, and more. Have a favorite Philly neighborhood you’d like us to write about next? Let us know!

Neighborhood Histories: Queen Village

Most people associate Queen Village in South Philadelphia with South Street and eateries such as Jim Steaks and Famous 4th St. Deli. However, there is a lot more to this historic, culturally rich neighborhood than cheesesteaks and mile-high corned beef sandwiches. Here is a stroll through some of Queen Village’s history and the people who shaped it, from the past to the present.

Colorful homes in Queen Village. Image: R Kennedy via Visit Philly
Colorful homes in Queen Village. Image: R Kennedy via Visit Philly


Long before Philadelphia was a gleam in William Penn’s eye, the area now known as Queen Village had another name. It was called  “Wiccaco”, or “Pleasant Place” by the Lenape, Native Americans who had immigrated here from Northern Canada 10,000 years ago. 

In 1630, the first Europeans to arrive here were Swedes who purchased land from the Lenape and called their settlement New Sweden. In 1681, New Sweden came under British control as part of a land charter granted to William Penn who renamed it, yet again, as Southwark after a South London neighborhood. That name – Southwark – stuck for almost 300 years! 

At the time, Southwark was considered a suburb of Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 1854 that it was officially incorporated into the City. Bordered by Lombard Street to the north, Washington Ave. to the south, the Delaware River to the east, and 6th St. to the west, Southwark became home to successive waves of immigrants, including Irish, Polish, German, Italian, and Russian Jews, as well as African Americans coming up from the south. Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois documented life in this neighborhood in his seminal 1899 study, The Philadelphia Negro. Meanwhile, the area bordered by Spruce Street in the north, Christian Street in the South, 3rd Street in the east, and 6th Street to the west,  became known as the Jewish Quarter with S. 4th St as its main commercial corridor. The first Yiddish theatre was in the center of the quarter, located at 5th & Gaskill Streets. 

South 4th Street, Fabric row. Image: Michele Winitsky Palmer via the click.news
South 4th Street, Fabric row. Image: Michele Winitsky Palmer via the click.news

During the first half of the 20th century, this culturally and racially diverse community thrived, but following World Ward II,  families started to move to the suburbs. However, many of the Jewish-owned businesses remained on South Street and on Fourth Street’s Fabric Row through the 1950s and 60s. The major blow came in the 1960s when the I-95 Expressway cut off Queen Village from the River and demolished 300 historic homes along Front Street but it was the threat of a Crosstown Expressway, cutting off South Street from Center City, that was the end of Southwark. Property owners on South St and Bainbridge were issued notices of eminent domain. By the time neighborhood associations had successfully fought the Crosstown Expressway plan, it was too late. Businesses had closed. Homeowners had moved. Leaving behind a ghost town of empty storefronts. 

South Street Renaissance

Falling property values and empty storefronts beckoned urban pioneers and entrepreneurial artists to reinvent the formerly vibrant shopping district. Among the first was the reopening of the Theater of the Living Arts, 334 South St, in 1964 which had been a theater since 1908 and was currently vacant. Under its new artistic director, Andre Gregory, it developed the careers of major stars including Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Sally Kirkland, and Morgan Freeman

Four years later, Eyes Gallery, 402 South St., opened, specializing in Latin American folk art and owned by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar and his wife Julia. At the same time, hip, young restaurants, and gay nightclubs opened, including Lickity Split, 401 South Street; Knave of Hearts, 230 South Street; and Judy’s at Third and Bainbridge. The restoration and reopening of Head House Square in 1969 as an open-air crafts market made it official. Southwark was back! 

Queen Village Neighborhood Badge

Except, it wasn’t really called Southwark anymore. In the late 1970s, Southwark was renamed Queen Village after the Swedish Queen. Rebranded as a way to attract a younger demographic that was interested in the neighborhood’s reemergence as a vibrant area, filled with restaurants, shops, and easy access to Center City.  Parks and playgrounds got restored. New homes began to appear amid the surviving 18th- and 19th-century dwellings and older homes were refurbished. Today, Queen Village is a highly desirable neighborhood of quiet, tree-lined streets and over 300 restaurants, cafes, and shops.

Gloria Dei Church 'Old Swedes Church'. Image: National Parks Service
Gloria Dei Church is known as ‘Old Swedes Church’. Image: National Parks Service

Historic Buildings

Queen Village’s past is evident in its historic architecture, starting with Old Swedes Church and cemetery, 929 S. Water St, built in 1698. Then there is B’nai Reuben Anshe Sfard, 615 S. 6th St, the oldest Synagogue in Queen Village. The congregation was founded in 1883 and the synagogue was constructed in 1904 in the heart of the former Jewish Quarter. Vacated in 1956, it became an antique market from 1985 to 2013 before being converted into apartments.

B'nai Reuben Anshe Sfard. Image: Wikipedia. 
B’nai Reuben Anshe Sfard. Image: Wikipedia
Mary Louise Curtis Branch Settlement Music School, 416 Queen St. Image: Wikipedia
Mary Louise Curtis Branch Settlement Music School, 416 Queen St. Image: Wikipedia

Settlement School, 416 Queen St, was founded in 1908 as the music program of the College Settlement in Southwark. It eventually expanded as a City-wide program in music, dance, and the creative arts.

Captain Thomas Moore House, 702 S. Front St, built in 1776 is one of several mid-18th-century houses that have survived on this block.

Captain Thomas Moore House. Image: Smallbones via Wikimedia Commons

When you visit Queen Village in the heart of Philadelphia, bring your appetite for history, architecture, fashion, crafts, and an adventurous palate to experience an eclectic cuisine that reflects the neighborhood’s diversity.

This blog post is part of a series titled Neighborhood Histories where we discuss the history of our beloved Philadelphia neighborhoods, their architecture, and communities. We’ve written about Francisville, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse, Northern Liberties, and more. Have a favorite Philly neighborhood you’d like us to write about next? Drop us a note!

Neighborhood Histories: Francisville

One of North Philly’s many tight-knit neighborhoods, Francisville started out as a vineyard. Situated east of Fairmount and north of the Spring Garden area, this rapidly growing community with families and young professionals seeking a neighborhood vibe within minutes of Center City. Read on to see why.

Francisville History

In the late 19th century, Francisville’s grape vineyards made way for factories. Unlike the street grid of the rest of the City, Francisville is not laid out north to south but perpendicular to Ridge Avenue which runs at an angle, creating triangles rather than square blocks.

1910 map showing parts of Fairmount, Francisville, and Poplar.

The aptly named Vineyard Street is all that remains of the neighborhood’s agrarian past, after which it became home to factory workers and factories. One of the largest was the Philadelphia Watch Case Company factory at 19th and Brown Street. Here, hundreds of men, women, and children (before child labor laws) produced 4,000 watch cases every day. Housing in the area consisted of mainly early 20th-century brick rowhouses, a contrast to the larger townhouses and opulent mansions of captains of industry located nearby in Fairmount and on North Broad Street.

When the watch case company’s Swiss-born owner moved the successful business to New Jersey, the site became the King Shoe Factory in 1915. The factory closed in the 1960s and was demolished in the 1970s. The closing of factories in Francisville and throughout Philadelphia when manufacturing moved abroad, created unemployment and many buildings fell into disrepair in the years that followed.  

However, a recent boom in development is turning Francisville into a popular neighborhood. The corner of 19th and Brown where the shoe factory once stood, had remained a barren field for decades. Now, it’s the site of a four-story, five-unit, condominium completed in 2020. This cycle of repurposing industrial sites and older homes into luxury dwellings has been repeated throughout Francisville, along with an influx of new coffee shops like Vineyards Cafe and neighborhood shops for residents to enjoy.

Community Activism

Back in 2009, a WHYY article described Francisville as having over “400 vacant lots and scores of vacant buildings.” Today, Francisville offers a mix of affordable and upscale housing, thanks, in large part, to neighborhood activism.

The Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation (FNDC) is developing two projects, including 60 condo units and a marketplace designed to resemble a small Reading Terminal Market. Formerly known as the Concerned Residents of Francisville Community Development, the grassroots, non-profit organization was originally formed by residents in 2002 for the purpose of revitalizing the Girard Avenue corridor. The FNDC’s mission is to, “Improve the quality of life in the Francisville community through Equitable Commercial and Residential Development programs that preserve the indigenous people’s inclusion and cultures, to support indigenous-owned businesses, and preserve and promote our rich history.” One of FNDC’s newest projects is the creation of the Indigenous People’s Artisan Marketplace at 1608 Ridge Avenue, including craft and culinary vendors.

Francisville neighborhood badge designed by illustrator Greg Dyson.

A newer community organization, the United Francisville Civic Association, was founded to foster well-being, inclusiveness, and diversity throughout the community and guide redevelopment, new construction projects, and zoning enforcement in a manner that is sensitive to the neighborhood’s heritage and historic standards.

Another notable organization in the area is Cloud 9 Community Farms, a group that “fosters leadership, resilience, and environmental stewardship through youth and community-led food and garden programs.” Cloud 9 operates The Urbanstead Farm inside of Francisville Village, a 42-unit housing complex for low-income seniors. They have a passive solar greenhouse where they grow food for the community and operate a seasonal farm stand.

A group of volunteers during an MLK volunteer event at the Francisville Playground.
A group of volunteers during an MLK volunteer event at the Francisville Playground. Image: Volunteering Untapped PHL

Neighborhood Highlights

Families with children love the Francisville Recreation Center, Playground and Pool at 19th & Brown and the Francisville Playground at 1733 Francis Street. The pool is considered one of the cleanest in the City with an attentive staff and hosts numerous events for neighbors throughout the summer, like yoga at the pool.

A flyer advertising yoga at the Francisville Pool. Image: Yoga Habit

After dark, a new jazz venue has popped up at Small Seeds Cafe, 1628-32 Ridge, presents nationally acclaimed jazz musicians, including Stanley Turpentine and David Newman, in a nod to the former Blue Note Jazz Club on Ridge which had featured jazz legends Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the 1950s.

Francisville is a historic neighborhood that has a lot to offer. With residents who care deeply about their community, and plenty of amenities close by, Francisville is a great walkable and bikeable neighborhood in close proximity to Center City.

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!

Neighborhood Histories: Bella Vista

One of Philadelphia’s oldest and most desirable residential neighborhoods, Bella Vista is also among the most visited due to its abundance of restaurants and its famous outdoor Italian Market. It’s impossible to explore this charming neighborhood without falling in love with its shops, restaurants, and residents.

A veritable melting pot of nationalities, this historic area reflects Philadelphia’s ability to adapt to constantly changing patterns of immigration.  Bella Vista is bordered by South Street to the North, Washington Avenue to the south, 11th Street to the west, and 6th Street to the east.

Bella Vista History

Bella Vista is located within walking distance from what once was Philadelphia’s main port of entry, Pier 53, the Washington Avenue Wharf. From 1873 to 1915, a little over 1 million European immigrants came here directly from ports in Liverpool and Hamburg, bypassing Ellis Island.

Washington Avenue Immigration Station
Washington Avenue Immigration Station on Pier 53 – Image: City of Philadelphia, Dept. of Records

One of the first waves of immigrants to settle in Bella Vista was Irish, starting in the 1850s. Around the same time, former slaves from the South relocated to Bella Vista, establishing the Institute for Colored Youth in 1852 at 10th and Bainbridge. In the late 1800s, Italian immigrants began settling in the area in large numbers. Then in 1881, tens of thousands of Jewish peasants fleeing Russia and Ukraine migrated to South Philadelphia between South and Catherine Streets. Although many of these groups eventually moved to other sections of the City, suburbs, and Southern NJ, evidence of their former businesses, factories, and houses of worship can be found throughout Bella Vista.

Institute for Colored Youth Building Historical Marker 915 Bainbridge St
Institute for Colored Youth Building Historical Marker 915 Bainbridge St

Formerly known as Moyamensing, in the early 1970s, developers rebranded the neighborhood as Bella Vista (Beautiful View) and change followed. In 1978, this formerly deeply entrenched Italian neighborhood adapted to a large influx of Vietnamese, bringing with them popular restaurants along Washington Avenue. In the 1990s, Mexican immigrants arrived, opening taquerias, groceries, and other shops in the Italian Market. 

Historic Bella Vista: Walking Tour Highlights

Below are just a few of the historic sites recommended by The Bella Vista Neighbors Association:

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper House at 1006 Bainbridge is one of the two Underground Railroad sites in Bella Vista. Known as “the mother of African-American journalism,” Frances Harper was a writer, poet, novelist, lecturer, and civil rights leader. She lived in this three-story house from 1870 until her death in 1911.

Tripoli Barber Supply Company is located at 606 S. 9th Street and was built in 1911 by Italian-American architect Enrico Coscia. Although the property has changed hands several times, the original signage is still visible on this historic building.

The Bozzelli Bank, 735-37 S. 7th St., was originally part of South Philly’s “Bankers Row”. Built in 1892, this elegant 128-year-old building was altered in 1903. 

Hope Engine Company, 733 S. 6th Street, was built in 1851–1852 by Hoxie and Button Architects. It originally served as a firehouse for Hope Engine Company №17. The firehouse was eventually disbanded in 1871, one year before the city created the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1872.  

Bring your appetite

One of the oldest and largest open-air markets in America, Philly’s Italian Market, simply called 9th Street by locals, runs ten blocks from Fitzwater Street to Wharton Street. Here are some of our favorite foodie destinations in the area:

Anthony’s – If you love coffee and chocolate, pop into this indoor and outdoor spot for breakfast or lunch for an espresso, panini, and gelato.

Claudio’s – This specialty food shop offers olive oils, extra-aged balsamic vinegar, specialty imported pasta products, imported cheeses, meats, and many other Mediterranean delicacies. Sampling encouraged.

Esposito’s – For over 100 years, this purveyor of prime meats has been supplying Philly’s finest restaurants and homes.

DiBruno – Visit the original DiBruno Bros location where the choices of cheeses, olives, and other gourmet Italian treats are endless. 

Fante’s Kitchen Shop – You can’t eat here but you can drool over the most extensive collection of kitchenware in Philly, from French rolling pins to Italian espresso machines and milk frothers. 

Isgro’s – Located at 1009 Christian St., a block from the Italian Market but not to be overlooked. This traditional Italian bakery offers some of the best cannoli in the City.

Anastasi Seafood – Visit this fresh seafood mecca to take out or dine-in restaurant and bar offering Philly’s best crabs, lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, etc.

South Philly BarbacoaThis acclaimed Mexican restaurant is headed up by Chef Cristina Martínez who won a James Beard Award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region this year and also owns Casa Mexico on 9th street. During weekends at this small restaurant, lines trail out the door, and customers gather at the outdoor tables to feast on their namesake slow-roasted “barbacoa” style tacos.

South Philly Barbacoa
South Philly Barbacoa – Image: Bon Appetit

John’s Water Ice – Youse want “wooder” ice and soft pretzels? This is the only legit place to go. Order lemon water ice for the real deal. 

Villa Di Roma – Do you like velvet Sinatra paintings and giant meatballs? Villa Di Roma is the spot for Sicilian-style specialties, heavy on red sauce.

No matter how many times you have been to Bella Vista, there is always a reason to return and immerse yourself in its beauty, history, and international flavor.

Neighborhood Histories: Northern Liberties

The Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia was created by William Penn himself, only it wasn’t originally part of the city. The earlier Northern Liberties Township came from large tracts of rural land available in the area in the late 1600s. The “liberty lands” were allotted to settlers based on the size of their land purchase. Created as a less dense alternative to Center City, Northern Liberties was deemed “Philadelphia’s first suburb”. The neighborhood was officially annexed into Philadelphia in 1854.

The aptly named Liberty Lands park is a point of pride for the neighborhood.

Given its situation just outside the city’s core, it makes sense that Northern Liberties has a rich manufacturing history. Industry of all sorts flocked to the spacious tracts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The types of factories included mills, breweries, tanneries, chemical and paint works, tool manufacture, and iron and stove foundries.

A former medicine factory on Fairmount Ave. converted into apartments over the last few years with some accompanying new construction.

The 19th century settlers of the neighborhood were mostly German artisans. Later, the early 20th century brought an influx of Eastern European immigrants, namely Slovakian and Romanian. These populations are still present today in their respective churches, St. Agnes Slovak Roman Catholic Church at 4th & Brown Streets and the Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church at American & Brown Streets, both of which remain active (although under a different name in the latter’s case).

The Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church (now St. John’s Church) at American & Brown Streets (above) and St. Agnes Slovak Roman Catholic Church at 4th & Brown Streets (below).

Nestled amongst the former factories and other industrial buildings, Northern Liberties also portrays some significant historic architectural styles, with many blocks of rowhomes still intact. The architectures that dominate the area are Italianate, Greek Revival, and Federal. The abundance of these blocks is at least partially due to the creation of the Northern Liberties Historic District in 1985 and the fact that many buildings have made it onto the National Register of Historic Places.

Some gorgeous twins on 5th Street with mansard roofs (above), and some rare Federal style rowhomes on Fairmount Ave (below).

It is for this reason that Northern Liberties has maintained its historic charm and character even while undergoing some drastic changes. In the past few decades the neighborhood has experienced significant development and an influx of new residents such as young professionals, students, and artists. Given the proximity to Center City – you can be downtown in under ten minutes by subway, bus, or car – the attractiveness of the neighborhood to people of all occupations makes sense. In Northern Liberties you can experience all the convenience of living close to downtown, while also having a close knit neighborhood feel, more space, and lower housing costs compared to Center City neighborhoods such as Rittenhouse Square, Fitler Square, and Society Hill.

As a result of the large swaths of land left open by de-industrialization in the mid- to late-1900s, redevelopment of the neighborhood was able to happen with exceptional vigor. While Northern Liberties does have plenty of historic rowhome architecture, the collection of styles has always been more eclectic than, say, the uniform rows of homes in South Philadelphia neighborhoods. Since the landscape was already quirky and diverse, the new construction, often hulking in some areas, meshes better here.

The eclectic nature of Northern Liberties architectural styles (above and below).

Today Northern Liberties has an exciting array of housing types, with the grand, old three story rowhomes still intact amongst new construction condos and townhomes. There is also a bustling commercial corridor to be found along 2nd Street where new restaurants, coffee shops, and stores are popping up everyday. The neighborhood still maintains its distinctive character and intimate feel, despite its booming growth and inflow of new residents.

Neighborhood Histories: Fishtown

The intersection of Girard & Frankford Aves is the busiest nexus of the neighborhood. Here you can see some neighborhood staples – Johnny Brenda’s and Joe’s Steaks.


Fishtown is a neighborhood that escapes definition in all ways. Its boundaries are disputed, its origins unclear, and its population in flux. Fishtown, a small neighborhood along the Delaware River northeast of Center City, can be difficult to define because it was originally merely a subset of the larger Kensington neighborhood. Today, however, Fishtown is a neighborhood in its own right.


A snapshot of the Google Map definitely of Fishtown. Depending on who you talk to, the boundaries of the neighborhood could include much more or less than this version.


Whether you believe that Charles Dickens christened the Fishtown name or the more accepted version that the name comes from the shad fishing industry that was centered on the neighborhood’s banks, today’s residents take pride in the moniker. Fish-shaped or decorated house number signs hang from at least half of the neighborhood’s homes and murals dot the landscape boasting the name.



The shad fishing industry along the Fishtown section of the Delaware River was huge in the 19th and 20th centuries. The operation was run by a handful of prominent local families who are consequently credited with the early development of the neighborhood’s housing, churches, and local institutions.


Historical residents of the enclave can be traced as follows: originally home to the Lenni Lenape Native Americans, then a small crew of Swedish farmers, later replaced with British gentry, shipbuilders, and German fisherman, and followed in the latter part of the 19th century by a large influx of Polish and Irish Catholic immigrants. The changing populations, which came with various religious affiliations, are evidenced by the many churches in Fishtown. Some, but not nearly all, of these churches include St. Laurentius, Holy Name of Jesus, Immaculate Conception, Kensington Methodist Church, and First Presbyterian Church.


The St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church represents some of the struggle between old and new when it comes to historic preservation in Philadelphia. The church holds significance for Polish cultural history in the area, but developers have been eyeing the property for years.


Today the Irish and Polish roots of the neighborhood are still evident not only through the churches which remain standing today, but also in the Irish themed bars that still populate some street corners and the multi-generational families, dating back to the original settlers, who still reside here and decorate extravagantly for St. Patrick’s Day every year. These older residents intermingle with a newer influx of college students, young professionals, and retirees flocking back to the city.


Murph’s Bar stands as representation of a transitioning neighborhood. While not a historic institution, it is an homage to the Irish bar. Meanwhile, the kitchen churns out some of the best Italian food in the city (a well kept secret of the neighborhood).


Some believe Fishtown falls just inside the triangle formed by Girard Avenue, Frankford Avenue, and York Street. Others extend that boundary up to Lehigh Avenue. Some incorporate the entire 19125 zip code into their geography, thus including the smaller enclaves of Olde Richmond, East Kensington, and West Kensington. Regardless of your definition, the Fishtown area is a great neighborhood with so much to offer.



Fishtown is attractive for its residential scale, small streets populated with well preserved two- and three-story rowhomes, and abundance of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. With many old industrial buildings converted to apartments and eateries, intact examples of early Philadelphia worker housing, and historic green spaces such as Penn Treaty Park and Palmer Cemetery, Fishtown has no lack of Philadelphia heritage despite the changes it has undergone in the past decade.


The IceHouse is a thoughtful project that sits on the corner of Columbia Ave & Thompson St. The development blends new construction with renovation of a pre-existing factory building. The structure melds with the neighboring rowhomes.

Hetzell Field is just one of many full-block green spaces in the neighborhood. Here many of the neighborhood youth baseball and soccer teams practice and play games.

This stretch on the 1100 block of East Berks Street holds many intact examples of early worker housing in Fishtown and date to the 1830s.

The origins of Penn Treaty Park date back to 1683 when William Penn entered into a peace agreement with the Lenape. The park was officially dedicated in 1893 and is maintained today by Friends of Penn Treaty.

1003 Frankford Ave is the oldest standing residence and dates to 1785.

Along Frankford Ave are many remnants of late-19th century industrial buildings. 1105-1109 Frankford Ave was originally home to Morse Elevator Works and opened in 1890.

Philadelphia born coffee company La Colombe found its headquarters in a similar former industrial building along Frankford Ave in Fishtown. This shop opened in 2014.

Palmer Cemetery was originally called Kensington Burial Grounds. It was founded by Captain Anthony Palmer, who founded the neighborhood of Kensington, in 1765, and was created to be a free burial ground for residents of the neighborhood. The grounds hold the gravesites of many original families of the neighborhood and veterans dating back to the Revolutionary War.

The fish motif pops up in all sorts of unexpected places around the neighborhood.


Holiday decorations are an integral part of life in Fishtown and you’ll see houses decked out for just about every holiday.