Architectural Luminaries of Philadelphia

When it comes to world-class architects and architectural styles, Philly has a rich history. From 19th Century Colonial design through 20th Century modernism, our City is a showcase of outstanding architectural luminaries. While this list isn’t exhaustive, we encourage you to use this guide to acquaint yourself with some of the great architects who have shaped our beloved city of Philadelphia and beyond.


Benjamin Latrobe – Known as the “Father of American Architecture, Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) was born in England and came here in 1796. He was a NeoClassical architect, known for designing the Bank of Pennsylvania, America’s first Greek Revival building, which was destroyed 60 years later. He also designed the South Wing of the U.S. Capitol and the Old Baltimore Cathedral (aka Baltimore Basilica) the first cathedral in the nation.

Benjamin Latrobe’s Bank of Pennsylvania, from the 4th edition of William Birch’s Views of Philadelphia, 1827–8.

William Strickland – A student of Latrobe, William Strickland (November 1788 – April 6, 1854), was a proponent of the Greek Revival style. He designed the Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut St.; the Merchants Exchange, 143 S. Third St.; Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut St.; Old City Hall, 5th & Chestnut; St. Peter’s Church 3rd & Pine St.; and Walnut Street Theater, 9th & Walnut.  

William Strickland’s work: Philadelphia Merchant’s Exchange. Image: Bruce Andersen, Encyclopedia Britannica.


Frank Furness – A master of Victorian architecture, Frank Furness (1839-1912), designed over 600 buildings, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad & Cherry St.; Fisher Fine Arts Library, 220 S. 34th St.; Ritz Carlton Hotel, Broad and Chestnut; Centennial National Bank, 32nd and Market (now the Paul Peck Center of Drexel University); the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 2125 Chestnut St; and the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, originally designed as a resort hotel in 1890. These are just a sampling of Furness buildings, homes and interiors to be found throughout Greater Philadelphia 

Gilded Age

Horace Trumbauer – A native Philadelphian, Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) is most well-known for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  However, he also designed palatial estates for the wealthy robber barons of his day, such as the Georgian-style 110-room Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park and Grey Towers Castle in Glenside now the campus of Arcadia University. He also worked with developers to design homes for many middle-class planned communities, including the Overbrook Farms.

Lynnewood Hall. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Lynnewood Hall. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Julian Abele Julian Abele (1881-1950) was the first African American to graduate from Penn’s School of Architecture in 1898. He apprenticed Trumbauer and worked with him on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then went on to design the Central Free Library, Penn’s President’s House, Harvard’s Library, and many buildings at Duke University.

Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele perusing an architecture book in the mid 1930's. Image: Free Library.
Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele perusing an architecture book in the mid 1930s. Image: Free Library.


George HoweGeorge Howe (1886-1995) introduced the International style to Philadelphia in his 1932 design of the PSFS building, 12th & Market, now a Lowes Hotel. It was considered to be the first truly modern building, not just in our City, but in the nation. He later collaborated with Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov.

Louis KahnLouis Kahn (1901-1974) is best known in Philadelphia for his creation of the Richards Medical Research Laboratories, 3700 Hamilton Walk on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and Esherick House, 204 Sunrise Lane in Chestnut Hill. He is internationally revered for the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, and his 1982 floating National Assembly Building in Bangladesh.

Margaret Esherick House
Margaret Esherick House. Image: Jeffrey Totaro via Docomomo.

Edmund Bacon – Known as the “Father of Modern Philadelphia,” as well as the actual father of actor Kevin Bacon, Edmund Bacon (1910-2005), served as Executive Director of the Philadelphia Planning Commission. He was the driving force behind the creation of Penn Center, Market East, Penn’s Landing, Society Hill, Independence Mall, and the Far Northeast – all of which removed large segments of the City in order to bring it into modernity.

Photo of Bacon with a model of Society Hill Towers (about 1960). Edmund N. Bacon Collection.
Photo of Bacon with a model of Society Hill Towers (about 1960). Edmund N. Bacon Collection.

Oskar Stonorov – Oskar Stonorov was a German Jewish immigrant who managed to flee Germany in 1929, just before the rise of Hitler. He worked with Philadelphia architects Louis Khan, George Howe, and Robert Venturi on many projects. In 1954, Stonorov was chosen by the Quakers as “the most socially minded architect in Philadelphia” for his redevelopment of Fairmount Avenue. His mid-century modern apartment buildings include Hopkinson House, 607 S. Washington Square; Casa Fernase, 13th & Lombard; and Cherokee Apts, McCallum St & Wolcott Drive in Chestnut Hill.

Post Modern

Robert Venturi – Robert Venturi and his wife Denise Scott Brown are among the major architectural figures of the 20th Century. Venturi served as Louis Kahn’s teaching assistant at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture and went on to teach at Yale and Harvard. He is best known for the post-modern Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, built for his mother in the early 1960s, and Guild House, 711 Spring Garden St.

The Guild House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, designed by Robert Venturi, on Spring Garden Street and 7th. Image: Smallbones, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Guild House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, designed by Robert Venturi, on Spring Garden Street and 7th. Image: Smallbones, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romaldo GiurgolaRomaldo Giurgola (1920-2016) was an Italian architect who taught architecture at Penn before becoming chair of the Columbia Architecture Department in 1966. Along with Khan, Venturi, and other contemporary architects, Giurgola was considered part of the Philadelphia School of architecture. His buildings in Philadelphia include the Penn Mutual Tower, INA Tower, and United Fund Headquarters. 

Romaldo Giurgola. Image: Arquitectura Viva


Eugene Kohn – Contemporary architecture is a combination of many styles, including high-tech, deconstructivism, neoclassicism, and sculptural. The term high tech may be applied to buildings designed by architect Eugene Kohn, a native Philadelphian whose internationally acclaimed firm, KPF,  is based in New York City. Kohn’s local work includes Arthaus, the 47-story glass tower, 301 S. Broad St.; the 60-floor Four Seasons, 1 N. 19th St.; Children’s Hospital; and a new terminal at the Philadelphia Airport.

ArtHaus Condominiums. Image: Arthouse phila.
Eugene Kohn’s ArtHaus Condominiums. Image: Arthouse Phila.

Looking Ahead

A city with Philadelphia’s rich architectural history needs to focus on the balance between preservation, sustainability, and the long-term health impact of the built environment. If the recent expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail and green spaces along the Delaware River is any indication, we are hopefully headed in the right direction.

Want to learn more about Philadelphia’s architecture? Check out our articles on Beaux Arts architecture, the reuse of historic bank buildings, or find out about 5 Philly architectural details hiding in plain sight.

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!

Why You Should Renovate and Restore: A Case For Historic Preservation

Many Philadelphia homes and neighborhoods have been designated for historic preservation. What does that mean for homeowners? If you have an older home that has not yet received a historic designation, what are your obligations? We spoke with experts in Philadelphia to get their perspectives on the topic of historic preservation in our city.

“Historic preservation is about stewardship and pride,” said Robert P. Thomas, founding partner of Campbell Thomas & Co., an award-winning firm of architects and planners dedicated to sustainability, community, and preservation. “Buildings are part of a community and it’s the key to the success of a block. The goal is to integrate modern needs with a historic property.”

Thomas recalls renovating his Powelton Village home with his wife in 1978. “We got a tremendous amount of space with fireplaces, mantels, and moldings in what had previously been a building containing three slum apartments.” The result was an affordable property accessible to the City in what is now a historically designated neighborhood. “Since the 1980s, Powelton has been nationally registered. Now, we are in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. That protects homes from demolition and offers tax credits on rehabbing rental properties,” he said. 

Thomas and his partner James Campbell took the same approach to their office at 1504 South Street which had been just a shell when they bought it. “It had previously been The Postcard Club, a black jazz club in the 1940s. I always advise people there’s an edge in real estate. Go two blocks beyond the edge to find the best values,” said Thomas. 

To better understand the benefits of historic preservation, consider some of the many projects Thomas led. He restored the 95-year-old, five-story mansion at 4150 Parkside Avenue in West Philly which had suffered a partial collapse, turning it into 18 modern, affordable apartments with stunning architectural detail. Thomas applied the same restoration and preservation techniques to The Brentwood Apartments, a German Baroque building at 4120 Parkside Avenue which the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission termed one of the most ambitious rehabilitation it has ever overseen. It is now used for senior housing.

4150 Parkside Ave.
4150 Parkside Ave.

However, it was Thomas’ plan to build an entire block of solar homes for National Temple Community Development Corporation on the 1500 block of Thompson Street that caused the Redevelopment Authority to question his logic. “They couldn’t imagine it would work but it did,” he said. Those first-time homebuyers never received bills from PECO because all their homes faced south and lined up with the solar grid.

Thomas credits Philadelphia Mayor Kenny with creating a task force on historic preservation. “There are tremendous resources for homeowners, including the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia which offers seminars and classes. University City Historic Society also has programs and many area contractors have programs open to the public. 

What can the Preservation Alliance do for you?

The Preservation Alliance’s Neighborhood Preservation Program has been helping Philadelphia residents discover their neighborhood history by identifying landmarks and architectural characteristics that give their neighborhood its own unique sense of place. 

The Drake Tower. Image: John W. Cahill
The Drake Tower. Image: John W. Cahill

The Alliance’s easement program preserves historically certified properties and residences, such as the Drake Tower in Center City, the Alden Park Apartments in Germantown, and more than 240 other historic properties. Current and all future owners of a property protected by an Alliance preservation easement promise not to demolish or inappropriately alter, and to maintain the historic character of the property. In 2011, the Alliance published How to Look at Your Neighborhood: A Guide for Community Organizations

Alden Park. Image: Graboeyes.com
Alden Park Apartments. Image: Graboyes.com

What does it mean if your home is registered as historic?

Listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places protects a building from adverse alteration and unnecessary demolition. Listing on the National Register of Historic Places can provide financial incentives for rehabilitation. 

About those financial incentives – the Pennsylvania legislature recently passed the Whole-Home Repairs Act, a new program designed to assist residents and landlords to preserve older homes while creating jobs. The Whole-Home Repairs Program was introduced by Pennsylvania State Senator Nikil Saval and passed into law in July 2022 with an unprecedented $ 125 million appropriation in the 2022–2023 state budget.  This program is the first of its kind in the nation. Applications for the Whole-Home Repairs Program are coming in Spring/Summer 2023.

Historic Victorian in Spruce Hill designed in 1886 by architects George Watson Hewitt and William Dempster Hewitt.
Historic Victorian in Spruce Hill designed in 1886 by architects George Watson Hewitt and William Dempster Hewitt

Get More Information on Historic Properties

You can learn how to research properties on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. You can also contact the commission at (215) 686-7660 or preservation@phila.gov. It’s important to note that the local register is different from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP is a nationwide list maintained by the National Park Service. However, your property could be listed on both registers. For a guide on how to research your Philadelphia home’s history read our article.

To learn more about the impact of historic preservation in Philadelphia, the Preservation Alliance offers private, group, and self-guided walking tours in many historic areas of the City. Saturdays & Sundays, May-Oct.

Historic preservation is of particular interest to Solo Real Estate’s broker and owner Deborah Solo, who studied architecture. Deborah took several classes with John Milner who also does historic preservation projects and taught at the University of Pennsylvania while she was getting her master’s in architecture. Interested in investing in a historic property or want to talk about architecture and historic preservation with Deborah? Drop us a note!

The Secret Life of Buildings: Philadelphia’s Last Surviving Theatres

Theaters are a measure of a City’s vitality. They are also weather vanes of constantly shifting cultural trends. In both regards, Philadelphia theaters have withstood the test of time. Here are a few that are noteworthy for both their architecture and their role in shaping our City’s history.

Walnut Theatre, 1821. Image courtesy of the PA State Archives

Walnut Street Theatre

The oldest theatre in America, Walnut Street Theatre opened in 1809 as a circus with equestrian acts. Just two years later, out go the horses; in come the actors.  Redesigned for theatrical performances by acclaimed architect William Strickland, the theatre featured the top actors of their day. Audience members included President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. 

Walnut Street Theatre (1938). This image shows the 1920s interior design by architect William Lee. Photograph courtesy of Athenaeum Philadelphia

The biggest change came in the 1940s when the Theatre was purchased by the Shubert Organization. At the time, Philly was a “try-out” town where shows worked out their kinks before opening on Broadway. Other Center City theatres presenting Broadway previews included: the Shubert (now the Merriam); the Erlanger at 21st and Market (demolished in 1978), and the Locust Theatre, 1407 Locust (now Estia restaurant). 

Locust Theatre

As a result, Philly audiences could see the original casts of shows for a fraction of the Broadway price. Pre-theatre restaurants like Lew Tendler’s at Broad and Locust displayed hundreds of autographed photos of famed actors who had dined there. The Walnut Theatre’s stage had featured luminaries of stage and screen, including Lauren Becall, Woody Allen, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Hackman, Henry Fonda, and Sidney Portier. 

Actress Fanny Davenport at the Walnut Theatre, 1884. Image courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Walnut, a National Historic Landmark, became a self-producing, non-profit regional theatre in 1982, founding the Walnut Street Theatre Company. With nearly 50,000 subscribers annually, today the Walnut Street Theatre is the most subscribed theatre company in the world.

Metropolitan Opera House

When it opened in 1908, seating 4,000, the Metropolitan Opera House, 858 N. Broad Street, was the largest theater of its kind in the world. Designed by architect William H. McElfatrick, known as “the father of American theatre architecture,” it was originally called the Philadelphia Opera House and was owned by New York’s Metropolitan Opera which performed there until 1920.

Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia – View from the stage (1917). Source: “The Victrola book of the opera : stories of one hundred and twenty operas with seven-hundred illustrations and descriptions of twelve-hundred Victor opera records”

Today, North Broad Street might seem an unlikely location for opera lovers, but at the dawn of the 20th Century, it was an affluent part of the City, lined with the mansions of wealthy industrialists. By the late 20th Century, North Broad Street was in decline and the Metropolitan Opera House became inactive as a music venue. 

In 2018, after a $56 million-dollar restoration, the 113-year-old opera house reopened as the MET Philadelphia, featuring a performance by Bob Dylan to a sold-out audience. The new space has art deco elements and marks the revitalization of North Broad Street. Upcoming performances include Sting, Ringo Starr, and Alicia Keys. 

The MET Philadelphia today. Image: MET Philadelphia

The Tower Theater 

Built in 1927 in Upper Darby, just outside the City limits, the Tower Theater thrived in its early years as a vaudeville venue and movie theater. 

Tower Theatre

By the 1970s, the Tower had fallen on hard times, reflecting changes in the neighborhood. In 1972, the theater was refurbished following a severe fire and converted into a rock concert venue.  

The Tower presented rock legends: David Bowie, Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen Lou Reed and Jerry Garcia. In 2018, the Tower Theater was named one of the 10 best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone Magazine. Currently, the Tower Theatre is the site of the Van Gogh Immersive Event through February 2022.

Forrest Theatre

Originally located at Broad and Sansom Street, the Forrest Theatre was built at its current location, 1114 Walnut Street, in 1927. Designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp, the theatre was named after the 19th century Philadelphia actor Edwin Forrest and is one of the architect’s most intricate designs. Owned by the Shubert Organization, the Forrest Theatre offered previews of Broadway plays and musicals from the 1940s through the 1970s.

Forrest Theater Interior. Image: The Shubert Organization

The Grand Foyer was redone in the early 1990s by famous theatrical scenic designer Oliver Smith. In 2017, an extensive redecoration to the Auditorium and Mezzanine Lounge was completed.

Forrest Theater Balcony. Image: The Shubert Organization

Starting in 2007, the Forrest Theatre joined with the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts offering Broadway touring productions. Recently, that included sold-out performances of Hamilton.

Sedgewick Theater

Built in 1928 and designed by architect William Harold Lee, the Sedgewick in Mt. Airy is one of the twenty remaining theaters designed by Lee, including the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown. This Art Deco movie palace was built just as silent films gave way to “talkies” and was in operation until 1966.

Sedgewick Theatre exterior, 1940s.

When it closed, it became a warehouse and significant damage had been done. It became the Sedgewick Cultural Center in 1995. However, by 2006 the overall condition of the theater had not improved. In 2010, the Quintessence Theatre Group rented the Sedgewick for a classical repertory troupe. They have since secured a twenty-year lease on the theatre and they continue to present performances at the site.

The next time you are in one of Philly’s historic theaters, don’t just take in the show. Take in the magnificent architecture and craftsmanship of a bygone era that has thrilled audiences for over a century.

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 stylesalleys, courtyards, and 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!

Creative Reuse in Philadelphia: Repurposed Buildings

Would you live in a stable, factory, or women’s shelter? Recent trends show that thousands of Philadelphians are eager to call repurposed historic buildings home, making our City a national leader in adaptive reuse. From former factories to carriage houses, and more, Philly’s building conversions are as varied as the original buildings they inhabit. 


A former hub of manufacturing, Philly’s factories went silent when production moved off-shore, leaving ghostly industrial buildings and unemployment in their wake. Repurposing factories as residential space is reinvigorating neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.

One of the first repurposed factories was The Chocolate Works at Third and New Streets in Old City.  Formerly home to the world-famous Wilbur Chocolate Company, constructed in 1902, the chocolate business outgrew the facility by 1933, after which the building changed ownership and remained underutilized.


In 1986, Historic Landmark for Living adapted the factory into one and two-bedroom apartments. Renters were drawn by huge windows, high ceilings, and industrial design, along with a resident library, work station, lounge, and an on-site fitness center and parking. 

Brush Factory Lofts

When Brush Factory Lofts at 12th and Jackson opened in 2019, residents of LoMo (Lower Moyamensing) were thrilled. For decades, the former paintbrush manufacturing facility, built in 1926, had been deteriorating. Located in the heart of East Passyunk, it offered studio, one and two-bedroom apartments with rustic charm, and upscale amenities, including a media room, fitness center, roof deck, a green roof, and parking.


When horsepower was measured, not by what was under the hood, but by how many pulled your carriage, the largest and most attractive stables were located on small streets surrounding Rittenhouse Square. This is where owners of nearby opulent mansions kept their horses and carriages. In the early 1900s, when horses were replaced by cars, carriage houses morphed into garages.

Today, the former stables of Rittenhouse Square comprise a discrete Millionaires Row. To see the best of them, take a walk along the tree-lined block of 200 South Van Pelt Street, an alley between Spruce and Locust, 21st and 22nd Streets.  

Here, in former carriage houses, you will find the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia, 254 S. Van Pelt, the nations’ oldest male singing society, founded in 1872.  Originally, members were strictly from the Philadelphia aristocracy. Today, its 80 members are a conglomerate of singers drawn from local college glee clubs.

271 S. Van Pelt

Be sure to check out the 5,040 sq ft. converted carriage house at 258 S. Van Pelt, built in 1800. It is available for a cool $4 million. Nearby, at 271 S. Van Pelt, a 2,440 square-foot carriage house is on the market at $1,370,000 featuring four bedrooms, three baths, and a garage.

Also, venture along the 2000 block of Chancellor where multiple carriage houses and stables were converted to the “millionaire row section.” Take note of 2017 Chancellor, another former carriage house that we believe became a four-story factory in the 1930s before being repurposed into our office of Solo Real Estate.  

Rittenhouse is just one of many Philly neighborhoods where carriage houses have been turned into beautiful residences. Solo Real Estate will soon be showing 1912-14 Brandywine in the Fairmount section, one of three double carriage houses on a tree-lined block. This 4,480 square feet, double-wide property features a spacious artist’s studio on the first floor and a loft-style living room with a dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms.  A dramatic circular staircase leads to a roof deck with panoramic views of the city. Once this special property hits the market, it won’t last long!

For an imaginative repurposing of a stable, consider Stable Lofts at 630 N. Broad. This is where horse dealer Edwin Hart built a three-story, Italianate red brick stable in 1866. In the early 1900s, when North Broad Street, from Cherry Street to Lehigh Avenue, became known as Automobile Row, Hart’s stable was transformed into an auto showroom. Later it served as storage and office space for a number of businesses. 

Stable Lofts, built in 1867 as the Edwin Hart Stables.

In 2015, North Broad Living Management converted the former stable into 41 luxury apartments with the addition of a seven-story extension on the back. By then, the 600 block of N. Broad was synonymous with fine dining and music. (Osteria, South Kitchen & Jazz Parlor, and Cicala at the Divine Lorraine.)  

Stable Lofts now houses 41 luxury apartments.

This former stable offers bi-level units and second-floor lofts, hardwood floors, arched industrial windows and private terraces. To attract young professionals, there is a roof deck, Peloton room, and an on-site restaurant. 

Stable Lofts

Give Me Shelter

Originally a shelter for Jewish women in need, unwed mothers, and orphans, the Rebecca Gratz Club at 532-536 Spruce Street was recently converted into The Gratz luxury apartments that reflect the property’s architectural integrity. 

The Gratz

In the 1920s, the Gratz Club served as a residence for single Jewish women going to school or working in the city. By the 1950s, the Rebecca Gratz Club transitioned into a mental health facility, a nonsectarian halfway house for girls and women. Later, it offered residential care for girls who suffered domestic abuse or who came from troubled homes. In 1978, the club returned to its original function as a foster care home for pregnant teenage girls.

Rebecca Gratz Club. Image courtesy of The City of Philadelphia Public Records.

The historic building in the heart of Society Hill was vacant for many years until it was purchased by PMC Property Group, a Philadelphia-based development company that specializes in underutilized and overlooked urban properties along the East Coast. The apartments offer the usual perks: granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, and that most treasured extra parking. They are also pet-friendly. 

If you are interested in any of the repurposed residences mentioned in this post or want to find a unique property to call home, our experienced Solo agents can assist you. Whether you’re looking for a recently renovated space or a hidden gem to convert to your liking, we can guide you through the process every step of the way.

The Secret Life of Buildings: Philadelphia Alleys

Philadelphia’s alleys have a rich history that contributes to the charm of Philadelphia with their cobblestone, tree-lined streets, and architecture. From tiny streets allowing passage between houses to service roads and residential courts tucked away between larger streets, Philadelphia’s alleys are part of the fabric of the city and hidden gems worth exploring. 

Origins of Alleys

The original function of these tiny streets was to hide the less attractive functions of urban life, including service and servant entrances, horse stables, carriage houses, and trash disposal. This hints at why “backdoor” alleys were synonymous with brothels in the mid-19th century.

An 1849 pamphlet, “Guide to Ladies of Pleasure in the City of Brotherly Love,” lists an abundance of brothels located in alleys, including seven on what is now Darien Street, an alley between 8th and 9th Street. Their proximity to the Walnut Theater was intentional. At the time, the theaters permitted “ladies of the night” to display their wares on the balcony.

Beautiful Alleys

Take a leisurely walk through Center City, and you’ll likely stumble across one of the city’s many alleys. Philly’s abundance of lovely residential alleys is overwhelming: Panama, Iseminger, Latimer, Addison, Van Pelt, etc. We have selected just a few “must-see” alleys to introduce you to their historic relevance and beauty. 

Photo: Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth’s Alley

The nation’s oldest continually inhabited street, Elfreth’s Alley in Old City was created in 1702 as a cart-lane, to move goods from the Delaware River docks to Second Street. The Georgian and Federal-style houses on this National Historic Landmark were built between 1703 and 1836.  They are a rare surviving example of 18th century working-class housing.

By the early 20th century, Elfreth’s Alley was deteriorating. The founding of the Elfreth’s Alley Association(EAA) in 1934 saved the street from demolition. As a result of their efforts in the 1960s, brightly colored shutters, freshly painted houses, flowering window boxes and flags recast the Elfreth’s Alley in a brighter light. Now in its 300th year, the Alley features a museum dedicated to its history. 

Camac Street

This 300 South block of Camac Street, now protected by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, did not always have a genteel reputation. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the block was home to brothels and taverns. In preparation for the Sesquicentennial, it was given a makeover, adding Colonial-era lampposts and hitching posts, improving sidewalks and painting houses. 

By 1915, the houses of debauchery were replaced by discrete ladies and gentlemen’s clubs, including the Plastic Club, Poor Richard Club, the Sketch Club and the Franklin Inn Club. It now also is the home of Tavern on Camac, a popular gay piano bar and restaurant.

Photo: The Franklin Inn Club

The Venture Inn, at 255 S. Camac, which closed in 2016, was originally a stable built in the 1830s and served as a station on the Underground Railroad. In 1919, the former stable became a tea room and, in 1931, it turned into a restaurant. During Prohibition, the Inn served as a speakeasy as did a restaurant at 243 S. Camac named Maxine’s.  In the 1970s, both Maxine’s and the Inn became gay bars making the 300 South block of Camac the hub of the Gayborhood.

Quince Street

Running between Spruce and Pine, and between 11th & 12th,  the 300 South block of Quince Street is a tiny alley of historic homes and tall trees, creating an escape from the bustle of Center City traffic.

It is the home of the Mask and Wig Club, the oldest all-male collegiate musical-comedy troupe in the United States founded in 1889. This University of Pennsylvania eating and drinking clubhouse traces its history back to the early 1800s, during which time it served as a church, a stable and carriage house, and – drum roll please – the dissecting rooms for the nearby Jefferson Medical College.

The Clubhouse is home to a collection of early Maxfield Parrish artwork and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you smell an enticing aroma on Quince Street, follow your nose to Effie’s Restaurant, a Greek taverna with garden dining, located on the corner of Quince and Pine.

Smedley Street

If you have ever walked along the 300 S. Block of Smedley Street, between Spruce and Pine, and 15thand 16th, you may have walked past history without knowing it. The beautiful Georgian-style, red brick house at 333 S. Smedley was not always a private residence.  

Built in 1800, for over fifty years, from the 1940s to the mid-1990s, it was known as the Three Threes, an elegant northern Italian restaurant popular with theater and concertgoers. During Prohibition, it was a speakeasy that made gin in a claw-footed Victorian bathtub. After the restaurant closed in 1994, the property was fully restored as a private residence and featured on a 2017 episode of the HBO series “If These Walls Could Talk.”

Photo: Cory J Popp

Walking Tours

Interested in an architectural perspective of Philly’s alleys?  The Preservation Alliance offers walking tours of The Littlest Streets East of Broad and The Littlest Streets of Fitler Square.

We invite you to discover the big allure of our City’s smallest streets! If you’re interested in buying a historic home nestled in one of the city’s beautiful tree-lined residential alleys or just want to share your favorite alley with us, drop us a line at info@solorealty.com

This article is part of a series titled “The Secret Life of Buildings” where we write about the history and architecture behind Philadelphia’s buildings. We’ve covered row house styles, common Philadelphia brick styles, trinity homes, star bolts, and residential courts, among other topics. 

The Secret Life of Buildings: Bay Windows

There is something irresistible about a bay window. Whether it’s the abundant light it brings into the home or the constantly changing views it affords from inside. As part of our “The Secret Life of Buildings” series, we’ve decided to explore the history of this unique architectural feature that adds value to buildings throughout the City, whether they were built two hundred years ago or yesterday.


The popularity of bay windows in Philadelphia can be traced back to England. Way back! Starting in the 5th century. During the Gothic period, 12th to 16th century, bay windows were known as “oriel” windows. 

An ornamental addition to the building, bay windows were added to cathedrals across Europe. A famous example is St. Sebaldus Church in Nuremberg built in 1361.  In private homes, the area inside the bay window alcove was often used as a house chapel. Meanwhile, in Islamic architecture, bay or oriel windows were used throughout the Arab world as a mashrabiva, a balcony from which women could view public life from behind a screen. 

St. Sebaldus Church

During the English Renaissance, 15th – 17th century, many of the grand houses of the Baroque period featured bay windows that illuminated the ornate detailing of the time. A variation of the bay window is the curved bow or circle bay window. These first appeared in 16th century England and migrated to the United States during the Federal period. 

One of the most exciting and innovative uses of bay windows was Oriel Chambers, built in Liverpool in 1864. It was the world’s first building featuring a metal-framed glass curtain wall, considered to be one of the most influential buildings of its age.

Oriel Chambers, built in Liverpool in 1864.

The Philadelphia Story

Although bay windows made their way across the Atlantic Ocean as early as the Federal Period, it was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras that they really exploded. An example is the bay window at 1219 Spruce, a Romanesque Revival townhouse designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Miles Day in the 1890s. The front of the house features a large bay window capped with a copper cornice with a corbelled design and two small shields. There is another bay window on the Camac Street side of the house. Day also used bay windows to bring light into Houston Hall when he designed it in 1896.

1219 Spruce Street – a Romanesque Revival townhouse designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Miles Day in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of Howard Silverman.

Around the same time, bay windows were making their debut on townhouses ringing Rittenhouse Square. From inside their grand mansions, the City’s elite, including Philadelphia Railroad president Alexander Cassatt and department store founder John Wanamaker, could gaze down upon the lively Square. 

Several opulent mansions with bay windows still exist on the Square, including 1912 Rittenhouse Street and 1923 Walnut. Bay windows are also a prominent feature of 1830 Rittenhouse Square, the first high-rise residential building on the Square, designed in 1913 in the Baroque style by Frederick Webber. 

When affluent people moved from Center City to North Philadelphia in the early 20th century, they were attracted to Gothic and Victorian mansions along North Broad Street and in Strawberry Mansion which featured not only bay windows, but circular windows built into turrets. 

A home in West Philadelphia with circular windows built into turrets

Architectural movements, such as Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau, came and went, but the bay window remained a Philly staple. And not just for the affluent. They were used by builders of middle and working-class row homes in every section of the City throughout the 20th century. By adding three large windows angled out beyond the exterior wall, formerly dark, stuffy homes were filled with light and air.  

Various styles of bay windows in West Philadelphia
Various styles of bay windows

Contemporary Bay Windows

In the 21st century, bay windows have seen a resurgence. Their classic design is popular with homeowners seeking to maximize the natural light and optimize the space in their home while increasing its value.

Modern bay windows are either polygonal or square. The box bay window, which is shaped like a rectangular or square box, is still popular throughout Europe. Today, the term bay window is used to describe any window construction that extends from a building’s exterior wall. Interestingly, the box bay window is the hallmark of new apartment house construction in Philadelphia. 

Modern Bay Windows

When modern versions started appearing in Point Breeze, some older residents were so concerned by this sign of gentrification that they worked with a City Councilman to propose a ban on bay windows in their neighborhood.  However, Philadelphia Preservation Alliance cited bay windows as a defining characteristic of row homes in the Point Breeze section in the late 19th century, early 20th century two-story, single-family row homes. As a result, the ban wasn’t enacted.

Other examples of box bay windows can be seen in a four-story apartment complex on Front Street between Sansom and Walnut, affording breathtaking waterfront views.

Modern Box Bay Windows on Front St.

Bottom line? Bay windows add beauty and value to homes. They improve curb appeal, add natural light, and maximize available space. 

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

The Secret Life of Buildings: Row House Styles

Philadelphians love the row house as much as they love their cheesesteaks and water ice.  How did this unique architectural style take root and thrive for over 300 years? We will take a look at the origins and evolution of the row house, from working man’s home to opulent mansion.

While the row house is synonymous with our City, we did not originate the style. We borrowed it from London and Paris where it first appeared in the 16th century. (Next time you are in Paris, check out the swank Place des Voges. It looks like a mansion, but is actually a series of row houses.) In London, row houses were built for both workers and noblemen. Philly took that cue and ran with it.

From humble dwelling to stately splendor

Early row houses, dubbed Bandbox or Trinity, were only 400-600 sq ft.  They had one entry, one room on each floor, a narrow winding staircase, and no running water. Toilets? Outside! They first appeared along narrow alley blocks near the waterfront in the early 18th Century to house dock workers. Trinity houses can be found today in Society Hill, Washington Square West, Queen Village, Old City, and Kensington. Want to learn more about trinity homes? We covered them in another blog post from this series.

Although early row houses were half-timber, mimicking the English style, they soon switched to brick which was a better fire retardant. An abundance of local clay allowed brickmaking to flourish here. By the 18th century, we were America’s preeminent brickmaking city. 

In the 19th Century row houses expanded into the Double Trinity or London House. These spacious 1,000-8,000 sq ft homes had three stories plus a basement, two fireplaces, and a rear yard. Today, these larger row houses ring Washington Square and may be found in several neighborhoods throughout the City.

Georgian Row House: Powell House is located at 244 S. Third Street.
Georgian Row House: Powell House is located at 244 S. Third Street. Image: VisitPhilly.com

The wealthy favored Townhouses, 3,000-7,000 sq ft with three to four stories, grand staircases, and abundant light. These are found in Society Hill and Washington Square West.  A classic example is the Powel House, built in 1765 and located at 244 S. Third Street. It is now a museum and considered to be one of the finest Georgian row houses in the city. 

Row House Architectural Styles

Georgian houses, 1714-1830, featured symmetrical windows, shutters, and columns. Entrances were often embellished with pediments, arches, and columns. Interiors featured high ceilings and crown molding.  

Federal Style: 171 Poplar Street
Federal Style: 171 Poplar Street. Image courtesy of Solo Real Estate.

Federal style, 1780-1820, had many of the same elements but with details that are more delicate, including front door fanlight windows and elaborate porticos and curved arches. A Federal-style home in Northern Liberties is currently available for Sale through Solo Real Estate.

Greek or Classical Revival: Girard Row.
Greek or Classical Revival: Girard Row. Image: WikiMedia

Greek or Classical Revival, started in 1820. The ceilings were taller. Attics were replaced by a full third floor. Examples include Girard Row, a set of five-row houses built in 1831 by banker Stephen Girard, located on the 300 block of Spruce Street. Or consider the elegant Thomas Eakins House, built in 1854, at 1727-29 Mount Vernon Street, now the headquarters of the Mural Arts Program

Greek or Classical Revival: Thomas Earkins House.
Greek or Classical Revival: Thomas Earkins House. Image: Philly Voice

Gothic Revival, 1830-1860, can be recognized by its pointed arches on roofs, windows, or doors. Other characteristic details include steeply pitched roofs and front-facing gables with delicate wooden trim called vergeboards or bargeboards. Examples can be found in West and North Philly. Tip: If it looks like the Adams Family lives there, it’s Gothic!

Renaissance Revival or Neo-Renaissance, 1840-1890, combined elements of Italian, French and Flemish Renaissance architecture. They featured
brownstone or light-colored brick facades and often had decorative
motifs, like wreaths, flower garlands along the cornice and around the

Victorian style, 1837-1901, which often included Gothic elements, inspired the towering brownstone mansions found in Rittenhouse and Fitler Square. The 4100 block of Parkside Avenue in West Philly, built in 1876 during the Centennial Exhibition, is an excellent example of Gothic-Victorian style and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Row house Styles: Gothic Victorian in Parkside Ave in West Philadelphia.
Row house Styles: Victorian in Parkside Ave in West Philadelphia. Image: Wikipedia.org

Mid to Late 19th Century 

With the advent of the streetcar and increased immigration, developers expanded row house developments creating new neighborhoods close to factories and industry.

Small row houses with indoor plumbing, 1,000-1,600 sq ft, sprang up in Manayunk, as well as North, West, and South Philadelphia. Larger, “Streetcar Town Houses”, 2,200-2,500 sq ft, with front porches, bay windows, and tall ceilings also appeared in these areas. 

For the elite, there were Urban Mansions, 3,00-6,000 sq ft with three to four floors, with two stairs (one for servants), carriage houses, skylights, and ornate fireplaces. In the 1890s, Urban Mansions attracted wealthy Jews to Strawberry Mansion in North Philly, while the City’s elite gravitated to Millionaires Row on South Broad.  A beautiful example is the Lippincott Mansion, 1897, 507 S. Broad which featured a 10×20’ stained-glass skylight. 

Lippincott Mansion, located at 507 S. Broad St.
Urban Mansions: Lippincott Mansion, located at 507 S. Broad St. Image: Vintage-Instruments.com

Our City’s row house styles are each unique in their right and built to last. From Kensington to East Passyunk, from West Philly to Germantown, these homes continue to stand the test of time, evolving and contributing to Philadelphia’s architectural landscape.

This article is part of a series titled “The Secret Life of Buildings” where we write about the history and architecture behind Philadelphia’s buildings. We’ve covered common Philadelphia brick styles, trinity homes, star bolts, and residential courts, among other topics. What else would you like to learn about? Follow us and DM us on Facebook or Instagram to let us know!

A Guide to Your Philadelphia Home’s History

Does your home have an intriguing history? Would you like to know who were its first tenants? If so, the City of Philadelphia makes it easy to trace your house’s past via maps and archival documents, including deeds that go back to 1683. Below is a list of local resources you can use to find more information about the history of your home.  

Philadelphia City Archives

If your house was built prior to 1955, start with Philadelphia City Archives at 548 Spring Garden Street. There, archivists will conduct a detailed search for historical materials relating to the address you provide and present you with the appropriate files. You never know what you will find. The records may contain handwritten deeds, transfers of property, or architectural renderings. If you are a fan of Finding Your Roots, the PBS program that delves into genealogy, you will love the City Archives. To schedule a visit, call 215-685-9401.

Besides recording deeds, the City Archives maintains a Photo Archive of two million photographs, dating from the late 1800s, including images of the City’s architecture, industry, and culture. Tap into this fascinating resource to trace the changes in your neighborhood.

Philadelphia Department of Records

If your home was constructed between 1956 and the present, go to City Hall Dept. of Records. Since this office also contains records of births, deaths, and marriages, it may involve a longer wait than the City Archives. However, if you are nimble with technology, you can access digital property deeds online from 1683 through 1974 at the Philadelphia Dept of Records. Be prepared to buy a subscription to conduct a search and wade through a complex system of deed books. 

These deed books provide a wealth of information regarding the ownership and use of real estate in Philadelphia. The standard deed includes information on the date of the transaction, the names, residences, and occupations of the buyer and seller, the sale price, a survey description of the property usually with an indication of whether there is a building on the property, a description, called a recital, of how the seller acquired the property.

Free Library Interactive Digital Mapping Tool

If you want to see how your block or neighborhood has changed over the years, the Free Library offers an interactive digital mapping tool, dating back as far as 1843. These are no ordinary maps! They include 19th-century maps of whiskey warehouses, Fairmount Park, horse car routes, and atlases of the City by wards.

Philadelphia Historic Commission

To find out if your property is registered as historic, to nominate a property, or apply for a historic plaque, contact the Philadelphia Historic Commission. Besides designating individual properties, the Commission also lists Historic Districts and offers manuals for homeowners in those neighborhoods. Besides the usual suspects, Philadelphia’s Historic Districts include West Girard Avenue, Diamond Street, Parkside, and many other architecturally significant areas.

Looking for a home with a history? 171 Poplar Street is an 1843 Federal-Style Townhouse in Northern Liberties available for sale through Solo Real Estate.
171 Poplar Street is an 1843 Federal-Style Townhouse in Northern Liberties available for sale through Solo Real Estate.

Philadelphia Architects & Buildings

Philadelphia Architects & Buildings is also a helpful online tool to learn about the architect who designed your home. Hosted by the Atheneum, you simply enter the property’s address or the name of the architect. If there’s a match, you will have access to the architect’s resume, along with the locations of other properties he designed with dates and photos. To gain access without signing up for a subscription, sign in as a guest. 

Whether you have an old home or are looking to purchase a new place to call home, researching the property’s history can be an important step in determining its value and preserving its architectural integrity.