The Secret Life of Buildings: Beaux-Arts Architecture

Philadelphians often refer to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as being our very own “Champs-Elysees.” They are not mistaken. The Beaux-Arts style of this grand boulevard was borrowed directly from Baron Haussmann’s 19th-century urban renewal of Paris.  We invite you to go back in time, to understand how the Beaux-Arts movement came to become part of Philadelphia’s architectural heritage. 


Beaux-Arts architecture gets its name from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the premier French school of architecture that flourished from 1885 to 1930. When American architects traveled to Europe, they were astounded by how Paris had changed from a dark warren of narrow streets to grand boulevards filled with gleaming monuments, museums, and libraries in the Greek and Roman decorative style. If the French can do it, they thought, why can’t we?

The Beaux-Arts style combines grand and imposing size with Italian Renaissance and classical Greek and Roman decorative elements like columns, pediments, and balustrades. Exterior decorative details may include arched windows, balconies, and terraces, as well as ornamental windows and grand entrances. 

One of the most distinctive features borrowed from ancient Rome was coffered ceilings, consisting of a series of rectangular, square, or octagon grids in three-dimension sunken or recessed panels. 

Philadelphia’s Beaux-Arts Buildings

Take a walk back in time by visiting the City’s Beaux-Arts treasures, starting with two buildings created in 1871 as part of the 1876 Centennial Exposition. They include Memorial Hall (now the Please Touch Museum), originally built as the City’s art gallery in Fairmont Park prior to the creation of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) at Broad and Cherry streets, designed by Philadelphia’s renowned architect Frank Furness.

Below we’ll go over a few more examples of buildings with Beaux-Arts architectural details in our vibrant city.

The Bourse

The Philadelphia Bourse, designed by GW & WD Hewitt in the Beaux-Arts style, modeled after the Bourse in Hamburg, Germany, was built from 1893 to 1895.  Originally designed as a commodities exchange, it is now a food court across from Independence Hall Park.

The Philadelphia Bourse building

The Union League

The Union League was originally built in 1865 in what’s called Second Empire-style and didn’t have any Beaux-Arts elements until it was renovated in 1910. The building’s Beaux-Arts style additions, which face 15th Street, were designed by Horace Trumbauerer

The Curtis Building

The Curtis Building (now the Curtis Center), on the northwest corner of 6th & Walnut is a must-see, inside and out. Designed by architect Edgar V. Seeler in 1911, the building’s lobby contains The Dream Garden, a breathtaking mosaic mural by Louis C. Tiffany based on an original painting by Maxfield Parrish.  If you go, make sure to visit the Curtis Center’s historic atrium, a vast, marbled-floored hall topped with a steel and glass roof, now used for weddings and special events.


Free Library of Philadelphia, Parkway Central

The Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch was designed by Julian Francis Abele, the first black architect to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. He worked with Horace Trumbauer on the Union League and Philadelphia Museum of Art. The construction which started in 1917 was held up for ten years do the start of the First World War.

Next to the Free Library is another Beaux-Arts gem, the Family Court Building built between 1938 and 1941. Designed by famed architect John T. Windrim and his colleague William Richard Morton Keast, the building tips its hat to Paris with its resemblance to the Hôtel de Crillon and the French Naval Ministry on Paris’ Place de la Concorde. This allows architecturally astute Philadelphians strolling in Paris to exclaim,” This looks just like Philly!”

Beaux-Arts in Residential Homes

While the Beaux-Arts style was predominantly used in public buildings due to the high cost, affluent Americans were still eager to erect impressive mansions to showcase wealth. In Rittenhouse Square, you can find three local examples of private mansions built in the Beaux-Arts style. 

The first is the Alexander Van Rensselaer residence (now an Anthropologie) on the northwest corner of 18th and Walnut by Rittenhouse Square Park. Step inside the store to check out the opulent interior details of the former mansion which later served as Penn Athletic Club’s clubhouse. Inside a sweeping spiral staircase leads shoppers through four floors of merchandise and displays. When you visit, be sure to look up! The most notable original detail of the interior is an impressive stained glass dome with painted portraits of Italian princes.

Just one block away is the former Drexel Residence (now the Curtis Institute) on the southeast corner of 18th and Locust, and the Samuel P. Wetherill Mansion (now the Uarts/Art Alliance) at 251 S. 18th St. Both are stunning examples of Beaux-Arts classicism and elegance.

You can visit and appreciate many of these buildings by taking an afternoon stroll and walking through Center City. If you’d like a guided architectural walking tour, consider contacting the Preservation Alliance.

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

Ray’s Reusables Brings Sustainable Shopping to Northern Liberties

In March, Ray Daly opened her first brick and mortar store, Ray’s Reusables, at 935 N. 2nd St in Northern Liberties after running her business on the road as Philadelphia’s first mobile refill shop.

“In 2020, I turned a cargo van into a traveling eco-store, bringing reusable, low-waste products to farmers’ markets in East Falls and Fairmount,” said Daly. In her white van, decorated with Ginko leaves, Ray’s Reusables was well received.

“With the flexibility and mobility of the van, I was able to go into different neighborhoods around the city, making sustainable shopping easier for eco-conscious Philadelphians,” she said. 

“But there were neighborhoods I could not reach due to many farmers’ markets limiting vendors to producers and also the narrowness of streets in certain sections of the City,” she said. Meanwhile, residents of Northern Liberties and Fishtown sought her out via Instagram. 

Refill station at Ray’s Reusables in Northern Liberties

“As soon as I opened the shop in Northern Liberties, they came,” said Daly. “Among the most popular products are UNpaper towels made out of cotton flannel in fun patterns,” she said. “The other products that are in demand are refills: organic hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, and body wash.” Other products include a cast iron conditioner, beeswax wrap, rosewater face cream, bamboo cutlery and brushes, natural toothpaste, and an all-purpose cleaner.

Why sustainability?

“Plastic production has increased dramatically since it first came on the scene. Between 1950 and 2019, approximately, 8.3 billion pounds of plastic were created. Only 9% of that total has been recycled. 79% is in landfills and, worse yet, in our oceans and other ecosystems,” said Daly. “I believe that as consumers we have the power to effect change. By investing in quality reusable and refillable solutions we also invest in the health of the environment.”

How it all started

A self-described “Air Force brat” who grew up in Maryland, Daly has traveled all over the world but, before moving to Philly in 2018, she had never lived in a large American city. 

“I came here with my husband whose family lives across the bridge in Jersey,” she said. “I had been teaching high school English in Maryland and working at Whole Foods when I decided to go in another direction.“

“I started by turning the pockets from my old jeans into something useful and beautiful – cutlery holders! But as I watched the pandemic unfold and saw the waste that was being created as a result, I realized I wanted to do even more to support the sustainable community. That’s why I decided to open up Philadelphia’s first mobile refill shop.”

Daly seized the moment, realizing that during the pandemic people preferred to shop outdoors rather than entering a shop. Farmers’ markets created the perfect opportunity. “My mission was to make plastic-free options accessible and affordable to people regardless of where they live in the City.”

“Now that I have a storefront, it gives me a lot more flexibility in what I can carry. I just expanded to face care refills and curly hair gel,” said Daly. Besides basing her business in Northern Liberties, Daly is looking forward to becoming a neighborhood resident in the near future.

The new brick-and-mortar location shop allows Ray to stock a wider array of products, and reach a new audience but on Saturdays and First Fridays, Daly will continue to take the shop on the road. Her goal? To make sustainable options more accessible for all.

Stop by 935 N. 2nd St to support this sustainable small business during their store hours Mon, Wed, Fri: 11am – 7pm; Saturday: 3pm – 6pm; and Sunday: 10am – 4 pm, or check out their calendar to see where the van will pop up next.

Tiny Gardens

Spring is the ideal time to dive into gardening but if you rent an apartment or live in a small rowhome, you may not have a lot of room to work with. No front or back yard? No problem. Whether you have a small side alley or enough room for a tiny garden on your windowsill or kitchen counter, there are lots of creative ways you can get growing. Here are some ideas to inspire you to create your own small green spaces at home that can thrive in any dwelling no matter how small.


Consider adding some green to your living space with a small, low-maintenance terrarium. They make beautiful accent pieces that add greenery and beauty to any room in your home. Start with a visit to Pretty Green Terrariums at 1116 South Street and at 907 Market Street which offers terrarium workshops on and off-site by appointment. 

Image: Pretty Green Terrariums

To build your own terrarium you’ll need:

  • Glass Containers: A terrarium can be created in any size or shape clear glass bowl, jar, or container, including a large mason jar. You’ll find a large selection at Urban Jungle 1526 Passyunk and ILL Exotics, 1704-6 Passyunk. Used glass bottles and condiment jars also make great containers. For a more eco-friendly option, we encourage you to reuse what you already have on hand!
  • Plants: Mini succulents and small tropical house plants are well suited to terrariums and come in many colors and shapes. They are available at most area plant shops.
  • Materials: You will need more than potting soil. Terrariums require sand and rocks in addition to succulents. City Planter in Northern Liberties sells a DIY Terrarium Kit.
Image: Urban Jungle

Start by rinsing and drying the glass container to make sure it is clean of dust or contaminants. Place small rocks or pebbles on the bottom, then add a few inches of soil. Add your plants, packing a layer of topsoil to secure them in place. Finish with a layer of sand and any decorations you would like to add such as seashells, moss, or decorative items. Lightly water the terrarium and place it by a bright window.

No time to make your own terrarium? Buy one ready-made at Philadelphia Flower Market, 1500 JFK Blvd. They also make a thoughtful, living get-well or hostess gift as opposed to flowers that droop within a few days.


The tradition of creating miniature bonsai trees is so popular there are national and regional organizations for its adherents, including the Pennsylvania Bonsai Society, founded in 1963.  Originating in China in the 3rd Century, bonsai was later adopted by the Japanese and, today is considered an art form representing spiritual harmony.

Caring for a bonsai requires continual pruning and re-potting to maintain its unique grace and size. As in any art form, there is a learning curve as well as special tools. The Philadelphia Flower Show, June 11-19, 2022 is a great opportunity to learn about bonsai and speak with its aficionados. Or chat with bonsai experts at City Planter.

Edible Container Gardens

Anyone can grow geraniums, pansies, or begonias in a window box or balcony planter. But how about growing a fresh local salad?  The roots of lettuce plants are relatively shallow, making them an excellent choice for tiny gardens. Choose from looseleaf, butterhead, romaine, iceberg, arugula, chives, cherry tomatoes, and spinach. Remember, a plant’s nutritional value is only as good as what you put in the soil; leafy greens require high amounts of nitrogen throughout the growing cycle. Rather than using seeds, you may want to buy small plugs of edible plants at area nurseries.

Talk to your local gardening center before embarking on this project and make sure your container or window box is appropriate for your purpose. You can also sign up for PHS’ workshop on growing microgreens to learn how to grow your own microgreen garden from seed to salad.

Many Philly plant shops have nurseries where you can learn more about growing edible plants and buy the tools needed to grow them. Visit Urban Jungle’s new Pennsport Plant Nursery, 1721 S. Walter Street, or Greensgrow educational urban farm, 2501 E. Cumberland St in Kensington.  

Image: Greensgrow Farms

Herb Garden

If you love to cook, reaching for fresh herbs is much more satisfying than reaching for a jar of dried parsley, and it provides a better taste to cooked meals. If you’re a first-timer, buy a small plant from a garden center and plant it on your kitchen windowsill.

Some herbs, like rosemary, lavender, and thyme, thrive in drier soil, whereas others, like mint, chives, and basil, prefer generous waterings. A common mistake with new herb growers is that they will try to grow plants with different watering needs in the same box, resulting in inconsistent growth. Ask your local plant expert for watering instructions. The easiest way to go?  Buy separate containers. 

Plant Giveaways and Swaps at The PHS Pop Up Garden South St.

Looking to pick up a free new plant or speak with master gardeners to get more tiny garden tips and ideas? Join us for a plant swap or bulb giveaway at the PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street! Solo is proud to be sponsoring the garden and the work that PHS does in our community for the fifth consecutive year. We will be sponsoring PHS’ monthly Plant Swaps with giveaways of horticultural favorites like summer gladiolus bulbs, flowering annuals, houseplants, succulents, tulip, daffodil bulbs, and more. Solo Real Estate will also be providing complimentary zinnia seed packs and new recycling containers throughout the season. 

Families, friends, and pets are welcome to experience the beautiful outdoor garden, featuring plant and garden installations, alongside a full food and beverage menu, with ample seating, entertainment, and space options to suit every party size.   

For more small-space gardening tips, read our article on container gardening 101. If you’re already an avid home gardener and need more space, consider volunteering or joining a local community garden to learn more about urban gardening in Philadelphia.

Women’s History Month

As the end of Women’s History Month approaches we’d like to take a moment to salute women who have taken leadership roles in shaping Philadelphia’s social, cultural, and economic development. Join us in celebrating the contributions of women — past and present — by learning about their legacy and attending some special events this month.

Looking back

Betsy Ross has her own Museum, but here are three other Philadelphia women of courage you should know.

Lucretia Mott - Image: Library of Congress
Lucretia Mott – Image: Library of Congress

Lucretia Mott (1793-18880) was a Quaker preacher and a cousin of Benjamin Franklin. She was a staunch abolitionist, feminist, and women’s rights advocate. When the nation abolished slavery, she advocated giving former slaves, both male and female, the right to vote.

Painting of Rebecca Gratz by Thomas Sully – Image: The Rosenbach

Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869) was an educator and social reformer. She founded the first orphanage in Philadelphia, the first charitable organization to benefit impoverished women and children, and the first Hebrew Sunday School in America.

Marian Anderson in 1940, by Carl Van Vechten. Image: Library of Congress

Marian Anderson (1897- 1993) overcame the oppressive Jim Crow racism of her day to become the first internationally acclaimed Black opera singer. Turned down by vocal academies in Philadelphia, she studied abroad and returned to win a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. Anderson become the first African American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Women’s History Month Events

She Rocked It!  In celebration of Women’s History Month, the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District and She RockedIt! present a panel discussion with women business owners from East Passyunk Avenue about their experiences, challenges, and successes. Monday, March 28th, 6-9 pm, Society Hill Dance Academy, 1919 Passyunk Avenue. The event is free but space is limited. RSVP required.

Take a Badass History Tour of Philadelphia focusing on trailblazing women who shaped Philly history with Beyond the Bell Tours, a Philly women-owned trolley tour company.

Visit Harriet Tubman – The Journey to Freedom. The nine-foot sculpture of famed abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor is now on display in the north apron of City Hall through the end of this month in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Tubman’s birth.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is showcasing Women in Motion, 80 works of art by more than 50 American women artists with work spanning from PAFA’s founding in 1805 through the end of World War II. 

The National Constitution Center marks Women’s History Month with a slate of educational programs as part of its exhibit The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote. Admission is free on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote Exhibit

The Sisterly Love Collective, a nonprofit celebrating Philadelphia’s women chefs and women-owned restauranteurs, hosts a Women’s History Month workshop and celebration for emerging and established female entrepreneurs, March 28th, 12:30 pm-8:30 pm at the Fitler Club, 24 S. 24th Street.

Monica Glass of Sisterly Love Philly

The Museum of the American Revolution presents the little-known story of the time period between 1776 and 1807 when women (and free people of color) could legally vote in New Jersey, and what led to that right ultimately being lost, in an online exhibit called When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story.

The Philadelphia Ballet hosts Dance Theater of Harlem stars who danced their way into the spotlight during the 1970s. In this talk, Black women share their stories of being a dancer in the world of ballet and issues of race in dance. Mandell Theater, Drexel University, 3220 Chestnut St. Monday, March 28th at 1pm.

To commemorate Women’s History Month and the contributions of countless women throughout history, make a point of supporting one of Philly’s many women-owned businesses! 

How To Prepare Your Home for Sale Checklist

A good agent will guide you through the process and help you list your home for sale but getting the best possible price for your home requires more than simply hiring a reputable real estate agent. There are a series of steps you’ll need to take to prepare the home for sale, beginning months before they show the property. Here is a checklist to help you prepare your home for sale.

Curb Appeal

Potential buyers form an impression before they enter your home. If you are not sure what needs to be updated, take a photo of your home from across the street. See if the front door and shutters would benefit from a fresh coat of paint if a new light fixture would make your home more inviting. Consider placing a planter by the front door. 

photo of a philadelphia rowhome with a matching teal door, shutters and garage. Two planters sit side by side by the main door to the home.

If you have been putting off re-pointing brickwork or repainting stucco, now is the time to do so. Assuming the new owner will do these things will reduce your sale price. Clean all windows and screens. If you have a storm door or screen door, make sure it looks new or replace it.

If the sidewalk in front of your home is cracked, broken, or capable of causing a fall, that’s definitely something you’ll want to fix. 

“A pre-inspection might also be a good way to know and correct defects that could come up,” said Deborah Solo, founder of Solo Real Estate. “I usually do a walk-through of a potential listing to see what each property could benefit from.”


30 days before buyers arrive, start to clear off all counters, windowsills, and tables of clutter. That goes for inside closets and cupboards which buyers will surely open. Be prepared to use only 50% of your closet space. If it looks full to bursting, it will send a negative message. The more you remove, the more spacious your house will appear.

Remove everything that is personal. That means packing away family photos, tchotchkes, religious objects, homemade crafts, artwork, and refrigerator magnets. Go room by room and eliminate unnecessary furniture taking up valuable space. Your home should look clean, spacious, and clear of anything that might get in the way of someone imagining themselves in the house.

Donate what you no longer need and take items to a storage facility rather than piling up boxes in your basement or garage. This will also make your move easier. Got kids? Store all toys, games, etc.

Re-paint the interior

The ideal time to paint your home is a month before the listing goes live — the walls will still look freshly painted when your home goes on the market, and you’ve likely already done some of the packing and moving, so you won’t scratch or damage newly painted walls.

Even if a pricey decorator chose trendy gray and “greige” tones for your home, repaint every room a light, neutral color without accent walls. Shoot for one of Benjamin Moore’s white or neutral colors. Leave the “color of the year” up to the next homeowner. Don’t forget to paint windowsills and baseboards.

Lighten up

Replace dim light bulbs with brighter, more energy-efficient LED bulbs, especially in ceiling and bathroom fixtures.

Tighten up

Check all door, stove, and cabinet handles. If any are loose, get out your screwdriver.

Add some green plants

Plants create a welcoming environment. Consider placing a bouquet of flowers on your dining room table and a bowl of fresh fruit on a kitchen counter. If the clutter you removed leaves bookcases and coffee tables looking empty, add a green plant. Avoid plastic plants as they can look cheap and communicate the wrong message.

A built in planter with greenery at kensington yards.

Do A Smell Test For Any Odors

Ask your real estate agent if they can detect any unpleasant odors. If you have a pet or a smoker in your home, masking these odors with room deodorizers isn’t enough. Invest in a professional deep clean which includes all surfaces, carpets, and furniture. You may choose to board your pet while showing your home. 

Schedule Cleanings

Consider hiring a cleaning service that will come back weekly. Unless your home sells to the very first potential buyer, you will have to repeatedly shine your kitchen and bathroom floors, dust, vacuum, etc. Use a professional carpet cleaner, especially if you have pets.

Hide valuables

People you don’t know personally will be coming into your home. Put all valuables, including passports, checkbooks, cash, credit cards, jewelry, and collectibles into a safety deposit box. Be especially cautious about protecting items in your home office, including laptops and files.


Consider hiring a staging company. Let’s say the home you are selling isn’t yours and it belonged to your parents who hadn’t bought a new piece of furniture since the mid-80s. If you do not want the furniture, donate it and hire a staging company. They will fill the house with classic pieces and attractive décor which will help appeal to younger buyers.

That is not the only reason to use a staging company. It also makes sense if you have already closed on your new home and want to live there before your old house sells. 

Solo Real Estate has decades of experience helping buyers and sellers achieve their goals, and we understand there’s no one size fits all approach to getting ready to sell your home. We have longstanding vendor relationships with contractors, lenders, and staging companies so we can provide guidance, recommendations and even handle all the details for sellers who may not live in Philadelphia anymore or don’t have the time.

Our agents are experts at helping homeowners overcome any hurdles that may come up along the way so you can get the best offer and arrive at a smooth through closing. Thinking of selling your home? Email us to discuss your real estate goals!

Love Where You Live: Eco-Friendly Valentine’s Day

This year, celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that expresses your love for the planet. Instead of roses, consider giving personal experiences like a painting or cooking class. If like us, you love where you live, make an effort to patronize local businesses, and look for ways to support and improve your neighborhood. Below are some suggestions for you to have a more sustainable Valentine’s Day.

Sustainable Flowers

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, for Valentine’s Day, 4 billion roses will be flown on cargo jets from Colombia, emitting more than 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Once they land in Miami, they are transported in refrigerated trucks burning diesel fuel.

Locally-grown tulips. Image: Jig-Bee Flower Farm

The “Slow Flower Movement” offers an ecological alternative – buy in-season flowers from small growers in your area. In Philly, that means Jig Bee Flower Farm which offers seasonal bouquets at The American Street Flower Market or at locations in Old City, East Falls, Kensington, and Fishtown. Order a Valentine’s Day bouquet with locally-grown tulips on their website, or subscribe to their weekly or monthly deliveries to your home to express your love throughout the year. 

Local Chocolates

Forget those heart-shaped boxes at CVS as well as Godiva. If you really want to get a heart beating faster, support a local business and check out the mouth-watering selection at John & Kira’s. Made in their North Philly kitchen under the supervision of French-trained Chef Angele Sticco, John & Kira’s uses ingredients from small local farms to flavor their unique chocolates. They offer Valentine’s Day assortments, including dark and milk chocolate ganache hearts, as well as Chocolate Dipped Figs and other delectables.

Hearts & Lovebugs Chocolates. Image: John & Kira’s

Give Him/Her a Class

Now here’s a gift that keeps on giving! Sign your partner up for an in-person or online Valentine’s cooking class at Cozy Meal. Choose from French, Italian, Vietnamese, and Vegetarian cuisine. 

Dish from Italian American Restaurant Favorites Class. Image: Cozymeal

Give the language of love with an Alliance Francaise daily online French class. 

Or the art of love at Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philly. Choose from Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Photography, Ceramics, Fiber Art, Sculpture, Jewelry Making, and a special Valentine’s Paper Cutting Class.

Romantic Takeout

Why dine out on the one night of the year when restaurants are booked weeks in advance, short-staffed and noisy? Instead, take advantage of restaurants offering Valentine’s Day dinners for take-out and home delivery. All you add are the candles.

Charlie Was a Sinner and its sister restaurant Bar Bombon in the Gayborhood offers decadent, five-course, vegan dinners for two, with a bottle of sparkling rosé, a bouquet of local flowers, and vegan chocolates.

Fond in East Passyunk offer an array of Valentine’s take-out options, including Shrimp Cocktail, Crab Cakes, Beef Bourguignon, and Coconut Caramel Chocolate Truffles. Pre-order through Feb. 12th.

Valentine’s Day dish at Fond. Image: Fond

Talula’s Garden on Washington Square, considered one of the top farm-to-table restaurants in Philadelphia, has a five-course menu available for indoor dining, pick up, or delivery. It includes Lobster Risotto, Short Ribs, Polenta, and Berries with Whipped Cream and optional beverage pairings.

Patronize Local Sustainable Shops

To identify eco-friendly shops in your neighborhood, check Philly’s Sustainable Business Network. Their listings include Cake Life Bake Shop in Fishtown which offers special Valentine’s Day desserts. Also listed are LUHV Vegan Deli in Center City, Mariposa Food Coop in West Philly, and Frieda, a combination community cultural center and eatery in Society Hill.

Valentine’s Day Desserts. Image: Cake Life Bake Shop

For the marine animal lover in your life, anything your purchase from United By Blue will help clean the ocean, whether it’s candles or a backpack.

Good Buy Supply in East Passyunk focuses on eco-friendly goods. Image: Good Buy Supply

Or visit Good Buy Supply in East Passyunk where you can fill a tote bag with sustainable goodies, including goat milk Soap, a Luffa sponge, wax wraps, a bamboo toothbrush, and more.

Moon + Arrow in Bella Vista has many Valentine’s gifts made by local artisans. Give your loved one the pleasure of a Bodah Ritual Aromatherapy Eye-Pillow scented with lavender and chamomile. Or If you are head over heels, take a long look at their exquisite hand-crafted jewelry.

Bodah Eye Pillow. Image: Moon + Arrow

Steel Pony on Philly’s Fabric Row is a slow fashion women’s clothing boutique that specializes in hand-dyed, one-size-fits-all garments and handbags that are made to order, as well as ready-made items available online. This eco-friendly design company is run by a husband and wife team with the goal of creating beautiful fashions that are good for the environment. 

Do Good in Your Neighborhood

Valentine’s Day isn’t just about couples. It’s about loving your community. Here are some caring activities to do on your own, with a partner or your children.

Volunteer at an animal shelter to walk dogs. This is a fun activity, especially for those who cannot own or foster an animal at the present time. For info on volunteering, contact Philly Paws.

Express your love of animals by volunteering with an animal shelter. Image: Philly Paws

Volunteer at a food bank. They always appreciate an extra pair of hands. Or call a local food bank, ask what they need, and do a collection on your street.

Organize a neighborhood clean-up day. Chat with your block captain and neighbors to plan a day to clean up your block or join an existing neighborhood clean-up in your area.

Whether you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day alone, with a partner, with family, or with friends, we encourage you to do it with love for your community and our planet in mind.

Looking for other ways you can be more sustainable? Check out our article on Four Ways to Minimize your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia or our list on 5 Things Philly Renters can do for the Environment.

The Secret Life of Buildings: Mid Century Modern Philadelphia

The Philadelphia skyline changed dramatically from 1940 to 1970, creating over 400 significant mid century modern buildings. Designed by the great architects of their day, these bold buildings reflected a dynamic change in the way we live. Here is a guide to some of our City’s best surviving examples of mid century modern design.

Woolworth, 1948

Woolworth Building. Image: Free Library Picture Collection
Woolworth Building at 1330 Chesnut Street in 1949.
Image: Free Library Picture Collection

When this store opened at 1330 Chestnut, it was the largest Woolworth’s in the nation and marked a radical change in Philly architecture. Its sleek, modern design contrasted with the rococo architecture on the corner of Chestnut and Sansom, as well as the late 19th century Wanamaker Building across the street. Today, it is the home of West Elm, Lucky Strike Bowling, and Blick’s.

Penn Center, 1953

The centrally located complex of office towers and retail space, between 15th and 19th Streets on Market Street, is credited with bringing Philadelphia into the era of modernity. To create it, a ten-block, red stone wall viaduct known as the “Chinese Wall” had to come down. Ed Bacon, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, came up with a master plan for the area to be cleared. 

Penn Center. Image: Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

The original plan called for just three hi-rise towers. Now there are eleven. The first to be completed was 3 Penn Center, 1515 Market, designed by Vincent Kling. Five more towers were completed by 1970. Today, the tallest tower is 9 Penn Center with 54 floors, completed in 1990.

Beth Sholom Synagogue, 1959

This Elkins Park synagogue located on Old York Road (Route 611) was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last commissions at the age of 85. It was completed five months after Wright’s death and one month before the dedication of one of his most iconic buildings, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Beth Sholom. Image: Library of Congress
Beth Sholom’s metal roof and sloped glass mid century modern features. Image: Library of Congress

Designed to emulate Mt. Sinai, the building has a steeped, sloped glass and a metal roof which allows light to radiate into the sanctuary. Added to the National Register in 2007, tours are available upon request.

Richard’s Medical Research Labs, 1960

Louis Kahn designed this building at 3700 Hamilton Walk on Penn’s campus when he was a professor in the University’s Architecture School. Now considered a National Historic Landmark, at the time it was completed it was criticized by the scientists who worked there and praised by architects.  

Richard’s Medical Research Labs. Image: UPenn.edu
Richard’s Medical Research Labs. Image: UPenn.edu

In this innovative design, Kahn returned to the formal complications lost in International Modernism, reviving the richness which had been so much a part of the tradition of Philadelphia architecture. This is one of the most important buildings on the Penn campus, by one of the most important architects of the modern era. 

Love Park Welcome Center, 1960

Roy Larson of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson designed the iconic mid-century “Flintstones” era flying saucer in Love Park as a futuristic celebration of postwar Philadelphia optimism. 

LOVE Park Welcome Center. Image: Fairmount Park Conservancy
LOVE Park Welcome Center is an example of mid century modern architecture in Center City. Image: Fairmount Park Conservancy

When the Visitors’ Center relocated to Independence Mall in 2016, the saucer was saved from demolition. It is scheduled to reopen as a restaurant with 360-degree views. 

Police Administration Building, 1963 

"The Roundhouse". Image: Temple University Library, Special Collections
“The Roundhouse”. Image: Temple University Library, Special Collections

Is it a coincidence that a Brutalist building was created to house Philly’s finest? Known as the Roundhouse, it was designed by Geddes, Brecher, Qualls, and Cunningham and was considered groundbreaking because it was built using an innovative system of pre-cast, pre-stressed concrete. Located at 750 Race Street, the future of the building is unclear as plans to relocate the Police Administration to the former Inquirer Building on N. Broad Street have been delayed.

Society Hill Towers, 1964

When ground was broken for Society Hill Towers at 220 Locust, Philadelphians were puzzled. Who would want to live in what had long been a forsaken area before the advent of Penn’s Landing? The answer was “everyone.”

Society Hill Towers

The three 31-floor residential towers were part of an urban renewal effort by Edmund Bacon who had already launched Penn Center. Designed by I.M. Pei, the towers, with their exposed concrete facade and floor-to-ceiling windows became an instant success and helped turn Society Hill into a dining mecca.

At the base of the towers sits a townhouse development, which was also designed by I.M. Pei. A sharp contrast to the mid century architecture of the towers, the exterior of the Pei-designed modernist townhouses feature Flemish bond brick and arched doors. If you’re interested in learning more about these, there’s a great Curbed article about a beautifully-renovated private residence in one of the townhouses.

Romm & Haas, 1964

Designed by Pietro Belluschi, this nine-story building at 100 S. Independence Mall West marked the start of the renewal of the Independence Hall area. Serving as the headquarters of Rohm and Hass, a chemical engineering company, it was innovative for its use of Plexiglas, corrugated sunscreens, and modern interiors. 

Romm & Haas Corporate Headquarters. Image: Wikipedia.org
Romm & Haas Corporate Headquarters. Image: Wikipedia.org

Today, it is considered one of the best examples of International Style. It contains a landscaped plaza that cuts through the middle of the ground level of the building and opens up to a larger plaza with a fountain and small pool.

Our architectural heritage

Many of the design elements of mid century modern architecture continue to resonate in contemporary commercial and residential properties. Even in Philly’s newest buildings, you will find modernist concepts that were first introduced over 75 years ago. That is the pleasure of living in a city that embraces the past and the future!

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 art deco buildings, repurpoused banksrow house stylesand 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!

Martin Luther King Day of Service Opportunities in Philadelphia

This upcoming Monday, January 17th is Martin Luther King Day of Service. This holiday is celebrated on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and serves to commemorate his life and legacy. As a national day of service, it encourages all to volunteer in ways that will build upon his work and continue to help improve our communities.

The theme of 2022’s MLK Day of Service is “Combating Racism and Building Community,” with a focus on five specific issues: health justice, voting rights, gun violence, early literacy, and living-wage jobs. Below is your guide to in-person and virtual activities, as well as educational and cultural events in the Philly region. 

Crafting for MLK Day – Sat Jan 15, 10-2pm

Volunteers will join Sisters Interacting Through Stitches to crochet and knit items such as bonding squares, hats, blankets, and shawls/wraps, which will be donated to local Hospitals. This event will be held virtually and participants will discuss the day of service theme “Combating Racism and Building Community”.

Ya Fav Trashman MLK Day Clean Up – Jan 17, 9:45 a.m.

Join Terrill Haigler, Ya Fave Trashman, and Grant Blvd for a neighborhood clean-up at 3rd and Sumervile Ave. in the Onley section of the city. For more information follow Terrill’s Instagram.

Day of Service at Bartram’s Garden – Jan 17, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Help beautify one of the city’s historic landmarks with a two-hour service activity. Volunteers collect trash and debris from around the garden and sanitize pots in the greenhouse in preparation for spring planting at 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard.

Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity – Jan 17 9:30-1:30pm or 1pm-5pm

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is asking for volunteers to help assemble furniture at their ReStore on Washington Ave. They encourage volunteers to invite friends and family (16 years of age or older) for a half or full-day shift alongside some of our future and current Habitat homeowners. Volunteers will learn more about Habitat for Humanity while offering essential assistance toward our discount home improvement store, which allows more building and repair work in Philadelphia. In the middle of the day, they will also be inviting a special guest come to talk with volunteers about their experience with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. For more information on volunteering, visit Habitat for Humanity’s website or email volunteer@habitatphiladelphia.com.

Philadelphia Orchestra Annual MLK Day Free Concert – Jan 17, 1pm

Attend this tribute to Black composers performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor at the Kimmel Center. The event is free but reservations are necessary. The concert will also be broadcast live on WRTI FM. 

Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and The Philadelphia Orchestra in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Image: Will Figg/The Philadelphia Orchestra

Day of Service in the Awbury Arboretum – Jan 17,  9-12

Help the historic park’s landscape crew keep some of the exotic invasive plant species in check. Register online and meet at Cope House. Water and a light snack will be provided. Please bring work gloves, hand pruners, or loppers, if you have them.

Poll Worker Info Session – Jan 17, 10am-11am

Join the Committee of Seventy and the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia to learn about what exactly poll workers do and how anyone age 17+ can serve on Election Day. Philadelphia always needs poll workers to serve in this important role and help your community make their voice heard. Sign up to learn more and get your questions answered.

MLK Day Events at Philly Museums – Jan 14-17

The Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. 3rd Street, presents a historical reenactment of abolitionist James Forten, a free Black Philadelphian and Revolutionary War veteran.

The African American Museum will host exciting events the entire weekend, starting on Friday, Jan. 14th. On Jan. 17th, they will have a day-long voter registration drive and memorial concert.

Visit the National Constitution Center — for free! — and enjoy readings of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, a family-friendly concert, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Guests can also perform an act of service and donate pens, pencils, crayons, copy paper, hand sanitizer, folders, and age-appropriate books to the museum’s school-supplies drive supporting the School District of Philadelphia. 

Whatever you choose to do, whether it is attending a virtual event from your home or volunteering in person, we hope you are inspired by Dr. King’s message of working towards a more equitable city and nation.

Addison Street Lights Up The Night

When it comes to the holiday season, there is one block in the Historic Rittenhouse-Fitler Square District that attracts more lovers than any other. Every week throughout the year, but especially during the festive season, couples come to the 1700 block of Addison Street to pop the question.

The facade of a rowhome on Addison Street is adorned with cheerful holiday decorations - Image: Cory J Popp
The facade of a rowhome on Addison Street is adorned with cheerful holiday decorations – Image: Cory J Popp

“It’s one of the top five locations in the City for engagements, along with the Rocky Steps and Race Street Pier,” said John Ryan, co-owner of J&J Studios which specializes in wedding, portrait, and special events photography. “They come for the lights,” he said. 

Addison Street proposal. Image courtesy of J & J studios.
Image courtesy of J & J studios.

Residents of 1700 Addison have draped its Ginko trees with lights since 2017. “They are up all year, not just at Christmas. The effect is magical, especially when it snows,” said Ryan. “Those lights, combined with the orange of the streetlights above the trees, give the effect of an arch overhead illuminating the street with a warm glow. This little side street has been named by multiple different sources as one of the prettiest streets in not only Philadelphia but the Northeast United States.” 

Colonial architecture and twinkling lights combine on Addison Street - Image: Cory J Popp
Colonial architecture and twinkling lights combine on Addison Street – Image: Cory J Popp

It’s not just during the winter that the street is glorious. After it rains, everything sparkles. (With a nod to sustainability, there are 15,000 energy-efficient LED bulbs twinkling in the trees.)

“Usually, it’s the groom who contacts me and sets up the surprise proposal which starts off with dinner in a Rittenhouse Square restaurant like Barclay Prime,” said Ryan. “It’s such a popular engagement site that sometimes there are multiple couples and photographers the same evening.”

A proposal image on Addison Street, Philadelphia. Image courtesy of J & J studios.
Image courtesy of J & J studios.

So how do the residents of this charming Colonial block feel about flashbulbs popping on a regular basis? “Sometimes they are annoyed but mostly they are good-natured. One night, while I was photographing a couple, a resident opened his door and offered them a bottle of Champagne,” said Ryan.

A man walks two dogs on the 1700 Block of Addison Street - Image: Cory J Popp
A man walks two dogs on the 1700 Block of Addison Street – Image: Cory J Popp

Many of the couples Ryan shoots on Addison Street end up hiring him to photograph their wedding. “We offer a special discount following the engagement photoshoot. Then, following the wedding, we offer a Client for Life discount. We do one free shoot per year and they get to decide how many photos they want to buy. This way they can document their milestones – anniversaries, births, graduations, etc.”

Addison Street on a fall afternoon - Image: Cory J Popp
Addison Street on a fall afternoon – Image: Cory J Popp

Placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1995, the red brick houses on Addison Street were built in the late 19th Century and many have 21st-century upgrades. Colonial style, evident in the exterior brick, marble steps, wooden shutters, window boxes, crown moldings, beamed ceilings, and traditional fireplaces exists in harmony with contemporary kitchens and bathrooms. Many have lovely patios and landscaped courtyards. Note the iron posts for tying up horses. If you truly fall in love with the 1700 block of Addison, this three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath, row houses sell in the $700K range. Or rent one for $3K.

Now considered one of the best blocks in Philly, in the mid-1950s, it was once part of a low-income neighborhood that was included in a horticulture beautification program organized by the Neighborhood Gardens Association, a precursor to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

You don’t have to be in love to appreciate the timeless charm of the 1700 block of Addison Street which the Huffington Post proclaimed the “arguably the prettiest street in the entire Northeast.” You just need a sense of wonder and delight.

Take the time to stop by to see it for yourself this holiday season.  

A festive home on Addison Street
 - Image: Cory J Popp
A festive home on Addison Street
– Image: Cory J Popp

The 1700 block of Addison Street is just one of Philadelphia’s many charming alleys. Read about a few more of our favorites in our article on Philadelphia Alleys.