When William Penn founded Philadelphia in 1682 he saw a city that would one day stretch from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River. He had surveyor Thomas Holme lay out a plan for the city to match that far-reaching vision. For the next 100 years the city still clustered only six blocks from the Delaware River.
By the early nineteenth century, development had reached Center Square (now site of City Hall) and continued westward to the Schuylkill and beyond into West Philadelphia. Things were happening so rapidly that the Consolidation of 1854 recognized this fact by enlarging the city boundaries to match those of Philadelphia County.
The city’s banks and businesses and small manufacturers marched westward as the city grew. By 1900 Center City claimed not only Philadelphia’s government and moneyed interests but its railroads and great retail emporiums. Center City today continues to be the pulsing heart of the city with America’s most formidable historical district to the east and majestic residential neighborhoods to the west.
Our walking tour will begin at one of America’s most magnificent buildings recently restored...
Broad & Market streets
City Hall is built on the area designated by William Penn as Centre Square. It remained a public square from the city’s founding in 1682 until construction of City Hall began upon the site in 1871. Working on a French Second Empire design by Scottish architect John McArthur, Jr., it was intended to be the tallest building in the world but when it was finally finished 30 years - and eight mayors - later, City Hall was surpassed by both the Eiffel Tower and the Washington Monument. Instead, city boosters hung “Billy Penn’s hat” on the fact that at 547 feet it was the world’s tallest habitable building, a title it held for less than a decade. Today, it remains the tallest masonry building ever constructed. City Hall is topped by a 37-foot, 27-ton bronze statue of city founder William Penn, one of 250 sculptures created by Alexander Milne Calder that adorn the building inside and out. The statue is the tallest atop any building in the world. Penn’s statue is hollow, and a narrow access tunnel through it leads to a small, 22-inch-diameter hatch atop the hat. A long-time restoration has returned the magnificence to one of America’s finest French Second Empire buildings.
LEAVE CITY HALL AND HEAD EAST ON MARKET STREET.
1300 Market Street
John Wanamaker opened his first men’s store in his hometown of Philadelphia in 1861 at the age of 23. Called “Oak Hall,” the new emporium stood at Sixth and Market Streets on the site of George Washington’s Presidential home. Oak Hall grew substantially based on Wanamaker’s then-revolutionary principle: “One price and goods returnable.” In 1869, he opened his second store at 818 Chestnut Street under his own name. Wanamaker’s genius for advertising soon created one of the world’s great retailing empires. This building, an Italian Renaissance palazzo of limestone and granite, opened in 1911. Inside, on the second level overlooking a five-story atrium, is the department store’s legendary pipe organ, 30,000 pipes strong - America’s largest. How important was the opening of this new John Wanamaker’s store? President William Howard Taft was on hand for the grand opening. Picture Barack Obama cutting the ribbon at a new Walmart.
12 S 12th Street, southwest corner of Market Street
This is the third headquarters for the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society. George Howe’s commercial tower was America’s first International-style skyscraper. The sleek 33-story tower rests atop a curving base of polished black granite and the guts of the building’s operating system reside in an adjoining tower. The interior details, which included Cartier-designed clocks and custom designed furniture, ushered in a new era of modern architecture when it was completed in 1932.
Market Street between 11th and 12th streets
The Reading Railroad is long gone, existing today only on Monopoly game boards. The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad was one of the first railroads constructed in the United States with horses pulling cars of coal along the Schuylkill River in the early 1830s. By 1871, the Reading line was the largest company in the world. This is the historic railroad’s only Center City facility, designed by Francis Hatch Kimball in 1891 and serving not only as the destination for the line’s Philadelphia bound trains but as the company headquarters as well. When it opened in 1893 the trainshed was one of the largest single-span arched-roof structures in the world; today it is the world’s oldest such structure and the only one left in the United States. In the office tower Kimball created a curved, arcaded bay on the fourth floor perch where he sliced away a corner of his building.
Reading Terminal Market
12th and Market streets
When the Reading Railroad wanted to come into Philadelphia the only suitable location was already occupied by the venerable Franklin Market. To gain the right to build its terminal the railroad was forced to incorporate the market into its design. Thus the Reading Terminal Market, established in 1892, is the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market. Cuisine from across the globe is available from more than 80 unique merchants, three of which are descendants of original stand holders from when it opened more than 110 years ago. The northwestern corner of the market is devoted to Amish merchants from Lancaster County who bring their farm-fresh products and distinctive prepared dishes to the Market Wednesday through Saturday.
Market Street, between 11th and 9th streets
This downtown shopping mall was developed between 1974 and 1977 as one of the first efforts from pioneering developer James Rouse who created festival marketplaces in urban environments.
United States Post Office and Court House
9th and Market streets
The first buildings on this site were part of the University of Pennsylvania campus from 1800 to 1870. The federal government first appeared here in the 1870s with a rambling Victorian office structure. This building came along with stimulus funds during the Great Depression of the 1930s when the government favored the stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style. Along the 9th Street side of the building are relief panels of energetic postal workers carved into limestone by Edmond Amateis.
Strawbridge & Clothier
8th and Market streets
Quakers Justus Clayton Strawbridge and Isaac Hallowell Clothier opened a dry goods store in 1862. In 1868 Strawbridge & Clothier purchased a 3-story brick building on the northeast corner of Market and 8th streets which had been Thomas Jefferson’s office in 1790 while he served as Secretary of State. Soon the old building was replaced by a new five-story department store offering a variety of fixed price merchandise under one roof. By 1896, when the present building was erected, Strawbridge & Clothier was a Philadelphia retailing institution on a par with Wanamaker’s. In 1929, the company opened one of the first suburban branch department stores in the nation, located in the Suburban Square shopping center in Ardmore. The historical flagship closed in 2006.
Market Street between 8th and 7th streets
Samuel and Jacob Lit opened their first store at Eight and Market Streets in 1893. Over the next 15 years the brothers methodically bought up the surrounding stores until they had the entire block.The flagship store, with new structures on either end, opened in 1907. Like many department stores of its time, the store was an assemblage of several buildings built over time, which were joined so the interior appeared as one building. The Market Street facade is created with cast iron, a building material that enjoyed a brief popularity in the 19th century because it was easy to manufacture in ornate designs, quick to assemble and affordable. Lit Brothers shuttered in 1977 and managed to dodge the wrecking ball until it received a makeover into office and commercial space in the late 1980s.
TURN RIGHT ON 7TH STREET.
Atwater Kent Museum
15 S 7th Street
John Haviland, who was also the architect of influential Eastern State Penitentiary, designed this 1826 Greek Revival building that was the original home of the Franklin Institute. A. Atwater Kent, a wealthy inventor who manufactured early radios in Philadelphia, bought the building in 1938 and gave it to the city to establish a museum dedicated to the town’s cultural and industrial history.
TURN RIGHT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
8th and Chestnut streets
The first person to build here, when it was still on the outskirts of the city was Robert Morris, thewealthy financier of the American Revolution. Morris retained Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who would layout the new capital of Washington, to work on his estate. The mansion would bankrupt Morris and land him in debtor’s prison. “Morris’ Folly” would never be finished. Developer William Sansom bought part of the property and hired builder and architect Thomas Carstairsto construct one of America’s first speculative housing developments. Now the area on Sansom Street, between Seventh and Eighth streets, and on Eighth Street between Chestnut and Walnut street, is home to Jewelers’ Row, the oldest diamond district in America and second in size only to the one in New York City. Some of the businesses have been owned by the same family for five generations; the oldest dates to 1851.
Benjamin Franklin Hotel
834 Chestnut Street
Opened in 1925 as the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, architect Horace Trumbauer used brick and limestone for the tri-towered Neoclassical design. Trumbauer followed the convention of creating high-rises in the image of a classical three-part column with a defined base (the oversized lower stone lower floors), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the decorated top stories). It had been the practice to design skyscrapers in that fashion since their birth in Chicago in the late 1880s but after this would rarely be employed. A facelift in the 1880s turned “the Ben” into residential space with 412 apartments; it boasts one of city’s largest ballrooms.
TURN LEFT ON 9TH STREET.
Walnut Street Theater
825 Walnut Street, northeast corner of 9th Street
What began as a circus in 1809 is today the oldest continuously used theater in the country. It was once owned by the great classical actor and brother of the presidential assassin, Edwin Booth. The Walnut Street Theater can claim installing the nation’s first gas footlights (1837) and air conditioning with Mr. Barry’s Patent Cool Air Machine (1855).
TURN RIGHT ON WALNUT STREET.
Thomas Jefferson University
1020 Locust Street
The ancestors of Thomas Jefferson University, a private health sciences university, began in 1824 with the first class graduating two years later; the main building dates to 1907. In Alumni Hall are three life-size portraits by Thomas Eakins, one of America’s greatest 19th-century realist painters. Eakins actually studied anatomy at Jefferson, seeing it as a crucial part of an artist’s education. The compelling honesty of The Gross Clinic (recently sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and replaced with a copy) reflects Eakins’s uncompromising approach to art and life; he lost his position teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in a dispute over the use of nudity in an art class, and not until late in life did his work begin to receive the acclaim it warranted.
TURN RIGHT ON 10TH STREET.
Federal Reserve Bank
10th and Chestnut streets
This classical government building, with a facade of square Doric columns, was designed by Paul Phillippe Cret in the 1930s. The highly fenestrated upper floors contain offices; the Federal Reserve, one of the 12 branches of the nation’s central bank, has since relocated to Independence Mall.
1001 Chestnut Street, northwest corner of 10th Street
This Second Empire granite office building by Henry Fernbach was half its current size when constructed in the 1870s. The balustrade marks the former roofline when this was a branch office of the New York Life Insurance Company capped by a mansard roof.
St. Stephen’s Church
19 S 10th Street
This is the site where Benjamin Franklin flew his legendary kite to conduct electricity experiments. Several of the 19th century’s greatest architects and artists had a hand in St. Stephen’s. William Strickland, known for his Greek Revival creations, employed an early Gothic interpretation to build it in 1823. The church is the only surviving example of his Gothic style. In the late 1870s Philadelphia master architect Frank Furness added the north transept and vestry and the marble Angel of Purity was sculpted by celebrated artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
RETURN TO CHESTNUT STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Chestnut Street between Broad and Juniper streets
The Widener Building was designed in 1914 by Horace Trumbauer for Peter A. B. Widener, one of three men who built the trolley system in the late 19th century. The 18-story, 385,000-square-foot building was gutted in 1991 and $80 million spent to restore the tower. There are superb Corinthian pilasters and soaring vaulted entries on both the south and north ends of the building.
Girard Trust Company
34-36 South Broad Street
The influential New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White left little imprint on Philadelphia but the shop executed this stately Ionic temple crowned with a beautifully proportioned dome. The banking temple is dressed in gleaming white Georgia marble.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH BROAD STREET.
Union League Club
140 South Broad Street
John Fraser designed this Second Empire-influenced club building in the waning days of the Civil War when the Union League split from the Union Club over war policy. This fine brownstone was given a Beaux Arts limestone addition a half-century later by Horace Trumbauer.
southwest corner of Broad and Walnut streets
George Boldt, a Prussian immigrant and his Philadelphia-born wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt, opened an earlier facility, the Bellevue Hotel, in 1881. A small boutique inn, it quickly became nationally-known for its high standard of service, fine cuisine, and elite clientele. The Boldts expanded by acquiring the Stratford Hotel across the street. The two buildings came down to make way for the 1,090-room Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, designed in the French Renaissance style by Philadelphia architects, brothers George and William Hewitt. It took over two years and more than $8 million to bring America’s most luxurious hotel to its opening in 1904. The ballroom was hailed as the most magnificent in the country with Thomas Edison and Louis Tiffany performing work on the light fixtures.
Academy of Music
1420 Locust Street at the southwest corner of Broad Street
Napoleon LeBrun built the Academy of Music in 1857, modeling its lavish interior on La Scala Opera House in Milan. It is the oldest known opera house continuously in use in the United States and has often been praised as the finest. The Academy is home to the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Ballet and “Broadway at the Academy,” a series of national productions. For more than a century, its most famous resident was the Philadelphia Orchestra, which returns every January to play the Academy Anniversary Concert and Ball.
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Broad and Spruce streets
This home for the Philadelphia Orchestra was shepherded to completion in 2001 by architect Rafael Vinoly. The concert hall features a 150-foot glass-ribbed rooftop perched atop a base of dark red brick. The facility carries the name of Philadelphia sportswear manufacturer Sidney Kimmel, the largest private donor in the project.
University of the Arts
320 S Broad Street, northwest corner of Pine Street
The imposing Doric facade came from the pen of John Haviland in 1826; the client was the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb which it remained until 1893 when the College of Art and Design moved here. It was spruced up in 1983 when it became the Broad Street face of the complex known as the University of the Arts.
TURN AROUND AND WALK BACK UP BROAD STREET TOWARDS CITY HALL. TURN LEFT ON SPRUCE STREET.
1512-14 Spruce Street
Verus T. Ritter and Howell L. Shay pooled their design talents in 1920 and flourished as an architectural partnership until commissions dried up in the Great Depression of the 1930s. When investors were flush in early 1929 they delivered this 30-story Art Deco tour-de-force infused with Spanish Baroque elements. The confection boasts terra-cotta ornamentation, setback terraces, turrets and a red tile roof. The Drake was the sort of hotel where power brokers and celebrities would sign the guest register - canine thespian and movie star, Benji, stayed here. The Drake was converted into apartments in the 1980s but the orange brick facade looks weary after eight decades of city life.
TURN RIGHT ON 15TH STREET.
Bookbinders Seafood House
215 S 15th Street
Philadelphia’s most famous restaurant - name, at least - was opened as an oyster saloon in 1893 on Fifth Street near South Street by Dutch immigrant Samuel Bookbinder. In 1898, Bookbinder moved down closer to the docks at Second and Walnut. The restaurant left the family in the 1930s when it was bequeathed to the Jewish Federated Charities. In 1935 two of Samuel Bookbinder’s sons opened Bookbinders Seafood House here. When new owners took over the Second and Walnut restaurant they added “Old Original” to differentiate it from the new family operation. The family business shuttered here in 2004, the family’s old restaurant, no longer in the family, closed in 2009.
Drexel and Company Building
135-43 South 15th Street, southeast corner of Moravian Street
Some buildings are designed to appear taller than they actually are; this one strives to seem shorter. The bottom two stories are designed to look like one story. Charles Zeller Klauder and Frank Miles Day designed the Florentine palazzo-styled building in 1925 as headquarters for Drexel and Company, an investment bank that was founded in 1838 by Francis Martin Drexel. The business made its first real money during the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s. The six-story building features rusticated granite from the curb to the roof. After nearly 100 years in existence Drexel and Company was liquidated during the Depression shortly after this building was finished and it has done duty for other financial firms for most of its life.
southeast corner of 15th and Chestnut streets
Samuel Yellin, a Polish-born craftsman, contributed the pair of monumental 10-ton wrought iron gates at the entrance to the Packard Building, decorated with in a pattern of squares within squares. At the center of each square is a flower surrounded by a ribbon and scroll work. The two large sconces that flank the entrance are Yellin’s handiwork as well. The Packard Building was designed by the busy shop of Verus T. Ritter and Howell L. Shay in 1924.
TURN RIGHT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
Jacob Reed’s Sons Store
1424-26 Chestnut Street
The yawning archway on this Palladian facade leads to one of the town’s most elegant retail spaces, built in 1904. The handmade tiles on the front of the building came fromHenry Chapman Mercer’s Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown. The Reeds were selling fashionable duds for “men of means.”
TURN AROUND AND WALK THE OTHER WAY ON CHESTNUT STREET, TOWARDS THE SCHUYLKILL RIVER.
1620 Chestnut Street
Built in 1928 by Harry Sternfield and Gabriel Roth, this playful Art Deco building is meant to call to mind a radio; the glass tower was lit in blue at night when the WCAU was on the air. The clear channel 50,000-watt signal carried across the country at night. The building was renovated in the 1980s for the Art Institute of Philadelphia.
TURN RIGHT ON 17TH STREET.
Market Street, between 16th and 17th streets
For generations a “gentleman’s agreement” was strictly abided by developers in Philadelphia - no building would reach higher that William Penn’s statue atop City Hall. While other cities built ever higher, Philadelphia exuded a personal scale lost in other major cities thanks to its quaint tradition. It all ended in the 1980s when Willard Rouse built One Liberty Place and Two Liberty Place, puncturing the sky sixty and fifty-eight stories up, respectively.
16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard
When Broad Street Station gave way to 30th Street Station the new depot across the Schuylkill River was just a tad far afield for the Center City commuter. So Suburban Station was created at the same time, 1924 to 1929. It is essentially a train station down in the basement of an office building. Little is done to announce its presence but the commuters know where they are going.
TURN RIGHT ON JOHN F. KENNEDY BOULEVARD.
John F. Kennedy and Benjamin Franklin parkways
LOVE Park was designed by Vincent Kling in 1965 as the anchor space for Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It covers an underground parking garage. The main features of the plaza are curved granite steps and a single spout fountain which was added in 1969. The now famous LOVE sculpture, designed by Robert Indiana, was first placed in the plaza in 1976 as part of the United States’ Bicentennial celebration.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH BROAD STREET.
1 N Broad Street, northeast corner of Filbert Street
Designed by architect James Windrim, the Masonic Temple was constructed over a period of five years – completed in 1873 – at the astonishing sum of $1.6 million. The process of decorating the interior, performed mostly under the supervision of artist George Herzog, took nearly twenty years to complete. The Masonic Temple is the headquarters for the Grand Lodge of F. & A.M. of Pennsylvania, and also serves as the meeting place for twenty-eight Philadelphia lodges. Freemasonry is the oldest continuously existing fraternal organization in the world and Philadelphia’s lodges were the first in the New World colonies.
TURN RIGHT ON ARCH STREET.
A.J. Holman and Company
1222-26 Arch Street
This well-preserved factory facade dates to 1881. A.J. Holman, America’s oldest bible publisher, manufactured books here.
RETURN TO NORTH BROAD STREET AND TURN RIGHT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.