Rittenhouse Square, one of William Penn’s original five squares, was known as the southwest square until 1825 when it was named for the astronomer-clockmaker, David Rittenhouse, a man of multiple talents and descendent of William Rittenhouse, who built the first paper mill in America in Germantown. David Rittenhouse served in the General Assembly and at the State Constitutional Convention. His survey of the Maryland-Pennsylvania boundary in 1763-64, to settle a dispute between the Penns and Lord Baltimore, was so accurate it was accepted and followed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon when they surveyed the “line” between north and south for which they are still remembered. Rittenhouse taught astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania and invented the collimating telescope; he was also president of the American Philosophical Society and the first director of the United States Mint.
Rittenhouse Square has always denoted quality. The first house facing the Square was erected in 1840. During its next century the Square kept its residential quality. In 1913, the architect Paul Cret, who was one of the men responsible for Benjamin Franklin Parkway and many of its buildings, did much of the work to beautify the Square. Cooperative apartments and condominiums have replaced private mansions on the Square over the last three decades while the immediate surrounding streets serve up a microcosm of all Philadelphia has to offer. Within easy walking distance are eclectic shopping boutiques, world-class restaurants, the skyscrapers of the city’s business community, the cultural resonance of unique museums and galleries and, to the south and east, some of America’s most charming big city residential streets.
Our walking tour will begin strolling the leafy walkways that crisscross the plaza of Philadelphia’s most desirable address...
bounded by 18th Street on the east, South Rittenhouse Square on the south, West Rittenhouse Square (an offset of 19th Street) on the west and Walnut Street on the north
The Rittenhouse Square one sees today is mostly the work of Paul Phillipe Cret who laid out the elements of this urban oasis in 1913. The main walkways are diagonal, beginning at the corners and meeting at a central oval. The plaza, which contains a large planter bed and a reflecting pool, is surrounded by a balustrade and ringed by a circular walk. Several of the city’s best-loved outdoor sculptures reside in Rittenhouse Square. The evocative Lion Crushing a Serpent at the center of the square is French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye’s allegory of the French Revolution of 1830, symbolizing the power of good (the lion) dispatching evil (the serpent). Paul Manship’s bronze Duck Girl of 1911 graces the fountain and Albert Laessle’s Billy, a two-foot-high bronze billy goat, has been rubbed shiny by thousands and thousands of little hands through the years. The central gatehouse once stood in Fairmount Park during the Centennial of 1876.
WALK TO THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF THE SQUARE.
Thomas A. Reilly House
1804 Rittenhouse Square
Frank Furness, America’s finest Victorian architect, did much of his residential work on the streets around Rittenhouse Square. Here he is represented on the Square itself with this memorable stone townhouse from the 1890s, wedging gobs of decorative detail into a narrow mid-block residence. The client was engineer Thomas A. Reilly.
Philadelphia Art Alliance
251 S 18th Street
Although it looks like you should be going here to make bank deposits, this is actually a 1909 mansion for the Wetherill family that were pioneering manufacturers of zinc in America; the architect was Philadelphian Frank Miles Day. Christine Wetherill Stevenson, who grew up here, founded the Philadelphia Art Alliance in the building in 1926. One of the most active organizations of its kind, the Art Alliance sponsors art exhibits, dramatic and poetry readings, dance and musical events, architectural displays and lectures of all kinds. Most are free to the public, as are the galleries.
237 S 18th Street
On the southeast corner of Rittenhouse Square is the site of what was once the most famous hotel in Philadelphia. It was owned by John McShain, a millionaire Philadelphia builder who also owned the Lakes of Killarney in Ireland. The Barclay was where heads of state and powerbrokers signed the guest register and Philadelphia high society came to party. It does duty today as condominiums.
EXIT RITTENHOUSE SQUARE BY WALKING EAST ON LOCUST STREET.
Curtis Institute of Music
1726 Locust Street, southeast corner of 18th Street
Founded in 1924 by Mrs. Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist, the Institute occupies three townhouses around Rittenhouse Square. The main building was the home of George Childs Drexel, a banker and son of the founder of Drexel Institute, Anthony Joseph Drexel, co-founder of the Public Ledger. The roster of Curtis Institute graduates include noted musicians Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Anna Moffo, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Across Mozart Place is the school library housed in the French Renaissance-influenced Knapp Hall, once the home of Theodore F. Cramp, a shipbuilding magnate, and later the salon of Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetician.
1629 Locust Street
This white limestone Beaux Arts townhome is an early work of Horace Trumbauer in 1892, one of the most high-powered architects to ever work in Philadelphia. Trumbauer was only 24 when he crafted this building and he would go on to cultivate one of the toniest client list in America. He was known for designing palatial manor houses for Gilded Age industrial barons and later would take on commercial and institutional commissions, including much of the campus of Duke University.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
1625 Locust Street
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was founded in 1848; its Gothic Revival church building was begun that year on plans drawn up by John Notman, dedicated in 1850, and finished in 1865 when the tower was completed. Its architectural pedigree has earned the building the designation as a National Historic Landmark.
1622 Locust Street
John Notman was one of the leading cheerleaders for the Italianate style in mid-19th century America. This Italian Renaissance vision in brownstone by John Notman dates to the 1850s. It is one of three he designed on the 1600 block of Locust Street, including 1620 next door and 1604.
1606 Locust Street
Hailing from a poor Baltimore family, George William Childs was working in a bookstore by the time he was 12 in 1841 and in the United States Navy the next year. After mustering out he clerked in Philadelphia and had his own publishing concern before his 22nd birthday. Childs became the publisher of the Philadelphia Public Ledger in 1864 and turned a money-losing newspaper into one of the most influential media voices in America. This was his home during that tie, from 1855 until 1872.
TURN RIGHT ON 16TH STREET AND RIGHT ON LATIMER STREET.
1614 Latimer Street
The Print Center has been a Philadelphia institution since 1915. This famous organization has more than a 1000 members from all over the world, composed of artists, collectors and others who share a passion for prints. Next door, at 1616, is the Cosmopolitan Club, a women’s club with a long history of interest in the arts, politics and the humanities, has its clubrooms.
RETURN TO 16TH STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON WALNUT STREET.
1523 Walnut Street
Owner and founder Georges Perrier trained at La Pyramide in France and started working in Philadelphia in the late 1960’s. He started his own restaurant in 1970, naming itafter the French colloquialism for “Fine Palate.” By 1981, Le Bec-Fin was known as the leader of the “Philadelphia restaurant revolution” and began garnering numerous awards. The iconic eatery consistently rates five-stars and is widely regarded as the best restaurant in Philadelphia and the finest French restaurant in America.
TURN AROUND AND WALK WEST ON WALNUT STREET BACK TO RITTENHOUSE SQUARE.
Van Rensselaer House
northwest corner of 18th and Walnut streets
Facing the Square on the northeast corner is the former home of Alexander Van Rensselaer, a financier and supporter of the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski. One of the few splendid old mansions to survive into the 21st century, it once housed the Pennsylvania Athletic Club. The Alison Building next door contains the offices of the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund, which began writing policies in 1717 and is the oldest life insurance company in the world. Adjacent to it, at 1811 Walnut Street and also facing the Square, is the Rittenhouse Club, another of the city’s old and exclusive clubs.
Holy Trinity Church
Walnut Street, northwest corner of West Rittenhouse Square
The Church of the Holy Trinity, designed by John Notman in 1859 is one of the first faithful Romanesque buildings in the United States, boasting such hallmarks of the style as an asymettric tower, rose window, and recessed geometric doorway. One of the city’s most fashionable congregations, a rector, Reverend Phillips Brooks, penned the words to the Christmas standard “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
210 West Rittenhouse Square
The unusual white horizontal zigzags have drawn mixed reviews on this 33-story tower. The Belgian stone courtyard, fountain and manicured gardens featuring the beguiling statue Welcome by Evangelos Frudakis draw more universal praise.
LEAVE RITTENHOUSE SQUARE TO THE NORTH ON 19TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON CHESTNUT STREET.
1908 Chestnut Street
Opened on Christmas Day 1928, the Boyd is the last surviving major movie palace in Philadelphia - although it has had to weather some rough times. The 2,450-seat capacity, Art Deco first-run moving picture theatre was built for Alexander R. Boyd and designed by Philadelphia theater architects, W.H. Hoffman and Paul J. Henon, Jr. The duo designed over 100 theaters and 47 in Philadelphia, a town that boasted some 275 movie houses in its heyday. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has listed the dilapidating Boyd Theater on its List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
First Unitarian Church
2125 Chestnut Street
Master architect Frank Furness designed this church for his father, the Reverend William Henry Furness. The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia was founded in 1769. The Parish House was finished in 1884; the cornerstone for the church was laid in 1885 and it was dedicated in 1886.
northwest corner of 22nd and Chestnut streets
Samuel D. Milligan and Frederick Webber specialized in designing large apartment buildings in the first decade of the 20th century. The Coronado was one of their last projects, completed in 1910. When the 10-story building sold in 2003 for $5.7 million, or $175,000 a unit, it established a new threshold for the highest per-unit sale price for the region.
TURN RIGHT ON 22ND STREET.
19 S 22nd Street
The world-famous Mutter Museum is run by the College of Physicians, founded in 1787. It was named for Dr. Thomas Mutter and is an oft-times macabre collection of medical curiosities. The glass cases contain such treasures as President Grover Cleveland’s jawbone, bullet-shattered bones, and a cast of the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, who were sixty-three at the time of their death in 1874. An entire drawer is devoted to buttons, coins, and other objects that have been retrieved from human stomachs.
TURN AROUND AND WALK SOUTH ON 22ND STREET. TURN LEFT ON WALNUT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 21ST STREET.
Thomas Hockley House
235 S 21st Street
Frank Furness emptied his bag of architectural tricks into this eclectic Victorian brick home - pointed dormers, steep mansard roof, and arches with multi-colored voussoirs. An elegant recessed corner entrance is almost overlooked in this eye-catching composition.
TURN RIGHT ONTO SPRUCE STREET, A BREATHING TEXTBOOK OF 19TH CENTURY RESIDENTIAL ARCHITECTURE, INCLUDING...
2132-34 Spruce Street
These Second Empire townhouses were designed by Frank Furness.
2123-25 Spruce Street
Wilson Eyre designed this outstanding Neo-Georgian house on Spruce Street.
Rudolf Ellis House
2111 Spruce Street
This 1878 house is another by Frank Furness; tucked under a mansard roof.
TURN LEFT ON 22ND STREET. TURN LEFT ON DELANCEY PLACE.
Rosenbach Museum and Library
2008-2010 Delancey Place
This elegant 1860s townhouse was the home of brothers Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach and Philip H. Rosenbach for a quarter-century beginning in 1926. Abraham was a rare book dealer and Philip was expert in fine arts in antiques. The Rosenbach Museum & Library houses one of the world’s great collections of manuscripts, literature and rare books. Their rare book business was widely considered the most successful in the world and launched many a library collection. A list of some of the treasures amassed by the Rosenbach brothers includes Lewis Carroll’s own copy of Alice in Wonderland, a first edition of Don Quixote, James Joyce’s handwritten manuscript for Ulysses, and the earliest extant letter from George Washington, all set amongst Egyptian statuary, Persian rugs, 18th-century furniture and Thomas Sully paintings that graced the 1860s mansion during the Rosenbachs’ lifetime. In 1954, after the deaths of the Rosenbach brothers their individual libraries and collections totaling 130,000 manuscripts and 30,000 rare books were organized into a museum.
between 18th and 20th streets
There are a myriad of things to see in this block of Delancey Place: the caryatids (female statues) as mullions (vertical window separators) on the window of #1810; the acanthus leaves and grape design on the ironwork fence at #1823; the leaded and stained glass windows at #1821; or the small garden with the iron fence at #1835. The townhouse at 1900 Delancey Place is often cited as one of the best by prolific architect Frank Furness.
TURN LEFT ON 19TH STREET AND RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN RITTENHOUSE SQUARE.