Rittenhouse-Fitler Residential Historic District Historical Significance
The Rittenhouse-Fitler Residential district is a cohesive and essentially intact Victorian and 20th century neighborhood reflecting the architectural and social history of Philadelphia. Rows of brick houses typical of the Quaker City are spiced with the architectural landmarks of a century of Philadelphia's most important designers: Thomas U. Walter, John Notman, John McArthur, Frank Furness, George Hewitt, T.P. Chandler, Cope and Stewardson, Wilson Eyre and George Howe among others. Their principal urban institutional and residential commissions are scattered though the district, providing a record of the architectural heritage of one of America's principal architectural centers. The buildings also have been the homes of the leaders of Philadelphia, from architects (Chandler, Notman), religious leaders (Phillips Brooks, William Henry Furness), artists (Rudolph Serkin, Leopold Stowkowski), as well as the social and commercial elite. Other buildings have housed Philadelphia's important social, cultural, ecclesiastical and educational institutions and associations. It is this extraordinary concentration of landmarks, institutions and unaltered streetscapes spanning the past century and a half that makes the Rittenhouse-Fitler Residential District unique.
Though it has been primarily residential, the Rittenhouse-Fitler district should not be stereotyped as merely another elite neighborhood. Instead, this community was the joint creation of working class and elite groups that collided and intermingled. Moreover, it is apparent from building records that residents of all classes shared proximity, builders, developer teams and architectural styles.
The Rittenhouse-Fitler neighborhood is the setting for the works of Philadelphia's most sophisticated and talented architects from the 1830s to the present. Though many of the city's architects worked in the neighborhood, the principal designers were those associated with elite families and institutions. From the 1850s, Rittenhouse showed an exceptional concentration of Episcopal churches; however, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, Catholics and others erected houses of worship that remain as community landmarks. Despite the grandness of the buildings in Rittenhouse-Fitler, the architecture of the neighborhood reflects the conservatism of the residents. Unlike other neighborhoods such as Spring Garden or North Philadelphia, residents of Rittenhouse and Fitler Squares preferred restrained ornamentation and materials.
The buildings in the district possess significance, however, not just as a grouping of individual landmarks, but rather as a series of streetscapes that give the area a unique sense of time and place. These streetscapes vary from the two-story rowhouses of backstreets such as Addison and Smedley Streets, through the four-story rowhouses of Pine and Spruce Streets to the mixed scale of rowhouses and apartment towers around Rittenhouse Square. These streetscapes consist of vintage buildings and modern buildings. The modern buildings that blend with the scale, material and details of the particular block on which they stand contribute to the significant architectural ensemble of the district. Other significant elements of the district include the development pattern of large grid-plan blocks divided with smaller side streets and alleys and the detailed fabric of the streets including granite curbs, brick and slate sidewalks, grant block and glazed stone pavers as well as iron fencing and historical landscapes.