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Overview

  • Building Type: district

Location

Philadelphia, PA

Historic Registrations and Surveys

  • Philadelphia Register of Historic Places

Comments

SPRING GARDEN DISTRICT HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

In the mid-nineteenth century, Philadelphia experienced marked changes in its fabric and governance. With improvements in transportation, a burgeoning industrial economy, and the influx of immigrants, development and people spilled over to the west and north of the City's historic boundaries of South Street to Vine Street, the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River. To improve public services and to provide unified government, the Act of Consolidation of 1854 merged the City with the twenty-nine other political subdivisions of the County of Philadelphia, including the District of Spring Garden, into a single political entity, the City and County of Philadelphia. Spring Garden exemplifies much of this history.

In response to the opportunities afforded by this transformation, large-scale residential development occurred in two phases in the Spring Garden Historic District. From 1850 to c. 1875, developers purchased large tracts of land and constructed blocks of speculative housing. The early residents consisted of middle class merchants, businessmen, professionals, factory and shop owners, artisans and a working class contingent of servants, coachmen and laborers. Located away from the older congested sections of the city, these new houses with their modem conveniences and the employment opportunities in the extraordinary industrial belt below Spring Garden Street attracted many to the Spring Garden neighborhood.

A significant group of terrace houses on the south side of Green Street between North 15th Street and North 17th Street represent the first speculative dwellings in Spring Garden. Appealing to middle class citizens, this development offered a small grass plot, often raised or terraced, in front of each house. An emblem of status, this green space suggested an escape from the density of the older city.

The old saying that "nobody lives north of Market Street" - at least no one of consequence - sums up the second phase of development in Spring Garden from about 1876 to 1930. Faced by virtual exclusion from socially more prestigious neighborhoods such as Rittenhouse Square, newly wealthy merchants and industrialists established themselves in Spring Garden. From 1875 to 1930, the nouveau riche built larger houses on remaining vacant parcels, demolished older dwellings for new construction, and remodeled and re-facaded existing structures. To design their houses in the latest fashionable styles, they retained architects such as Wilson Eyre, Willis Hale, Hazelhurst and Huckel, James Windrim and Frank Watson. These newcomers included the Fleishman family, woolen and yarn manufacturers; William Kemble, the president of the People's Bank; John B. Stetson, the hatter; S. F. Wittmann, the confectioner, and Adam Gimbel, the department store retailer.

The Spring Garden houses of this later period lack the unity and conservatism of their contemporaries in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. Spring Garden's architecture exhibits the eclectic exuberance and opulence of the Second Empire, Queen Anne, Italian Renaissance and Beaux-Arts styles favored in the late-nineteenth century. The abundance of ornamentation and the lavish use of marble, brownstone, limestone and patterned brick distinguish these architect-designed houses from the earlier vernacular Italianate rowhouses of the neighborhood.

The Spring Garden Historic District possesses significance as an exemplar of the forms and patterns of residential development from 1850 to 1930 and the dramatic expansion of speculative housing in the era of Philadelphia as an industrial metropolis. The architect-designed residences of the nouveau riche in the District provide three-dimensional documentation of the city's architectural and social history. Finally, the earliest known instances of terrace housing in Philadelphia provide a familiar and distinguishing visual feature to the District.

 

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