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South Broad Street and Vicinity

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The construction of City Hall ( PH49) at Centre Square ensured that a new downtown would eventually be built at William Penn's feet. Here corporate skyscrapers attested to the concentration of wealth in metropolitan centers; clubs marked the male-dominated business-civic life, and the immense business hotels formed a new type of privately held public space. Philadelphia's skyscrapers are largely grouped south and west of City Hall. By the 1920s they had soared into the thirty-story realm, notably PSFS ( PH46) to the east. The relatively low height and rich detail of S. Broad Street's skyscrapers betray their origins in the first generation of steel-framed buildings so that, from the south looking toward City Hall, the visual result is not far removed from the way it looked a century ago. Few are memorable, but as an ensemble they are effective enough. In the 1990s, under Mayor Ed Rendell, S. Broad Street was recontextualized as the city's “Avenue of the Arts.” Existing venues were upgraded and new facilities were added to create a downtown draw. East of S. Broad Street, tiny mid-nineteenth-century brick workers’ houses were converted to daytime clubs for literary and artistic interests. South Camac Street includes several of these clubs—the Franklin Inn at numbers 205–207 (1907 modified, F. Caldwell) and the Philadelphia Sketch Club at 235 S. Camac (1903 modified, John J. Dull). On Quince Street, Wilson Eyre Jr. transformed a former church, later an anatomical laboratory for Jefferson Hospital, into the Mask and Wig Club (1894) with its theater for a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate group. Here Maxfield Parrish created his Old King Colemural that was sold in 1996 at auction.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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