Thursday, October 26, 2017

Front and Callowhill Streets, in pictures

Over the last few years, as we dug into the history of the property we accidentally bought, I was really taken by all the uses it had, and the shapes it took, but became rather frustrated at trying to find any photographs of 103 Callowhill Street. As evidenced by the last couple of stories, by the mid 19th century, the neighborhood got pretty rough, and by the mid-20th century, the powers that be famously decided to bulldoze their troubles away, halting the eastward demolition precisely at the side of our building. Even after that, the "River's Edge" neighborhood had a roughness to it - stories about homeless folks setting fires in vacant buildings right up into the 21st century. By that measure, it's not terribly surprising that finding photographs of the building in its various states proved difficult. But when you're living in Downingtown, sometimes the best way to relax after a long day of work by burying yourself in research. Since March of 2015, I've been going back to a number of online resources and poring over them for glimpses of what the front of this building looked like. I have a folder in my Dropbox full of related images, and what good is that folder if no one else can see it?

Okay. Here we go.

One of the earliest representations of William Penn's Philadelphia was Thomas Holme's A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia, and a variety of prints and copies of this can be found online, and the copy passed down through the Chew family is one of the clearest I've found. The survey dates back to 1683 - the foundation for our building wouldn't be laid for nearly eight decades. But it's interesting to see that at the time, the land was outside of the original plans for Philadelphia. "Poole's Hill" rose above the Cohoquinoque Creek (later Pegg's Run, later Willow Street), which was surrounded by marshland. William Poole lived on Poole's Hill, and he or someone in his family constructed a bridge to cross into the countryside north of Philadelphia.

That helps spot the neighborhood in future illustrations, such as this aerial view from 1702, taken from an 1875 lithograph by F. J. Wade. Though every copy of the lithograph I could find dates to 1875, the features match up with earlier drawings of Philadelphia, leading me to believe this is a copy of a drawing from 1702.
Most digital copies of the image (like the Library Company of Philadelphia link above) are black and white, but there's a watercolor-painted variation at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. They don't have it in high resolution anywhere, but I did spot it in a YouTube video about the planning of Philadelphia, which is where the above screenshot was sourced. So I took the fairly low-resolution color screenshot, combined it with a high resolution digital copy, and here's what the neighborhood looked like before Callowhill Street came into being.
The scale is a little bit off - the bridge to the right is Front Street passing over Arch Street, the shipyard just right of center is where Vine street would eventually meet Water Street, and that's Pegg's Run on the right, eventually getting covered over to become Willow Street.

The next illustration I found is from some six decades later, and Philadelphia's growth during that time has been incredibly dramatic. The city's becoming the second largest in the British Empire, and this illustration by George Heap makes it back over to England, where other printmakers derive copies of it for their own profit. The earliest and cleanest example I found was at the Library of Congress, where you can download a very high resolution scan and pick through the details. Here's a detail showing Vine Street on the left (marked by the number 11, if you look closely) and I believe the bridge over Pegg's Run is on the right. The ample woods seen in the 1702 picture are still present here, as well.

This illustration dates back to 1761, so it was being sold as the foundation was laid at the building that would become The Hannah Callowhill Stage. We know that the set of buildings due west of ours were built first, but Heap's drawing is less accurate than the Wade illustration from 1702 - and considering how much was built up, he can be forgiven for focusing on steeples of important churches, and kind of fudging the rest. It is possible that the long three-story building that faces north, just right of the center of that detail, are 105, 107, and 109 Callowhill. But the wharves don't really match up to the also popular, also much-copied Clarkson & Biddle map of Philadelphia (also circa 1761), nor do the locations of the buildings, really. Here's the detail from that map, also taken from the Library of Congress' digital collection.

At the time of the survey, 103 Callowhill Street (Which was still 21 Callowhill Street at this point) was a 16-foot-wide vacant lot of land (next to the sideways L, east of the square where Callowhill meets New Market), and as this was being distributed, the bricks that make up the sides of the building today were being laid. It would have been present for John Hills' "plan of the city of Philadelphia and its environs", which doesn't detail individual buildings, but does a good job of showing the features of the land - with marshy land around Pegg's Run, and the cliff sides running along the Delaware River.

Callowhill Street between Front and Second is almost solid with buildings at this point, and market houses have been built in a square where New Market Street intersects with Callowhill. This can be seen in greater detail from what appears to be a pencil drawing of Pegg's Run based on an earlier drawing by Edward William Mumford - another variation was later done as a woodcut for the Annals of Philadelphia by his brother, Thomas Mumford.

Bryn Mawr has a few low-resolution scans online, and when I first came across them, I was astonished at how they resembled black and white photography. For example, here's the illustration of the Penny Pot Tavern, which was just down the street, where Vine met Front Street.

These same buildings are visible on the watercolors at the beginning of this post. The detail seems impressive, considering the building had long been demolished and replaced by the mid-1800s when Mr. Mumford was doing these drawings. Almost any illustration of the Penny Pot appears to have been based off this one.

So we're halfway through the 19th century and still don't actually have any visual representation of The Hannah. It will still be several decades before a glimpse becomes available, but in 1843, Joseph Burn insured the building with the Philadelphia Contributionship, one of the earliest insurance companies in the colonies. They go into great detail about the inside of the building, and go so far as to draw a plan of the property - all of that can be viewed on their website here. Notably, the address is listed as 21 Callowhill Street, but the drawing refers to 103 Callowhill Street. I'm sure at some point I figured out exactly when they renumbered, but I can't recall at the moment, and given the disagreeing information here, it was probably in the early 1800s. Even in 1843, the neighborhood was still pre-industrial, but just barely. The building type is entered as "Carpenter's Shop" - which could refer to it originally being used for carpentry, or it may be a reference to the original owner, Abraham Carpenter. I bring up this possibility because the drawing itself lists the building as housing a tailor.

Finding this plan was way more exciting than it should have been to me. We had some information about the building from the old deeds, but the detail that the Contributionship went into helped paint a better picture of what this building must have looked like. Having spent some time with Sketchup didn't hurt, either, so using the details in the insurance records, as well as the measurements in the plans, I set about modeling what the building might have looked like when it was originally built.

In reality, the house was sandwiched between other buildings, necessitating that alleyway, and the city block was already growing in density, despite the best intentions of William Penn's original plan for spacing buildings out, a reaction to growing up during the era of the Great Fire of London. To the west, four other 16-foot-wide 3.5 story brick buildings of similar build had been erected in the 1740s, and to the east, a tavern on the corner of Front and Callowhill had extended all the way back to share walls with 103 Callowhill, as seen on this detail from an 1858 map by Hexamer and Locher. Fences and horse stables separated the back lots, the New Market had already failed, and these small factories were quickly becoming flophouses as industrialization revolutionized the way people created and consumed things.

What was once a forested hilltop overlooking a marshy creek was now jam-packed with factories, coal yards, warehouses, and breweries. Pegg's Run was so filthy, it was converted into an underground sewer line, and overlaid with Philadelphia and Reading Railroad tracks. The Delaware river had been dredged, and the resulting soil and silt was used to extend the shoreline out, creating Delaware Avenue, setting Water Street a block further away from the feature that it was named after. Below is a detail from Baist's Property Atlas, circa 1895.

We're well into the age of photography now, but decades away from any pictures of the building, still. In 1914, Philadelphia native artist Joseph Pennell stops by the neighborhood, and from across the street, sketches the intersection of Front and Callowhill streets. Though he was across the street from where I'm now typing this, he focused his attention towards the docks. We're a decade into the 20th century, and in this silty, smokey section of Philadelphia, horses still drag wagons across Belgian block streets, while great steamships and sailboats choke the ports at the end of the road, and a mere block north, constantly moving hordes of coal-fired steam locomotives noisily lurch back and forth, bringing goods from ships or cold storage warehouses to be delivered hundreds of miles away across trans-continental railroads. Where there had once been gas lamps and chimneys providing light and heat, we're seeing early utility poles carrying electricity out to the piers and to the dozens of buildings crammed into every subdivided city block. And in just two more years, a dramatic new addition will come into play along the waterfront: The Market-Frankford Elevated Line.

In 1916, they were breaking up Front Street, pouring concrete new footers, and dropping in steel beams to support an elevated train, and documenting every step of the way. Not every photo is online, but there are some pictures that are, once again, just around the corner from my point of focus.

This is looking north from the intersection of Front and Callowhill. You can just make out the Philadelphia Warehouse & Cold Storage company building in the back - the company still operates out of the same building today, which was adorned with a giant American flag mural after the September 11th attacks. I found this photo at the Temple archives, where it's labeled "First section of the Frankford Elevated." Around this time, Sanborn Fire Insurance is printing maps based on new surveys, and this is where we get a look at the first major modification of 103 Callowhill Street, as well as all the growth surrounding it.

In 1905, the owners of the building demolished the second floor of the "court dwelling" in the backyard, extended the back of the building nearly all the way to the end of the lot. A pair of skylights were installed, and this became a cold storage warehouse. An iron awning encompassed nearly the entire block, stopping at this property. That's just about all the information I have on the look of the building from this era, so based off that, I put the following model together.

Again, this representation is not really an accurate portrayal of what things really looked like. The block added even more density over the last decade or two, and with that Sanborn map, I put together a rough model of the entire block, which came to be very helpful as I parsed the aerial photography that I'll get into below.

There's a human standing outside of 103 Callowhill, to give a sense of scale. Here's an overhead view, showing the rear of the building, and the mess of rear alleyways, dwarfed by three and four story buildings ringing the block, and a soap factory (already vacant & dilapidated by 1919) filling the subdivided interior.

We're so close to seeing an actual photo of the building, but to guide you there, I'm going to point out Sweatman's Malt House. This architectural curiosity sat on the opposite side of Callowhill Street, and makes the area very easy to spot. It can be seen in the background of this 1919 sketch by Frank Taylor, again sourced from Bryn Mawr. More of Taylor's work can be viewed online at the Library Company of Philadelphia's website.

Somewhat maddeningly, if ol' Frank here would have been facing north instead of south, he might have included 103 Callowhill in his sketch, but to be fair, the skyline is much more interesting when you've got two massive smokestacks poking out of a tall building like that. It's quite the standout feature, clearly visible from the Camden side of the Delaware river on the right, below.
The earliest photo I found of 103 Callowhill Street exists because of the Ben Franklin Bridge, which before being renamed, was just the Delaware River Bridge. Quite the engineering feat at the time,  there are hundreds of aerial photographs taken during the course of the construction of the bridge, most of the ones I found were by the Dallin Aerial Survey company. The Hagley Digital Archives have hundreds of aerial surveys from Dallin, viewable online in high resolution, and this proved to be a boon for me. This photo from 1924 gives you some idea of how busy the port of Philadelphia was, even a quarter of the way into the 20th century.

Taking what we know about the Market Frankford Elevated line, Sweatman's Malt House, and the 3D model of what the block looked like in 1919, if we zoom into the right place...

That's my neighborhood! Almost entirely unrecognizable compared to what it looks like today, from roughly the same angle.

Comparing the rendering of the full block at a similar angle...

There it is! Three and a half stories with a dormer window!

I was unreasonably excited about what's, in effect, a smudge on a huge picture. But it was a start! Here's detail from a different photo, from 1925.

And in 1927, from a different angle.

There are several variations of this - a small portion in the background of a photo of a bridge. The most detail is from a 1937 photo, looking almost directly north.

You can make even make out the shutters! Keep in mind, this is a small section of a much larger photo - the full size scan is available here. Two and a half more decades pass between this image and the next one I can find, and in that time, Philadelphia, like most American cities, begins to tumble down a post-war decline. Many of the buildings in these photos, by the middle of the 20th century, are over two hundred years old, and they've been put through their paces, without care being paid toward maintenance. The wonderful turns up this photo from 1963.

The familiar mansard roof of 400 North Front Street has survived, as has the cornice along that building, but the brick structures that Thomas Mifflin had built in the 18th century are worse for wear. 103 Callowhill's top was removed in 1942 - a flat roof built over top the floor planks of the otherwise demolished third story. 105 and 107 Callowhill had both been reduced to a single story, and while they retained their brickwork, 103 Callowhill got one of the nastier looking stucco jobs I've ever seen. Three star bolts are keeping the front of the building from shearing off. But this was only 1963. The waterfront still has farther to fall. By this time, plans are well underway to build an expressway along the Delaware River. Following a national trend, the decision was made that crime and poverty could be dealt with using bulldozers. Check out this aerial view from 1972.

Compare that to the photo above taken during the construction of the Ben Franklin bridge. Thousands of displaced lives, the leveling of thousands of historic buildings. The railroads have failed, and large populations are fleeing to the suburbs. Philadelphia has a plan to repurpose the Callowhill district into a series of massive industrial buildings and parking lots, hoping to attract jobs that will bring auto-centric suburbanites back into the center of the city, but the timing for this plan couldn't be worse. 103 Callowhill is in that photo above, near the bottom-left where the El crosses Callowhill Street, but there's not a lot to look at. Within three years, most of the demolition is complete, and work begins on the new expressway. I found the following photo on Flickr, and though I reached out to Leroy Demery about a higher resolution scan, he had trouble getting it to me. Right in the center of this picture, the drab, stucco exterior of 103 Callowhill can be seen. You kind of have to squint, though.

The single-story building shells at 105 and 107 Callowhill are still visible as well, but their time is nearly up. Aside from one more photograph, these are the last images I could find of the building for three more decades. How I found the next photo of it involved quite a stroke of luck. During my search for older photographs of Philadelphia, I came across an online exhibit at PAFA for a photographer named Will Brown. There's a wonderful story in the Penn Gazette about a chance meeting that turned into the publication of a book of his photos some 30 years after they had been taken, and PAFA had a selection of photos online, including one simply called Ervin's.

I'd spent enough time combing through photos to recognize the building. The mansard roof had been cropped off the top, but that was the corner of Front and Callowhill Street. As with so many other photos and drawings over the centuries, 103 Callowhill was just out of frame. There was another photo in the collection, Izzy's Fried Fish, which I recognized as being directly across the street from 103 Callowhill. It was enough that I reached out to the photographer, who still lived in Philadelphia, and asked if he had any more photos from that day. To my delight, he actually did, and after a quick Paypal transaction, he sent me a high resolution scan. What's below is a crop from that photo, and at a lower resolution than what he sent. Will, if you come across this and want me to take it down, you know how to reach me.

By this point, the buildings next door have been razed, leaving lots that are still vacant today. You can see the edge of the concrete overpass where 95 crosses Callowhill Street, and it's already been pretty well tagged, so this photo is from at least the late 70s. 400 North Front Street is in sad, sad shape, but I think the worst is yet to come for that building. The two original windows at 103 Callowhill now have vinyl siding covering them, a window unit providing what was likely minimal comfort to what must have been a super dank and terrible second-floor office space.

The first floor had, by now, been extended all the way to the end of the lot. More terrible stucco gets slathered across the 100 foot length of the west-facing side of the building. This building would maintain this look until 1995, when the owner at that time took a permit out to completely re-do the facade, tearing out the old brick, putting up concrete block structure and a course of bricks overtop it. Somehow, during this process, they'll fail to center the windows - and the windows they put in will be unusually tall and narrow. It's not the worst example of bad 90s architecture in the neighborhood, but it's pretty close.

I don't really know what it looked like between 1995 and the mid-2000s, when the previous owner refashioned the first floor facade and converted the warehouse space into a theater for magicians and burlesque shows. This is what the building looked like when we first spotted it in 2014. At least, that's what the front of the building looked like. Let's peek around the side for a moment.

To be fair, I'd call those tags an improvement. You can still see where that two-story brick messuage in the back lot was, and where walls were extended in front and behind it, to build out the warehouse. There's a scar where the chimneys from 105 used to be. The skylights were roofed over, the rear window openings covered in muck, which served double-duty, holding the bricks together.

The roof over the second floor probably hadn't been updated since the 1940s, and the swiss-cheese nature of the roof helped us get the building at the price that we did.

I think that's enough typing for now.


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