Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Go West

When it comes to architecture in Philadelphia, few neighborhoods can match the decadence of West Philadelphia. It is a portfolio of 19th century design that can be traced block by block, as if turning the pages of an architectural history textbook. From the mid 19th century working class row homes, to the first planned residential suburbs brought by the streetcar which include a pantheon of Victorian, Georgian, Tudor, and Colonial revival mansions, twins, and row homes offering urban refugees fresh air, trees, and green grass.

Designed by some of the first residential developers the world had seen, architects and urban planners began to see a need for an alternative to the urban lifestyle, which even in neighborhoods as lavish as Rittenhouse Square or North Broad Street in its prime, outside the mansion walls there was a world of filthy streets filled with crime, trash, and vagrants.

One of the first architects in Philadelphia to take advantage of this quest for a cleaner life was Samuel Sloan. From Chester County, Sloan designed the Woodland Terrace neighborhood of West Philadelphia which sits just north of Baltimore and Woodland Avenues as a residential suburb. He authored a number of books on architecture and the American home emphasizing the importance of proper suburban planning and a family's need for the proper home, principles much more in line with William Penn's original plan for the "Greene Country Towne" Philadelphia was originally intended to be.

His popular neighborhood and catalog technique led to numerous developments beyond Woodland Terrace, some by Sloan himself. His popular Italianate designs would be reinterpreted as the suburban movement expanded westward. As the Industrial Revolution charged on, the wealthy refugees making West Philadelphia their home would begin accumulating blocks of real estate for their lavish sprawling mansions or massive row home developments which would contain large yards, deep verandas, and up to as many as five floors with every amenity the Industrial Revolution would afford.

With alterations designed by Wilson Eyre, the Charles Moseley Swain house at 45th and Spruce, now the site of University Mews, may have been designed by Samuel Sloan as part of a larger development project. Its Italiante design is certainly inspired by the surrounding architecture.

No comments:

Post a Comment