Many planners and architects consider Society Hill one of the most successful urban renewal projects in the country. Decades after its transformation, Philadelphians often don't realize that Society Hill was once the most blighted neighborhood in Center City, and many more are not aware of the severe architectural transformation that took place between the 1940s and 1970s. It's easy to stroll through the green-ways of Independence National Historic Park and assume that these are the meticulously preserved trails traveled by William Penn and Benjamin Franklin, and not the mid-century recreations of Ed Bacon and Mayor Richardson Dilworth.
While many of the private residences of Society Hill are preserved examples of colonial architecture, only a handful of the iconic landmarks are actually original. Carpenter's Hall, the First and Second Banks of the United States, and of course Independence Hall are all original - although significant alterations were performed to return the structures to their 18th century appearance. It's difficult to imagine that the stone, Victorian era Drexel Building once occupied the SE corner of 5th and Chestnut or the equally imposing Irvin Building at the NW corner of 4th and Walnut. Here are just a few of the architectural losses that make up the ghost of Society Hill's once empowering skyline.
The Irvin Building on the NW corner of 4th and Walnut was designed in 1911 by Seeler, Edgar Viguers, and enlarged in 1928 by Ernest James Matthewson, and again in 1955 by Clarence Woolmington. It was demolished in 1974.
Diagonally across the street, The American Life Insurance Company Building at the SE Corner of 4th and Walnut was designed by Thomas Preston Lonsdale in 1888 with alterations designed by William Decker, an architect with a distinct style rarely preserved at the time it was demolished in 1961.
The Brown Brothers Company Building at 330 Chestnut Street is now part of the site of Independence National Historic Park.
The Drexel Building on the SE corner of 5th and Chestnut sat directly across the street from Independence Hall until it was demolished in 1955. It was designed by Wilson Brothers & Company in 1885 who made various alterations through the late 1800's and early 1900's. Later Harris & Richards would also make alterations in 1914. It is now part of the site of Independence National Historic Park.
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