Rittenhouse East is located in Center City Philadelphia.
The tour starts at Rittenhouse Square, bounded by Walnut, Locust, South 18th and South 19th Streets. To get there from City Hall to begin the tour, walk three blocks west from 15th Street and two blocks south from Market Street. The #9, 12, 21 and 42 buses along Walnut Street, and the #12 bus along Locust Street all stop at Rittenhouse Square. For more details, visit www.septa.org.
Please note that most of the properties on the tour are private residences and not open to the public, unless indicated with (OP).
Text by Paula Spilner. Photos #4, 7, 9 and 10 by Tom Crane; all other photos by James B. Abbott.
The Rittenhouse Fitler Historic District encompasses most of the southwest quadrant of the original city of Philadelphia. Within its boundaries, several thousand buildings contribute to a rich and varied tapestry of residential and institutional architecture. This extraordinary concentration, not only of individual buildings, but of significant streetscapes, documents the history of Philadelphia’s period of rapid expansion in the 19th century. At the same time, it serves as a vital and cherished neighborhood for thousands of residents, as it has for almost 200 years.
In the 1830s, developers began to build speculative rows moving west from Broad Street. This process reached its peak between 1850 and 1870, when many blocks were lined with new Greek Revival and Italianate brick or brownstone townhouses. Soon Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist and other religious congregations followed to serve the new populations. John Notman, John McArthur and Frank Furness, among other distinguished architects, designed a host of new churches, mostly in the medieval revival styles then preferred for ecclesiastical buildings.
After about 1870, many well-to-clients commissioned some of the best architects in Philadelphia—and a few from elsewhere — to remodel or rebuild existing rowhouses to suit their own tastes and current fashions. Furness, Horace Trumbauer, Wilson Eyre, Frank Miles Day and Theophilus Chandler contributed to this transformation, leaving a legacy that is a virtual encyclopedia of 19th-century architectural styles.
Shortly before World War I, a new building type appeared in the district. For the first time, a high-rise apartment building was constructed on Rittenhouse Square, previously lined by the sumptuous mansions of Philadelphia’s elite. Since then, tall buildings both on the Square and nearby have changed the profile of the district, creating greater density and providing for a growing population.
The Rittenhouse Fitler Historic District was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1995.
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