By Alan Jaffe
“Look Up” is a new feature of PlanPhilly that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay focuses on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city.
The art of the twin home was refined in the Girard Estate project, a planned development built in South Philadelphia in the early 20th century. Financier Stephen Girard purchased 500 acres in the area, then known as Passyunk Township, in 1797 to create a country retreat and working farm. When he left his estate, valued at $6 million, to the city, he stipulated that the land not be sold and that any income be used to support Girard College.
In 1906, the trustees of the estate hired architect James H. Windrim to design a community of “ideal city homes,” roughly bounded by Passyunk Avenue and Shunk Street, and 17th to 22th, intended for middle-class renters. Over the next 10 years they constructed 481 houses influenced by a variety of post-Victorian styles: Arts & Crafts, Prairie, Spanish Colonial/Mission, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, and combinations thereof.
The trustees were granted court permission to sell the popular homes in the 1950s; all were purchased within two years. Girard Estate was placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1999. “The Girard Estate was one of the first planned subdivisions that maintained a certain aesthetic,” explained Randy Cotton, a former associate director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. “They offered consistency in appearance, but offered residents some variety.”