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 will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city.
Situated on one of the highest elevations in Philadelphia, Overbrook Farms has retained the grand style – or styles – that defined the community in the late 19th to early 20th century. Advertised as “a suburb deluxe,” it was built to lure commuters onto the Pennsylvania Railroad, whose first Overbrook station was established in 1840. Drexel & Co., a banking firm with holdings in the railroad, bought the former farmland and commissioned up-and-coming architects with diverse approaches to design the residential and commercial structures. Residents included Governors Edwin Stuart and Robert Pattison, Mayor John Weaver, and Dr. Albert Barnes, creator of the Barnes Foundation.
Today, about 450 homes, carriage houses and commercial buildings still comprise the neighborhood bounded by Woodbine and City Avenues, from 66th to 58th Streets, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Designation on the Philadelphia Register is expected to be approved in the near future. The effort has been led by the Overbrook Farms Club, which was chartered in 1896 and is the oldest civic association in the U.S., according to Jane Rozmiarek, a leader of open house tours there for over 20 years.