PlanPhilly

Look Up! Row houses to retail row

    • Benjamin Latrobe designed the identical row houses that once lined the 700 block of Walnut.
      Benjamin Latrobe designed the identical row houses that once lined the 700 block of Walnut.
    • The upper floors of 705 and 707 Walnut retain the original 1799 features.
      The upper floors of 705 and 707 Walnut retain the original 1799 features.
    • The 700 block of Sansom has come a long way since its original development as identical row houses.
      The 700 block of Sansom has come a long way since its original development as identical row houses.
    • Belts of decorative brick adorn a 19th century buildings on Sansom.
      Belts of decorative brick adorn a 19th century buildings on Sansom.
    • Each building on Sansom now has its own architectural identity.
      Each building on Sansom now has its own architectural identity.
    • A mix of periods, styles and materials on the south side of Sansom Street.
      A mix of periods, styles and materials on the south side of Sansom Street.
    • A commercial building on Sansom's north side features terra cotta tiles and corbelled brick.
      A commercial building on Sansom's north side features terra cotta tiles and corbelled brick.
    • Late 19th century grandeur on the north side of Sansom.
      Late 19th century grandeur on the north side of Sansom.
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“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature 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 and region.

For the 21st-century holiday season, the 700 blocks of Walnut and Sansom Streets dress up in wreaths, greens and LED lights and welcome shoppers to one of the city’s distinctive retail districts.

But at the turn of the 18th century, the city’s first complete, speculative row house projects were built on these blocks. Developer William Sansom hired Benjamin Latrobe, one of the first designers of Greek Revival as well as Gothic architecture in America, to erect a line of 22 rental row homes on the 700 block of Walnut in 1799.

Sansom employed Thomas Carstairs to build a row of 20 houses on the south side of Sansom Street a few years later. Sansom paved the street at his own expense to draw tenants to what was then the outskirts of town.

The two blocks were distinguished by identical homes, unlike previous row developments where the houses were built one at a time, each with its own features.

The houses along Walnut have since been transformed into stores and offices, and only 705 and 707 retain the original characteristics of Latrobe’s row homes.

The 700 block of Sansom has taken on the name Jeweler’s Row, the epicenter of Philadelphia’s jewelry trade. While Carstairs’ row houses are gone, the buildings now trace the evolution of 19th and 20th century commercial architecture.


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About the author

Alan Jaffe, Contributor

Alan Jaffe has been a contributing writer for PlanPhilly since 2008, focusing on overlooked buidlings and historic preservation issues. He was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”

ajaffe@planphilly.com



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