PlanPhilly

Look Up! Thomas Ustick Walter's classical columns

    • Thomas Ustick Water's white marble temple in Society Hill.
      Thomas Ustick Water's white marble temple in Society Hill.
    • The building at 306 Walnut was the first headquarters of PSFS.
      The building at 306 Walnut was the first headquarters of PSFS.
    • The Ionic columns lend the little building a powerful presence.
      The Ionic columns lend the little building a powerful presence.
    • The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire, 212 S. 4th St.
      The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire, 212 S. 4th St.
    • Walter used Corinthian columns for the entrance to the office and residence.
      Walter used Corinthian columns for the entrance to the office and residence.
    • The insurance company's famous logo: four hands clasped in the fireman's carry.
      The insurance company's famous logo: four hands clasped in the fireman's carry.
  • Previous
  • Next

“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. The photo essays 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.

The fire in early April that gutted a Villanova mansion designed by Horace Trumbauer recalled another blaze that razed a home built by one of Philadelphia’s great architects. The Garrett-Dunn House, which burned following a lightning strike in 2008, was designed in the 1850s by Thomas Ustick Walter.

Fortunately, as in the case of Trumbauer’s legacy, many of Walter’s other buildings have survived intact.

Walter became nationally renowned for his design of Girard College, including the Greek Revival masterpiece, Founders Hall. His next big commission: the wings of the U.S. Capitol Building and its iconic dome.

Walter’s preference for classical forms can be found in smaller but still striking buildings in the commercial blocks of the Society Hill area.

At 306 Walnut Street is Walter’s white marble temple to banking. The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society hired Walter to build its first headquarters in 1839. He responded with two-story Ionic columns that give the little building a humble majesty between its later, square-shouldered neighbors.

The building’s pediment was added in 1881, after PSFS sold the building. (PSFS would build even more memorable headquarters in 1930 at 12th and Market Streets.)

Around the corner from the first PSFS building, at 212 South 4th Street, is another Walter design, the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire.

Founded by Ben Franklin himself in 1752, the nation’s oldest mutual fire insurance company asked Walter in 1835 to create a Greek Revival headquarters and residence for their treasurer. To support the beautiful portico, Walter chose fluted marble Corinthian columns – though much smaller than those on Founders Hall. The elegant, three-story brick building fit in nicely with the Colonial row houses of Society Hill.


"Look Up"  Jacob Reed Building

"Look Up" Ronald McDonald House

"Look Up" Jeweler's Row

"Look Up" Abington's flirtation with Hollywood

"Look Up" Rittenhouse Square's stables

"Look Up" Fairmount's contribution to the row home dynamic

"Look Up" Drexel's Poth Dynasty

"Look Up" Wright's Ardmore Experiment

"Look Up" Contemporary neighbors in Society Hill

"Look Up" Imaginative Eyre on Locust Street

"Look Up!" Elfreth's Alley has issues

"Look Up" Architectural exercises on Boathouse Row

"Look Up!" John Notman's brownstone temples

"Look Up!" 19th Century luxe on Locust St.

"Look Up!: 20th Century evolution in East Falls

"Look Up!" Rural retreats in Northeast Philly

"Look Up!" Modernist lines on Haverford Ave.

"Look Up!" Chestnut Hill's modernist gems

"Look Up" Furness Chapel
Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.



"Look Up!" The Art Deco Palace of Mt. Airy
"Look Up! An architect's legacy on Spruce Street
"Look Up!" The French Village in Mt. Airy
"Look Up" and check out the nouveau mansions of North Broad

"Look Up" and check out elegant Southwark
"Look Up" and check out Henry Disston's company town
"Look Up: and check out Spruce Hill
"Look Up" and check out Green Street
"Look Up" and check out West Laurel Hill
"Look Up" and check out Parkside
"Look Up" and check out Awbury Arboretum
"Look Up" and check out Nicetown
"Look Up" and check out Overbrook Farms
"Look Up" and check out Girard Estate
"Look Up" and check out Rittenhouse/Fitler Square

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



blog comments powered by Disqus

Article Information

Recent Comments on PlanPhilly

Powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Which weekly emails would you like to receive?