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Broad Street Bullies

Guidebooks are a favorite of mine and useful for researchers for a few reasons. Today I will talk about an obvious one – to see what is the same.

Philadelphia and its Environs is a fairly accurate depiction of scenes in Philadelphia. The lithographic prints are detailed and capture the landscape so well, if you are familiar with the city, it’s easy to pick out what remains today. I will focus on some of the buildings along Philadelphia’s Broad Street.

The American Academy of Music still sits on 240 S. Broad Street. Built in 1855-57, it is the oldest opera house in the United States that is still used today for its original purpose. A competition was held for its design, and the Philadelphia firm of Napoleon LeBrun and Gustavus Runge won the honors. When it was completed in 1857, it was “dedicated on that day by the most magnificent ball Philadelphia had ever witnessed” according to the writer of Environs.

Not too far from The American Academy of Music still sits The Union League at 140 S. Broad Street. The Union League began in 1862 to support the policies of Abraham Lincoln or as the Environ says, “Promoting friendly intercourse among loyal people.” Today, members still prize tradition and among its 3,300 members are the region’s elite in business, academia, law, and culture. The building was completed in 1865 and was designed by John Fraser. An interesting element of this lithograph is it does not depict the whole building as it sits today. That is because the extension that expands the rest of the block was not built until 1911, after this publication!

Continuing our exploration of Broad Street, we also see that the Masonic Temple remains at 1 North Broad, although in Environs it is considered the “New Masonic Temple.” The temple was designed by James H. Windrim and was finished in 1873. The elaborate interior of the building, designed by George Herzog, did not begin until 1887. Overall, the building took 15 years to complete.

Lastly, the Academy of Fine Arts on Broad remains as its printed in our guide. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was founded in 1805 and moved into its current home, designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt, in 1876 as part of the Philadelphia Exposition. Despite it now being considered one of the most impressive buildings in the world, the Environs does not have much to say because the project was not completed before the publication. All we know is that “it must be confessed that, at the present writing, Broad Street from Arch to Callowhill is not a pleasant thoroughfare. The new Academy of Fine Arts, now building at Broad and Cherry, will do much for this street.”

This area of the city remains much the same today. It is possible that the wealthy demographics of this pocket of the city had a lot of say in what remained and what was demolished. Those doing the demolishing are often those that hold power. It also reflects the value Philadelphia put on art and social clubs during this time and today. A wealth of cultural buildings was erected at the time of the publication, and it would be hard to convince those that belong to these social clubs to demolish any of these buildings! Today, a guidebook is filled with a wider array of buildings, in environs, we see a focus on the elite and the buildings they are building which helps us determine how Philadelphia wished to be presented to others.

If you would like to see more about any of these places check out the links below:

Modern image attributions:

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