Look Up! Fairmount’s contribution to the row home aesthetic

“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.

Fairmount is best known for its institutional architecture: Thomas Ustick Walter’s monumental Founders Hall, built in 1832 on the Girard College campus, and the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, John Haviland’s 1829 paean to solitary confinement. But Fairmount is also a patchwork neighborhood of tiny streets with fascinating row house architecture.

In the shadow of the rear wall of stony Eastern State is an enclave once known, apparently, as Windsor Square. The old name is still carved in the white granite cornerstone overhead at Brown and Woodstock Streets. According to history passed down by the residents, the 800 block of Woodstock was called “Doctors Row” because it was developed in the late 1800s to house the physicians employed at Lankenau Hospital, which was once located at the top of Woodstock Street at Poplar. The houses were designed for an upscale market, with decorative brick facades along one side, and many with wooden gables and sloping shingled third-floors along the other. The Queen Anne-styled colored glass panes around the windows, floral and geometric panels beneath the first-floor sills, and outdoor privies in the rear were also signs of affluent homeowners, theorizes current Woodstock resident Robert Libkind.

Ornate three-story row homes also line the 800 block of 21st Street. A unifying corbelled brick pattern runs along the roofline, and a quilt of decorative masonry appears below the windows and defines each level of the houses. One more block west is Beechwood, where the name Norwood is carved on the street sign of the corner property. The east side of Beechwood is lined with humbler, two-story brick homes, but they also have beautifully designed wood brackets in the eaves, regal crockets, and elegant wood window frames.

The former Lankenau buildings now appear vacant on the larger Philadelphia Nursing Home campus, and many of the houses along Woodstock and 21st have been subdivided into apartments. But the brick rows remain in fine form in one of the city’s hidden neighborhoods. 

“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

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

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