Look Up! The nouveau mansions of North Broad

“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.

In the mid to late 19th century, Philadelphia’s nouveau riche couldn’t build their new sprawling homes in the already occupied, old-money rows on Delancey Street, Rittenhouse Square and South Broad Street. So they erected monuments to their good fortune and prestige along North Broad. On the west side of the 1300, 1400, 1500 blocks, just off the Temple University campus, a handful of these architectural gems survive. And a lucky few have been adapted for fascinating new lives.

William Gaul, a wealthy brewer, was the original occupant of the 1853 Italianate brownstone at 1346 N. Broad. The next owner was Edwin Forrest, “The Greatest Tragedian of His Time,” a plaque on the facade proclaims. Forrest added a new wing with an art gallery and private theater. The building was expanded in the 1880s when the Philadelphia School of Design for Women occupied it. Since 1966, Freedom Theatre, the oldest African-American theatrical company in the state, has used it for performances and training.

Temple’s Center for Social Policy & Community Development uses the stately 19th century building at 1500 N. Broad, and the Original Apostolic Faith Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, Inc., occupies the Art Deco structure next door.

But the reigning castle, at 1430 N. Broad, is the former Charles T. Ellis House. This fantastic mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Classical elements was designed by William Decker in 1891 for Ellis, a trolley line magnate. Ellis was found dead of a self-inflicted gun shot wound in the house in 1909, leaving his $4 million estate for the establishment of a private school for “white fatherless girls.” In 1952, the house was purchased for $40,000 by the followers of Father Divine, owner of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. That movement, under the name Palace Mission Inc., still owns the property and uses it, according to city records, as a “lodging for foreign visitors.”

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The mid-19th century Italianate brownstone at Broad and Master Streets was the home of brewer William Gaul and later Shakespearean actor Edwin Forrest.”

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Temple’s Center for Social Policy & Community Development occupies the former mansion at 1500 N. Broad St.

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The amazing structure at 1430 N. Broad was designed in 1891 by William Decker, who was described by writer George Tatum as “one of the city’s foremost designers of bizarre, eye-catching architecture.”

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The first floor of the former Charles T. Ellis House is characterized by wide arches and a cupola of stained glass and metal on the south side.

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Ornate carvings adorn the second level and corners around the building.

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Elaborate, fluted chimneys crown the Ellis House.

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Decker blended rusticated stonework, brick and terra cotta to create the textured effect of the mansion.

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