Look Up! Recent redevelopment proposals for the Divine Lorraine and Keystone National Bank cast light on a lesser-known 19th-century architect, Willis Hale.

“Look Up!” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. The photo essays focus on different Philadelphia areas and their distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.


With renewed interest and hope for the Divine Lorraine Hotel building on North Broad Street, there’s bound to be new appreciation for its designer, Willis Hale.


Hale was hired by many of the late 19th century’s major developers, and his work can be found in neighborhoods tbroughout the city. In West Philadelphia, he built houses for brewer/developer Frederick Poth. Former mansions along Green Street in Spring Garden were designed by Hale in a variety of late Victorian styles. In Center City, the flamboyant former Keystone National Bank at 13th and Chestnut – the site of a renovation plan for a boutique hotel – looks like a castle in the sky.


Just beyond the shadow of the Divine Lorraine, Hale designed several blocks of middle-class housing in North Philadelphia for industrialists/developers P.A.B. Widener and William Elkins. A row of six sets of twin homes built in 1886 along the 1500 block of North 17th Street are examples of Hale’s bold urban style.


Their location on the Temple University campus have made the properties attractive to developers as rental units, and several buildings have been beautifully restored to their colorful original condition. Hale used brownstone, brick and rough-hewn stone trim around the arched entrances and windows. He also connected the properties with  enclosed, second-story bridges. Mansard roofs with stepped gables, decorative corbels, terra-cotta panels, turned wood columns and some surviving stained glass all serve as reminders of one of Philadelphia’s most accomplished and expressive architects.


Contact the writer at ajaffe@pennhort.org.

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