Look Up! The cast-iron palace of Old City

The 1857 Smythe Stores were beautifully restored and repurposed as residential units in the 1980s.


“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.


Philadelphia’s original loft district — the remnants of industry in Old City — includes a commanding example of the early use of cast-iron design.


The Smythe Stores, 101 to 111 Arch Street, were built in 1857 for department store owner Samuel Smythe.


The Tiffany and Bottom Foundry in Trenton produced the cast-iron façade, which stretched across half the block. The design was inspired by Northern Italian Renaissance palaces, with pairs of arched windows divided by columns, and the five rows decreasing in height as they climb upward.


The cornices, columns and capitals are in raised relief to add dimension to the handsome façade. Commercial builders appreciated cast iron’s reasonable cost, ease of construction, and the amount of window space made possible because of its strength.


Tenants of the storefronts included the Aunt Sally Blended Tea Company, the Philadelphia Seed Company, and the Stratford Cigar Company.


In 1913, the central section of the building was demolished to allow the Arch Street trolley to loop around the building. The midsection was rebuilt by The Devoe Group using fiberglass and molds of the old section in 1984, when the Smythe Stores were converted into apartments.


Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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