Look Up! West Philadelphia’s finest row homes

April 20, 2010

By Alan Jaffe
For PlanPhilly

“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.

Spruce Hill, a sprawling neighborhood bounded by Market Street and Woodland Avenue, from 40th to 49th Streets, contains a wealth of great historic and architectural sites. The crowning jewels are probably the row homes at 4206-18 Spruce St., what Preservation Alliance executive director John Gallery calls “the most distinguished block of late 19th-century houses in the city” in his book, Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City.

Brothers George Watson Hewittt and William Dempster Hewitt designed the group of Queen Anne houses in 1886 as a unified whole marked by dramatic gables, a bold color scheme, and mixed materials. Elements of the Spruce Street homes also recall the work of George Hewitt’s one-time partner, Frank Furness.

The Hewitts designed mansions in Chestnut Hill, Wynnewood and Villanova, but their specialties were churches, hotels, hospitals and other institutions. Their portfolio included the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Philadelphia Bourse, Philadelphia Cricket Club, Hahnemann Hospital and Hahnemann Medical College.

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The Hewitt homes on Spruce Street, looking southwest from the 42nd Street side, are a beautiful blend of Queen Anne characteristics, with some High Victorian flare.

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The homes on the corners of the row frame the composition.

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A view of the building from the St. Marks Street side.

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The second-floor bay windows on the corner homes step out into space.

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An elegant window of tile, metal and wood ornament serves as the focus of one of the central homes.

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Terra cotta tile adorns another second-floor window.

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The porches of the Spruce Street homes feature whimsical, welcoming columns and spindles.

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A decorative bargeboard adorns the gable over the porch.

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Graceful brackets enhance the edges of the homes.

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