Hidden Row Homes – Bell’s Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia

It is not always easy to find out how old your row house is, especially if it was built before 1900, and even more so if it was a dwelling for the working-class. However, it helps to have someone put the date the row was built right on the side of the house.

These row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, were built in 1815.

I intended this to be an article about cute little row houses, situated in lovely gardens, in the middle of blocks, providing an urban oasis for those who don’t mind living with a little less space but I have discovered that the little homes of Bell’s Court tell a captivating story.

Alan Heavens, Inquirer Real Estate Writer, wrote about Bell’s Court last year (http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-29/business/40850220_1_bell-society-hill-trinities). Heavens writes that originally, the land the row homes sit on, was part of the garden of a very wealthy local Philadelphian named William Bingham, who, among other things, represented Pennsylvania as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788. However, Bingham didn’t build the homes. That was wallpaper designer/manufacturer Thomas Hurley, who built not only the four present row homes but also an additional row of four row houses so that the two rows faced each other. Thanks to the little masonry note, we know the homes were completed in 1815.

Philly History is a wonderful archival website and I discovered the following photo that shows the remaining row in 1961. Surprisingly, there are cars parked in front and behind! You’ll see in photos below that it’s completely different today thanks to an urban revitilization of Society Hill, beginning in the 1960s, that saved many historic homes from demolision, including these, and restored the greenspaces.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

The row homes of Bell’s Court are indicative of the typical “Trinity” style houses that were built throughout Philadelphia during the population boom of the 19th Century. Many of this type of home were expanded in later renovations but, as indicated in the historic photo, it appears that the row was surrounded by streets. Therefore, with no room to expand, we are left with the original footprint and an intact glimpse into 19th Century working class domestic life. Inside, the homes feature two bedrooms, one bathroom, and likely have at least one working fireplace. Other distictions include the ever challenging, or intimidating, spiral “pie slice” stairs and classic Federal six-over-nine/eight-over-twelve windows. There is one room on each floor, with the kitchen located in the basement. Altogether, the homes are just slightly over 650 square feet, which is on the generous size for houses like these which range (originally) from 400 to 550 square feet. A unique feature is the loft over the top floor, seen in the historic photo above. Normally, you don’t get the extra space and it’s a nice feature on a very small house.

Today, Bell’s Court is assessable via pedestrial walk-way and the streets and cars have been replaced with a beautiful garden. It’s one of those charming secret rows that we absolutely love discovering in Philadelphia.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

Row houses in Bell's Court, Society Hill, Philadelphia, PA.

To read more about how the current residents live in their homes, see Heaven’s article – http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-29/business/40850220_1_bell-society-hill-trinities.

 

Spanish Mission Revival Style Row Houses

During the very late 19th Century through the very early 20th Century, there was a renewed interest in Spanish Mission architecture. Although largely popular in the southwest United States, there are examples where the style was embraced north of the border. If you live in New York City, you can see examples on the CUNY Queens College campus.

There isn’t one single architecture not represented in row houses so naturally, I’ve discovered some Mission Revival row houses during my journeys. Some distinct features of Mission architecture that are demonstrated in row houses include:

  • Smooth stucco walls in creamy beige hues
  • Red tiled roofs
  • Arches supported by columns
  • Enclosed patio / courtyard spaces
  • Bell-shaped gables

Typically, Spanish Mission Revival homes are detached. So, when the style has been applied to row homes, it’s done with creativity. For example, it is unlikely a single row house would have an enclosed courtyard. Below, the entire row is given the enclosed courtyard feeling by setting the elevation of the homes back quite a bit from the street and placing the arches and column close to the sidewalk. This particular home has a beautiful garden and a very charming street light.

Spanish Mission Revival Style Row House

Once you pass through the gate, you have alternating walk-ways and driveways.

Spanish Mission Revival Style Row House

A little closer and you arrive at a door, which has a decorative iron gate. Often, having an iron gate on your home provides added security but you have to sacrifice a cheerful appearance. With Spanish Mission, the use of ornate metal is complimentary to the style.

Spanish Mission Revival Style Row House

Below is a different row I discovered in Forest Hills Gardens in Queens New York. Note the chimney and red tiles; very typical of the style. The decorative iron work is used for Juliette balconies on these. Look to the very right in this photo and note the windows with arches.

Spanish Mission Revival Row in Forest Hills, Queens, New York

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A Unique Tudor Revival Row House

I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over seven years, spending time literally running down each block in Center City, and I’m still discovering new row houses!

A unique tutor row house in Philadelphia.

This is a lovely Tutor Revival row house, which means it looks like something you’d find in a village in England somewhere. And, indeed, this rather unique example, does look like it’s wandered off of a Harry Potter movie set. I have no idea why there is a little brush sign hanging in front but it caught my eye and is just charming!

A unique tutor row house in Philadelphia.

The red windows are a very nice touch. Since the glass is leaded, it adds a bit of color. As you may notice, this house doesn’t match the others on the block and may have been added later. I’d suggest mid-19th Century for the row, which is classic Greek Revival, and this one a little later, maybe around the 1920s, when Tutor Revival was popular.

Coming around to the side, you can see this lovely extension with beautiful patina’ed copper paneling. Such a beautiful home! If only we always could get invited in.

A unique tutor row house in Philadelphia.

A Gorgeous Greek Revival Row House in Fairmount, Philadelphia

You just never know what’s going to happen during your long training run for the Philadelphia half marathon!

Philadelphia is one of the great row house cities in the United States, and maybe the world (we like to imagine it so, lol!). Certainly, there is a great diversity of row homes here, representing centuries of architectural styles. So, it’s easy to find great row homes while you’re out and about.

Still, it’s always a nice surprise when you not only find a superb example but also have the owners invite you in, even though you’re sweaty and they have a party to prepare for.

Meet Joe and Steve’s very elegant Greek Revival row house! Here, Joe is tending to his garden; just before inviting me in!

Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

What caught my eye in particular are the lush window boxes and the iron work around the parlor floor and entrance. A house from this period doesn’t have to have small-pane windows but it’s just a lovely touch, referencing the city’s rich Federal architectural past. I walked closer to get a better look and saw the door which is just beautiful! The iron work on the door is very cohesive with the railings around the window box.

Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Joe said that the house used to be gray, pretty much inside and out. They decided to paint the 1896 Greek Revival row house a crisp white. Against the white, the green shutters contrast and punctuate the facade nicely. Most of the garden in the front is also green, giving a very coordinated face to the street.

It’s a typical feature of Greek Revival row homes to have a small foyer leading into the hall. Like many houses in this style, the hall and stairs go along the side of the home. These entryways always have wonderful tile or wallpaper and this is no exception. Look at that molding! The window above the door would have opened, allowing for heat to escape. It’s always hard to capture the scale of a space but those are quite high ceilings.

Entrance - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Here is the first look into the house. The owners have maintained the original layout of the home. Joe told me that when they bought the home in 1987, the owner had requested they keep the home a single dwelling and it remains as such to this day. He also mentioned that throughout the home, the molding is largely original.

Stairs - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Turning around before moving on, you can see the foyer and doors from the inside looking out. One thing to notice is that the interior light is very muted. Although the house does have electrical lights (naturally!) and can be perfectly bright, the owners have plenty of indirect lighting options which creates a very period feel to the lighting in the home.

Entryway and hall - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

After walking into the hall, to the right is the doorway into the parlor. Although having the door and the stairs on the left of the house leaves the house asymmetrical, once you enter the formal rooms, the elements, such as these windows, are symmetrically placed. Unfortunately, my iPhone doesn’t take the best photos when the room is dark and the windows are bright and sunny, so some of the details are lost.

One thing to note is that when you have a parlor floor, or when the first floor of a home starts a few feet above street level, you can have lovely full-height windows without losing too much privacy to sidewalk traffic, except for curious runners.
Parlor - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
The back half of the parlor contains a grand piano which illustrates the scale of the room. Despite having plenty of space, you can see that this room multitasks as a formal parlor, library, and music room in true row house style.

I’ve got better light in this photo so you can see the molding and plaster work on the ceiling. The red wallpaper fits appropriately with the original period of the home. Victorians were very keen on wallpaper, which was the fashion on both sides of the pond. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask if the wallpaper was based on an original design.
Parlor - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Through the door is a small passage Joe that calls the gallery. The art displayed through the home is really an incredible collection and every small area holds a treasure. The home practically frames the art.

Continuing on, the next room is the formal dining room. Again, the wallpaper is really on-target for the period. Joe said that when they purchased the home, all the walls were gray and all the trim was white. Although they agreed not to alter the layout, they did liven up the walls.

Another really nice touch is the black and white marble floor. This is a very classic look found in many grand historic homes.
Formal dining room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Often, in a row house that hasn’t been overly renovated, you will see fireplaces. Joe says that there are two remaining working fireplaces in the house. Originally, this row house would have had two on each of the main floors and one in the kitchen for cooking. Below is the mantle of the dining room fireplace. The white and blue pottery is very complimentary of the wallpaper.
Formal dining room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
There is nothing like built-in storage!Built-in china cabinet - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Past the dining room is the kitchen which is quite lovely. However, Joe and Steve were getting ready to entertain and were bustling about so no photos. There was a finish on the window that, when the light and colors from the garden shone through, looked like the watery stained glass of a Tiffany window.
Powder room - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Just outside the back door is an oasis of a backyard garden. These personal green spaces never cease to amaze me. Often, although not on this block, the streets don’t have any trees on them and look quite bleak. What happens behind the row homes often more than compensate.
Garden - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

Garden - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia

After visiting the garden, it was back through the house to progress upstairs to view the remaining public rooms.
Entry hall - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
If I had a bathroom like this, I would never leave it. Thanks to all the reflective surfaces, this room practically glows – even without a light on. The windows are leaded stained glass and the light fixture, also glass, is just tremendous. Inadvertently, I’ve taken a selfie in my running gear.
Bathroom - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
More of the fantastic bathroom. I have to say, I spent a good deal of time in the house going “oooh” and “aaaah.” My hosts were very patient and entirely gracious. Here, with the light on, you can get an idea of the reflective surfaces of the mirrored tile and the glazed subway tile. Dazzling would be the best way to describe it.
Bathroom - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Past the office area was originally a walled off area that served as a closet. There was paneling on the walls. One day, Joe shared, he drank a lot of coffee and, with a friend, pulled all of the paneling, as well as the wall, down. When they were done, they were left with a small room, overlooking the roof over the kitchen. His friend built wooden stairs, visible in the lower right corner of the photo, that lead up to french doors and out onto a roof deck. Here is another example of how the house frames the art.
Enclave - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Here are the doors opened and leading out to the roof deck.
Roof deck - Greek Revival Row House, Philadelphia
Finally, I asked if this medallion was original to the house. Joe told me that it was salvaged from the home he grew up in, also an older home painted Quaker gray with white trim, that had been demolished due to fire. It is a touching tribute from one house to another.

Mantle and wall decor - Greek Revival Row House, PhiladelphiaWalking through the house was like taking a journey. Everything has a story, from the house itself to all the carefully curated things within. Considering the Victorians themselves were master collectors, it seems quite fitting that Joe and Steve carry on that tradition.

I can’t thank Joe and Steve enough for sharing their beautiful row home with us!

Modern Row Homes in Philadelphia

During my commute, I’ve watched these row homes grow out of a big hole in the ground. One of these days, I’m going to take pictures in sequence. This particular row has beautiful full height windows on both the second and third floor, and what appears to be a roof deck. From this area, the occupants will have beautiful views of the skyline.

Modern row houses in Philadelphia.

A Collection of Distinguished Doors

For quite some time, I’ve been meaning to share some of the more beautiful doors I’ve seen on row houses. Sometimes, when your house looks like everyone else’s house, your front door becomes your one chance to be expressive.

This is a very fancy Federal-style door. Note the six panels and semi-circular fan light. However, the surrounding treatment is very ornate, almost like a fireplace mantle. It’s hard to see in the photo because of the sunbeam but the panes in the fanlight are decorative as well.

A love door on a row house in Philadelphia.

This is a very ornate example including a leaded glass fanlight. The darkly-stained wooden door is often seen on Victorian era homes in the Italianate style and it is likely this is an upgrade from the original Federal style door. Note the semi-circular fan light.

Philadelphia Row House

This is another revival style home, where the style has been updated to something much more elaborate than the original Federal. To the left, you can see a more traditional Federal style. However, this home had clearly been upgraded with a very fancy doorway and gate while retaining the lovely Flemish bond brickwork.

Philadelphia Row House

No collection of row house doors would be complete without including this Mondrian-inspired door on a turn-of-the 20th Century corner row house.

Philadelphia Row House

Historic Row Houses in Narai-juku, Japan

Kon’nichiwa

I recently noticed that several of our readers are from Japan. I hadn’t really thought too much about Asian row houses and decided to do some research, during which I discovered these lovely historic row houses in Narai-juku Japan, dating from the Edo period (1603-1868).

The great thing about this row is that it’s a “Nationally-designated Architectural Preservation Site” and has been preserved in its original condition.  It’s a rather popular tourist destination and has a lovely website although I have no idea what is says. If you speak Japanese and/or know about these beautifully preserved row houses, please comment!

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nakasendo_Narai-juku03n4272.jpg

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki /File:Nakasendo_Narai-juku03n4272.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wooden-Sided Row Houses in Philadelphia

I was out and about today and came across these two row houses. Wood siding is fairly unusual but it’s not impossible to find the rare, well-preserved example. With the bright hibiscus in front, they are both very charming.

Also, an amusing bit of faux as the dentil cornice on the white home is painted. These are Federal row homes that likely date between 1790 to 1830.

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

Federal Row House in Philadphia

RowHouse Magazine Resources: Research

Colonial row houses in Philadelphia.

Colonial row houses in Philadelphia.

You don’t have to face renovation alone. These are a small sample of the associations you can reach out to for assistance with your renovation. If you have an association near you, please let us know and we’ll add them to the list.