South Street is the main shopping, restaurant, and nightlife area of the neighborhood.

Taking a Walking Tour of Queen Village

Although these are row houses in Queen Village, they are not the ones that were on tour. Homeowner privacy is important.

Although these are row houses in Queen Village, they are not the ones that were on tour. Homeowner privacy is important.

Originally posted June 2008.

If you live in a row house neighborhood, chances are you have to walk past other people’s homes on a regular basis. And, if people leave their curtains open, most find it impossible not to sneak a peak inside. It’s even better when a front door is left ajar. Drawn like a moth to a flame, I slow down and linger just a little longer to see how people design their row houses.

Fortunately, for the row house voyeur, many urban neighborhoods have annual open house events where obliging home owners let complete strangers walk through their homes for a moderate fee, which ensures that people with less than wholesome intentions don’t wander in.

This past May, I participated in the “Walking Tour of Queen Village,” as a house-sitter. When you’re not scheduled to house-sit, in this case there were two shifts, you can take the tour yourself. Afterward, sitters and homeowners have a wonderful party in our local Mario Lanza park.

Besides being a great experience, I got to market RowHouse Magazine and make some new friends. I was really surprised to meet someone who had heard of the web site and am really excited that word is getting around. It just so happens that she is the proprietor of Lovely Rentals here in Philadelphia and has been a great contact to add to our growing list of RowHouse friends.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

Of the 16 stops on the self-guided tour, six were currently occupied row houses. They varied in size, style, and age. They were a great representation of the diversity of row homes in Philadelphia. I wish I could include photos with this review but “no photography” is a standard house tour rule. If you see the article, “Queen Village: The Pleasant Place,” you can see similar homes in this neighborhood.

House number one, no specifics for this review, was a modified Trinity-style house with one room on each floor and three, above-ground, floors altogether. I passed through a small, tastefully decorated living room to get to the backyard. This beautiful, outdoor space had lush greenery situated in stone borders and steeply, sloped stone stairs leading down to the kitchen/eating area. Having the kitchen in the basement is a typical arrangement for Trinities. Along the path, there were also little tiles mosaics. Above this peaceful space, I could see the angled extension to the second floor. The owner had left the blueprints for this extension on his office desk. A house-sitter told me that he had designed the alterations to to the house himself and over the years, the visitors on the tour had been witness to the many changes.

I passed through the kitchen and back up the spiral, pie-slice, staircase, also very typical of a Trinity. The owner had turned the space into a photo gallery. The most interesting feature of this unique home is the bathroom. The tub was placed in an unconventional middle spot between the bathroom and the bedroom. On either side, was glass so that one could sit in the bathtub and see both the front and the back of the house. The area was entirely mosaic tiled in shades of blue and small mirrors. I really wish I had a photo to share since my words don’t do it justice.

House number two was a more traditionally laid out row house with two rooms per floor. Again, this home had the dining room and kitchen in the basement so to liven up the space, the owners had a beautiful landscape mural painted on the wall. In Philadelphia, home owners are not afraid to bring bold art and color into their homes.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

A rare example of wooden row homes from the 18th Century.

By the time I got to house number three, quite breathless from running around, I realized I should have been taking notes. Like house one and my own house, house three was a Trinity. However, house three was the most original with one room, about 12 feet square, on each of the three floors and probably not more than 600 square feet total area. The owners had restored it to like-new condition. Like all Trinity homes, this had a very narrow, winding staircase. I asked the owner how she got her normal sized, antique furniture into the rooms. She told me they had taken out the windows during the renovation and hoisted the furniture up. As part of the renovation they also outfitted the house with appliances specifically for small spaces and low environmental impact.

Another unique feature of number three was that it is one of seven that are situated in the middle of a block. In order to get to these homes, you must go through a gated passage, inbetween street-facing homes, to get to what is essentially someone else’s backyard. Except in this case, the backyards are filled with these little row homes and a small courtyard.

House number four was a great example of how adaptable the row house is. The owner bought the adjoining house and broke down the walls, creating a double-wide row house. Although the inside was redesigned to create modern and open spaces, the homeowner retained the historic facades. This was the only house with a young child in it.

Some of the oldest houses on the tour occupy Workman Place. These date from the mid- to late-1700s. Today they are rental properties managed by the Octavia Hill Association whose mission is to provide safe, clean houses for lower-income residents while still making a profit for the owner. It is a model retained from the work of Octavia Hill, the namesake, who developed responsible landlord best-practices in Victorian London. Unfortunately, none of the houses were open to visitors.

New row homes in Queen Village, Philadelphia.

New row homes in Queen Village, Philadelphia.

Number five was a luxurious modern town house with all the comforts one could ask for. This is the house I got to house-sit for, telling visitors about the den, library, guest room, and bathroom with matching wallpaper and shower curtain. It was the largest home on the tour at nearly 3,000 square feet. Unlike the older homes, this home had a garage. In Philadelphia, all new-construction rowhomes must provide off-street parking. Previous owners of this home include several local sports celebrities. The current owner was a very gracious host and walked most of the guests through personally.

The last home on the tour, number six, was the oldest we could walk through. The owner had expanded the original home, which he dates to the 1760s, by purchasing the Trinity behind it and building a bright airy connecting space between the two. He also bought the property next door, demolished the house, and created a parking space and outdoor area.

So many of these homes I would love to revisit. It was incredible to see what people have done with their homes, big and small. Some have worked within their limits and some have expanded creatively. In all the homes, the possibilities are only limited to the owners’ imaginations. It was also great to meet fabulous row house dwellers who are willing to share their homes with the public. I can’t imagine a better way to promote the row house life!

Additional Information

Queen Village Neighborhood Association

 

Old Swede's Church, Philadelphia.

Old Swede’s Church, Philadelphia.

 

Bear Park.

Bear Park.

 

Row homes in Queen Village.

Row homes in Queen Village.

 

Fabric Row, 4th Street, Philadelphia.

Fabric Row, 4th Street, Philadelphia.

 

Row Houses in the Arts

Just a few things that have caught my eye recently. I was in New York a few weeks ago and saw row houses on a subway ad for an Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney – http://www.whitney.org/Exhibitions/ModernLife. I’m guessing since the painting, “Early Sunday Morning” was used in the poster, it should be showing. Hopper is one of the prominent realist painters of the last century and all his art is definitely worth a view. The exhibit is running through April. We missed this walking tour. On Sunday, the Municipal Art Society of NY toured “The BLOOMINGDALE blocks.” The tour stopped at some of New York’s finest remaining turn-of-the-century row houses and apartments.

For upcoming tours, visit http://mas.org/tours/. Spring is in the air and that means open house tours! Hopefully I will get the calendar in order soon!

Traditional dutch wooden clogs.

Walking in the City

Traditional dutch wooden clogs.

Traditional dutch wooden clogs.

More often than not, row house dwellers live in the city. We’ve discovered that urban row house living can be totally environmentally friendly, thanks to public transportation, white roofs, and eco-friendly sharing programs. But can living in a city be a more healthy way of life as well?

On Monday, March 3rd, CNN (http://www.cnn.com) posted a story about Ms. Lois Fletcher, who walked her way to a lower weight. She simply started to take the train and walk one mile to her job and voila, she’s 30 pounds lighter and she feels great. Not that everyone is going to have such results but it doesn’t hurt to get yourself moving, especially if you have a job that pins you to a chair for eight hours, or more, a day. Read more about Ms. Fletcher and the CNN story at http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/diet.fitness/03/03/

hm.urban.fitness/index.html

Doctors recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, a day. It seems like a lot until you consider that walking 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon, about one mile each way, is enough to be beneficial. Think you’re too busy and don’t have the time? Well, since you have to go to work anyway, you might as well combine your work-out with your commute.

If you decide you’re ready to start walking to work, at least part way, you might want to invest in a comfortable pair of shoes. Running shoes are great for brisk walking but there are other options just in case the Working Girl look is not for you. A short list includes, Born – http://www.bornshoes.com/, Rockport – http://www.rockport.com/, Merrell – http://www.merrell.com/, Dansko – http://www.dansko.com/flash.aspx, and Clarks – http://www.clarks.co.uk/. Regardless of what shoe you choose, you want to keep a few
things in mind. The sole should be flexible, your arch supported, the ball of your foot cushioned and no rubbing, which could cause blisters.

Love My Danskos

Although all these brands offer quality, comfortable shoes, I can offer a personal recommendation for Dansko. When I lived in Brooklyn, it seemed that everyone had a pair of Dansko clogs. I’d see them on doctors, cooks, waitresses, and anyone who worked on their feet. They come in a wide variety of styles and colors, ranging from demure black to wild bright blue, and even cheery floral patterns. They’re really fun but alas, a little expensive. I wasn’t walking enough to merit the cost especially since I needed to spend more on running shoes since I was running about 15 miles a week and needed good trainers. However, when I moved to Philadelphia, I found I wasn’t running that much due to my new work schedule. Instead, I was trekking to and from work, about two miles each way, while pushing a jogging stroller, almost daily. I decided to treat myself to a pair of Dansko clogs because the running shoe with business outfit look doesn’t work for me.

Dansko clogs have a rather stiff sole but the clog doesn’t fit tightly and your foot can pretty much move naturally. I’ve never gotten a blister, although I do wear socks and my high arches are well supported. I’ve had mine for a year and they still look brand new, even the sole, regardless of nearly daily wear. I love that the style, Marcelle, is casual enough to wear with jeans and yet dressy enough that if I get called in to an emergency meeting at work, before I’ve put my heels on, I don’t look too rediculous.

There are only two problems I’ve encountered. One, they’re not easy to drive in (standard transmission) so I have to keep a pair of sneakers in the car to drive in. It isn’t a big deal because I hardly ever drive and none of my shoes are really driving-friendly anyway. The other, is that I want another pair and it’s unlikely that they’re going to wear out anytime soon and need replacing, allowing me to stick to my one in, one out, closet rule. Perhaps rules are meant to be broken, after all.

September 2010 – A few months after writing this, the strap on my Dansko clogs broke. The great folks at Dansko read about my plight on my personal blog and contacted me. A few emails later and voila! They sent me a new pair of clogs which are still going strong after two years! Kudos to the great customer service at Dansko!

Additional Information

About.com: Walking Shoe Guide

The Walking Site

The Walking Company

The Physick House: A stand-alone home in a row house neighborhood.

One of the best things about living in a city is that typically, great attractions are located within walking distance. For the past year, or so, I have been trying to visit the Physick House, always missing the hours. Located in Philadelphia’s Society Hill, the Physick House was home to Dr. Philip Syng Physick, considered to be the father of American Surgery. It’s a beautiful house, the only remaining free standing mansion in Center City.

Our host, a decendent of Dr. Physick, was very informative and not only told us about the history of the house and those who lived there, he also told us a fair amount of Philadelphia history as well. A great feature of this tour is that because the house is still cared for by decendents of the house, most of the items on display were the actual property of, and were used by, Dr. Physick himself. And, when it’s your family’s things, you can let people touch, which is exactly what our host let us do. My favorite was a period pianoforte we actually got to hear. And everything, even the smallest items on display, had wonderful stories to go with them. If that wasn’t wonderful enough, you can actually rent the home for small parties as well.

Learn more about the Physic House at http://www.philalandmarks.org/phys.aspx.