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Diamond Street Historic District

Philadelphia City, Philadelphia County, PA

Diamond Street [†] from Carlisle Street to Van Pelt Street, possesses significance as the most intact grand avenue of speculative Victorian townhouses in North Philadelphia and as a develop ment of the city's nouveau riche during the expansive era of post-Civil War industrialization. Like much of North Philadelphia west of Broad Streeg Diamond Street was devetoped between 1875 and 1900 as a response to the dramatic groMh of the city's population, the drastic changes in Philadelphia's economic base, and the extension of the public transportation system. Diamond Street stands out in this context owing to its extraordinarrly large, often architect designed, rowhouses and churches erected to attract the elite of the new entrepreneurial upper-middle classes.

During the second half of the 19th century, Philadelphia became the second largest industrial city in the country. The industries created not only blue collar iobs for the swarms of native born migrants moving into the city and thousands of immigrants streaming in from Europe, but also managerial positions to administer the factories. This, in turn, led to the demand for professional services by lawyers, bankers and physicians as well as an expansion of retail businesses. The high paying employment opportunities created a class of people that could afford to purchase substantial new houses, and developers built Diamond Street for this market.

Even with the increased demand for new housing Diamond Street could not have developed as a purely residential neighborood without the extension of the streetcar system. Relatively few Philadelphia families possessed the funds to maintain horses and carriages, and the cost of riding streetcars before electrification proved prohibitive for the working classes. Most Philadelphians walked to work and lived within a reasonable distance from the factory or shop. The development of Diamond Street coincided with the penetration of streetcar routes along 15th and 17th Streets north to Susquehanna Avenue, just one block north of Diamond Street. This facilitated affordable commutation to Center CIty nd other places of employment, indeed, it made Diamond Street possible.

The speculative real estate developers who built the houses of Diamond Street took full advantage of the potential grandeur of this wide avenue to Fairmount Park to erect large-scale, high fashion houses to attract the newly moneyed homebuyer. The three-story houses stand 18 to 20 feet in width and 65 to B0 feet in depth. Although the houses share brick construction with those found throughout the city, there is a higher proportion of houses faced with stone, such as serpentine, brownstone and marble, than on most other streets in North Philadelohia.

As a major east west streef Diamond Street provided a natural location for several important North phitadelphia churches. The Park Avenue Baptist Church, the Union Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Church of the Advocate, a National Historic Landmark, are outstanding examples of ecclesiastica[ architecture. These lavishly designed churches by important Philadelphia architects reflected the wealth of their congregations.

Although Diamond Stree! like much of North Philadelphia, suffered economically when industries fled Philadelphia, many people are reinvesting in the district. Most of the grand houses remain and many have been rehabilitated. Unfortunately decay and disinvestment has led to the demolition of several blocks of the Diamond Street Historic District. However, thrs has created the opportunity for the development of contemporary rowhouses, such as those on the 1600 block.

The Diamond Street Historic District remains significant in the history of the Philadelphia, socially as well as architecturally. The ornate churches and the stately rowhouses offer a glimpse into the wealthy industrial past of North Philadelphia.

The Diamond Street Historic District, 2012. Philadelphia Historic Commission, www.phila.gov, accessed May, 2021.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Diamond Street