Portico Row

Philadelphia City, Philadelphia County, PA

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Text below was adapted from a copy of the original National Register Nomination Document [2]; photos are from the Historic American Buildings Survey [1].

Portico Row (900--930 Spruce St.) is the last surviving example of its type of housing in Philadelphia. Built as a speculative housing development by John Savage, a merchant who had owned all the land on this block, this row was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who was also responsible for the dome and wings of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Conceived and executed as a single entity, it finds precedents in the squares and terraces of London, Bath, Dublin as well as in the surrounding streets of an increasingly prosperous Philadelphia. The first on the north side of the 700 block of Walnut Street, 1799, (Benjamin Latrobe, architect) was built by William Sansom who completed the venture with a corresponding row on the south side of Sansom Street (Thomas Carstairs, architect). York Row, on the south side of Walnut Street (Nos. 712-716) followed in 1807. Robert Mills Franklin Row of 1809 on the west side of Ninth Street between Locust and Walnut Streets and Carolina Row on the north side of Spruce Street (Nos. 925, 929-33) of 1812-15 were additional examples of the evolution of the row.

Colonnade Row, on the south side of Chestnut Street between 15th and 16th Streets in 1830 by John Haviland immediately antedated Portico Row. A continuous row of Ionic columns were built on the first level. This was a clear attempt to unify and enhance the scale and significance of the row in an historically aware manner. The Portico Row houses receive an analogous motif. This formal treatment and richness of material reflected the high-minded and sober aspirations and habits of the people who came to live there.

Portico Row was typical of housing developed for the upper middle class. The original owners included doctors, lawyers and merchants. Two residents of particular note were Commodore Isaac Hull (USN), Commander of Old Ironsides during the War of 1812 who lived (and died in 1843) at No. 5 Portico Square (908 Spruce Street) and Mrs. Sarah Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, a prominent home and fashion publication of the late 19th century. The social prominence of the residents continued until the turn of the century when the wealthier classes moved westward. Presently Portico Row is a series of boarding houses.

Portico Row represents the development of a particular urban architectural concept as well as an example of early 19th century upper-middle class housing; it assumes added importance as the only remaining row of its original scale and appearance.

  1. HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey), www.memory.loc.gov, Jack Eisenman, photographer, 1975.
  2. National Park Service, Nomination Form, accepted and entered by the National Register of Historic Places, 1977.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Spruce Street

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