Westcott Scrapbooks

Volume 7
Page 189
June 1886

The City’s Growth

A Passing Glance at Building Operations Now in Progress

            Among the unfortunate results of the labor movement (for some element of ill mingles with most human affairs) is the check given to building operations in this city.  But for the strikes the work which this spring had ready for all the trades connected with house and hall and factory building would have been unprecedented.  The industrial and speculative branches of the building business have felt the strain more than that which depends upon the individual tastes and comfort of rich land owners, and while many contemplated enterprises have been interrupted architects have gone serenely forward with their plans for new mansions within and without city limits.

            A prominent place on the list of these is held by the superb and extravagant mansion which Mr. Willis G. Hale is designing for P.A.B. Widener at Broad street and Girard Avenue.  This edifice is to be, as far as cost goes, all that an ex-City Treasurer and Traction Railway magnate could desire and it is safe to say that no English earl will be able to boast a handsomer home in London.

            Mr. Widener’s mansion will occupy the northwest corner of Broad street at the intersection of Girard avenue, with a spacious garden around it, and will comprise much that is rare in design and elegant in execution.  The plan includes, of course, music room, parlors, drawing rooms, conservatories, and all the modern additions to and improvements in comfortable and luxurious housekeeping.  When finished, and the price of the ground is included, it will exceed in cost any other house in Philadelphia.



Volume 7
Page 216
August 1886




A Marvel of Architectural Beauty – The New Houses That Will Adjoin It

Peter A.B. Widener intends building at the northwest corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue the handsomest house in Philadelphia.  The plans for what will be a palace are now being drawn.  The designs will be finished early in the week, the estimates made a few days later, and ground will be broken by the middle of August.  Mr. Widener has been thinking about this new house for some time.  He had photographs taken of the interior and exterior of William H. Vanderbilt’s house in New York, and a number of other metropolitan palaces, and from ideas taken from these houses and plans of his own and his architects, he intends building a house that will remain as a monument to the memory of the great capitalist.  Every stone and every stick of wood and all the labor will be supplied by Philadelphians: not a penny’s worth of material will be bought outside of this city. On account of the elaborate carving of the stone work on the front elevation, it will take a year to build the house.  The drawings of the front elevation have already been made and a photograph of the original, which was shown by Mr. Widener to some friends, shows that the front of the house, which will be of stone, will be eighty feet high and one mass of carving.


The frontage on Broad Street will be one hundred feet.  There will be two flights of winding stone steps leading to the front entrance and a long, wide, imposing stone porch with tiled floor and carved stone balustrade will run the entire length of the front.  The second –story front will be another porch, which will be called “the arcade.”  There will be stone images as pillars to support the stone roof, and the stone arches stretching from pillar to pillar will be a mass of carving.  The great hall, on the second floor, will open on to the arcade by means of a great arched doorway.  The arcade will be about fifteen feet wide and one hundred feet long, and will be the promenade or rendezvous of guests after a banquet or a dance.  The third story will also have a stone balcony, and above the fourth story will tower two steeples, one at either end of the house.  The windows will be of stained glass.  The carving of the stone work on the front of the house will cost $50,000.  The Girard avenue front, on the southern side of the building, will also be of carved stone and will extend back 162 feet from Broad Street.  The lot on which the house is to be built is 200 feet deep, running to Carlisle street.


            The house is to be divided in the middle by a hallway fifteen feet wide.  The main saloon will be in the corner fronting Broad and Girard avenue.  On the opposite side of the hallway there will be a library.  Back of these will be the banquet hall, thirty-two feet square.  On either side will be a number of small reception rooms, a family dining room, a butler’s pantry, an elevator and a lounging room.  Back of all this, which will be one hundred and sixty-two feet deep, there will be a conservatory thirty-two feet square filled with rare plants.  From the winding stone steps leading up to the front entrance one will be able to look clear through the hallway on through the banquet hall into the greenhouse – a clear view fifteen feet wide, twenty feet high and one hundred and ninety-four feet deep.  Marble statues will sit in niches in the walls in the hallway and a fountain will throw up spray at the rear of the great hall.  There will be statuary distributed through all the principal rooms on the first floor and oil paintings by Philadelphia artists will cover some of the walls, while beautiful landscape scenes will be painted on the walls of the grand saloon and suitable subjects will be painted on the walls of the banquet hall.

            Up stairs on the second floor the principal room will be the chamber directly over the grand saloon.  This room, with all its annexes, will run the entire depth of the house, 162 feet.  There will be a dressing room, two bath rooms with tiled floors and walls, a grand wardrobe and a private sitting room.  On the other side of the hallway there will be a large guests’ chamber fronting on Girard avenue and back of that an immense family sitting room.  Farther back there will be several small rooms.  The elevator, which will be located back of the banquet hall, will run to the top of the house.  The other floors will be proportionately arranged.


            There will be an engine to run the elevator and the dynamos that will furnish the house with electric light.  There will be electric bells in every room.  Every modern improvement will be placed in the house, even to an inner windowblind, which has been patented especially for this house.  The estimated cost of the bare building is $150,000, but it is believed that by building it entirely of stone it will cost $200,000.  Besides this house there are to be built two brownstone houses adjoining it.  The lot is 200 feet square and the 100 feet north of Mr. Widener’s house will be used for the other two houses.  One of them will be occupied by George D. Widener, Mr. Widener’s son, and the other house, on the extreme north, will be occupied by George W. Elkins, a son of William L. Elkins.  Both of these young men are of the firm of M. Ehret, Jr., & Co.  Their houses, the ground and Mr. Widener’s palace will represent $500,000, including the furniture which will be put in the houses.  It is expected that all three houses will be ready for occupancy about June 1 of next year.


Further information can be found at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.