Buildings Information from Philadelphia Newspapers

Philadelphia Inquirer
September 25, 1880

John Chenoweth
Each issue has significant, but unorganized information on building use in the form of advertisements scattered throughout. One issue reviewed contained a great number of notices of sheriff’s sales of specific properties, with some very limited information about the property and owner in question.

Notices of properties for sale or rent appeared towards the end of most issues. Information included limited descriptions of the building (i.e. number of stories and construction material, number of acres or size of lot, and location). Asking prices were included for some but not all properties.

One article described details of a contract dispute in the construction of Philadelphia’s City Hall. One of the builders contracted for the construction, the Douglas Brothers, had apparently gone bankrupt leaving work unfinished. The Commissioners directed the work to continue and named the Architect, Mr. MacArthur, and Superintendent, Mr. McPhearson, who were to supervise the work. It was commented that they had secured the same materials and workers the Douglas Brothers had planned to use and did so at the same rates, although the rates were not mentioned. The Douglas Brothers defaulted on 2 separate contracts for the work, one worth $15,000 which was not completed, and one worth $30,000 which was not stared.

Public Ledger
September 28, 1880

Amila Ferron
Of most interest may be the “For Sale” listings that give street addresses with descriptions of the building or lot for sale. This is the most detailed description of property found in the Ledger. Also of interest may be the “Sale of Real Estate and Stocks” section that gives addresses of property sold with brief descriptions of the property. Information here may include the number of floors, number of rooms, building material, and whether the property provides “conveniences.” Also giving brief descriptions of property is the “Rentals” section, which lists addresses and gives quick overviews of interior spaces. A couple other possible sections to find information on buildings are the “Varieties” section which mentions a large real estate sale in this paper, and the “Police Intelligence” section which lists fires.

The Philadelphia Press
September 28, 1880

Jamie Barbaccia
John Wanamaker Store “The Great Store and its Trade”

This article talks about the ways in which the John Wanamaker Store changed to accommodate the growing needs of its customers. When it first opened in 1876, the store sold only clothing. In 1877, it became more of a “general store,” offering carpets, furniture, and kitchen items. In 1880, the store expanded to takes up 5 acres in the blocks between 13th Street and City Hall Square and Chestnut and Market Streets. During the summer of 1880, the administrative, bookkeeping, and advertising departments moved to 1317 Chestnut Street, freeing up more space for furnishings and upholstery. A workshop on Market Street was turned into a custom tailors shop. Galleries were connected to a length of 1/4 mile, making them larger and more available for the customers. Sixty-four electric lights work perfectly, and a tubing system which carried money to and from the cashier was added. The article is illustrated with a ground plan of the building, showing locations of all departments, entrances, lost and found, cashier, and waiting rooms.

The Philadelphia Bulletin
September 28, 1880

Jayne Spector
The articles and advertisements featured in the Bulletin were useful for looking at the economic climate and building projects that occurred during this period. Articles on infrastructure improvements, ribbon cuttings and advertisements to bid told gave a snapshot of the building industry. Advertisements for department stores and specialty shops selling luxury goods were abundant, indicating an upscale clientele for the paper or good economic times in general.

Specific articles on building included coverage of “The New Wissahickon Bridge”. Such developments would indicate an impending boom for development in neighborhoods on both sides of the new crossing. Advertisements for construction awards for new schools at Huntington and Sepviva Streets for $19,112 and 59th and Vine streets for $13,815 indicated the cost of building projects as well as shifting populations within the city.

More general information on the Philadelphia financial markets also indicated a robust economy with “Supply of capital exceeding investments in exceedingly abundant,” which would indicate a strong market for new building projects.