The Philadelphia Boarding House Today

Rittenhouse Square Bed and Breakfast: Exterior View
Photograph Courtesy of Rittenhouse Square Bed and Breakfast website.


Unfortunately the traditional boarding house has all but disappeared from Philadelphia and the rest of America. Urban sprawl and increased reach, development and use of city transportation systems and automobile systems may have had significant impact on the disappearance of boarding houses. The shut-down of major factories in American cities may have had some effect as well, drastically decreasing the amount of workers looking for extended-stay residences. Specific to Philadelphia's case, students from the University of Pennsylvania have taken advantage of more on-campus housing options as well as the Office of Off-Campus Living, which links students to apartments and houses for sale and for rent in Philadelphia.

One of the businesses most similar to a traditional wealthy boarding house existing in the city today is the Bed and Breakfast. Rittenhouse Square Bed and Breakfast offers its guests an exclusive temporary residence complete with plush robes, marble bathrooms, nightly turndown service, phone, and cable TV in each room, as well as computer ports with internet connection, complimentary breakfasts and evening snacks, and 24-hour concierge service. The Rittenhouse Square B & B prides itself on its richly decorated but comfortable atmosphere, central location, quiet street, personal service with only 10 guestrooms, and connection to the past as a renovated 1900's Carriage House. Although the Rittenhouse Square B & B may be similar to the traditional Philadelphia boarding house with its small clientele, complimentary shared meals and potentially extended stays, it significantly differs in almost all other respects. The Rittenhouse Square B & B caters to a much higher class than the traditional boarding house, which offered affordable accommodations for the middle to lower classes, including students.

The International Youth Hostel and Community Center at Chamounix Mansion in Fairmount Park serves as a better comparison for the traditional lower-class Philadelphia boarding houses. Although located in a forested environment outside the city, guests may easily commute to downtown. The hostel maintains a nicely decorated interior space and holds two rooms restored to their 1850 grandeur. The hostel also has modern accommodations such as a TV/VCR lounge, video library, internet kiosk, vending machines, laundry facilities, lockers, kitchen, and recreation room with a piano, ping-pong table, and foosball. The hostel also provides free rental bikes and parking for guests and is readily affordable for students and low-budget travelers. Guests share air-conditioned rooms and sleep in bunk beds, though there are a few separate rooms for families and couples. A blanket and pillow is provided on each bed, though guests are expected to bring their own linens and towels, but they may also be rented for a minimal fee. The hostel can hold up to 80 people, which is considerably more than a traditional boarding could. Although the hostel does not provide common meals or completely furnished living accommodations and caters primarily to travelers and short-term residents, it does operate remarkably like a traditional boarding house in 19th century Philadelphia with its shared accommodations and affordable price.

In comparison, the number of boarding houses located in Philadelphia during the Philadelphia Centennial heavily exceeded the number of bed and breakfasts and hostels in the city today combined. Click here for a list of other bed and breakfasts and hostels in Philadelphia, as provided by the University of Pennsylvania's Office of Off-Campus Living.



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Website by Ashley C. Aiken

University of Pennsylvania

HSPV 600: Documentation

Professor Jeffrey A. Cohen

Fall 2005