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The Built Environment

Being laborers and tradesmen, the early residents of Almond Street built simple homes, though they were of ample size for their time. Records of the structures built along the street can be found in a variety of sources. Though early records provide little elaboration beyond a simple survey, later materials provide greater detail.

Two of the earliest properties recorded along Almond Street were owned by John Bayley. Philadelphia Contributionship records #455 and 456 indicate two rental properties in his name by 1755. These properties would now be located on the south side of the street at #110 and #112 Kenilworth.

The first of these, at #110 Kenilworth, was a two-story structure measuring 17'x18.5' deep. It was plastered within and had a one story kitchen to the rear measuring 10'x15'. The structure built next door at what is now #112 Kenilworth was a three story brick structure measuring 14.5' wide by 19.5' deep with a 12'x14.5' two story kitchen. The main house included plastered rooms up to, but not including the garret and simple board newel stairs. Both the kitchen and front house had shingled roofs, with the shingles on the kitchen dating the structure to at least seven years prior.

Across the street at what is now #117 and #119 Kenilworth two brick houses were built by 1765. Documented evidence of these structures is found in the 1765 fire insurance records #1023 & 1024 on file at the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The easternmost of the houses was a 19'x19', three story brick structure with a 3' alley. The house included board newel stairs and chimney breasts and surbase (chair-rail) on each floor, with an unplastered garret. The two story brick kitchen measured 15'x12' and the wash house, 11'x12'. The front house to the west (#119) was as described above, though the garret was plastered and it had a three story 10'x10' piazza and a new two story 16'x12' brick kitchen.

Documentation of the Almond Street properties becomes significantly more detailed in the 19th century. Insurance records from the Mutual Assurance and Franklin Fire Insurance companies document the properties in some detail. Records for Almond Street tend to show some of the same elements in each house. These include a 'neat' or 'plain' mantle, washboards (simple wainscot), yellow pine floors and windows cased. Occasionally, there is reference to a surbase (chair-rail) and closets. The rooms become more spartan at each level and the garret is often left unplastered.

110 Almond was carefully detailed once again in 1828 as recorded in the Mutual Assurance policy #4681. Though the description of the property as 'new' is questionable, the property appears to have had a sprucing up since its first appearance on record with the Philadelphia Contributionship in 1755. By this time it includes a piazza, a three story back building and a two story kitchen. See Insurance & Ownership for a more complete listing of the property survey for #110 and for several other properties on the block.

By the early 20th century, the Almond/Kenilworth Street properties had hit hard times. A century earlier, an 1802 survey conducted for Mutual Assurance policy #1301 for 38 Almond Street recorded the site as follows:

Front building - 3 story, 16'x16' with cellar
- Lower level dug out w/ (chimney) breasts, surbase, washboards and windows cased, garrets plastered, trap door, winding stairs and old floors.
- Roof half worn. Kitchen - 9'x12', 2 stories high
- Lower story furnished as customary with chamber plain

A 1911 resurvey recorded no changes. By 1918, however, the following characteristics were noted for the property:

Front door plain box frame
Plain rough wood steps to 2nd story on outside
2nd Story -
- 1 plain door frame and door
- 1 window - plank front frames
- outside shutters
3rd Story -
- 2 windows, lower sash = 9 lights, upper = 6 lights
- all single pane glass
- wood box cornices
- tin roof
- rough brick
- rough cast, very old, not in good condition
Occupied as a dwelling

Properties on the street were clearly in disrepair. This trend continued into the 1950's and 60's, as can be seen in the photos below taken on Fitzwater Street, three blocks to the south of Kenilworth, in advance of their demolition in the early 1960's. The property on the right is similar in width to the Almond Street structure described above.

Images reproduced from Queen Village, The Eclipse of Community: a case study of gentrification and displacement in a South Philadelphia neighborhood (Philadelphia, Institute for the Study of Civic Values, 1978), p. 49.

The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) recorded the progress of demolition with these photographs in the early 1960's.

Lower Left: SOUTH FRONT STREET HOUSES, BETWEEN SOUTH STREET (from right) AND KENILWORTH STREET, LOOKING SOUTHWEST. HABS PA, 51-PHILA, 432-1
Lower Right: HOUSES, BETWEEN VICINITY OF SOUTH STREET (from right) AND CATHERINE STREET, LOOKING SOUTHWEST. HABS PA, 51-PHILA, 432-2

While undoubtedly many centuries old homes were lost, many had already been lost to warehouse and industrial development in the preceding century. Nevertheless, the dramatic impact to the neighborhood is clearly evident.