2013 Spruce St.; 1986- courtesy PA Historic Commission 2124 Walnut Street; 1986 courtesy PA Historic Commission 20th & Spruce Streets; 1986 PA Historic Commission 1920 Spruce St.; 1986 courtesy PA Historic Commission
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1920 Spruce Street

View of front

View of back

View of Inside Hall

Photos courtesy of PA Historical Commission 1980




1920 Spruce Street- The Academy of the Vocal Arts

1920 Spruce Street has been home to The Academy of the Vocal Arts, America’s premiere training program for young opera singers, since 1938. A historically certified structure on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, the Second Empire style home was built circa 1868-69 by developer E. Burgess Warren.

According to the 1849 Hexamer maps, the plot of 1920 Spruce Street is comprised of what was once a part of the land that the Howell Wallpaper mill occupied.  On October 1, 1867,  Zophar C. Howell sold lot 200 to E. Burgess Warren.  On May 25, 1868, the estate of John A. Howell (deceased) sold lot 139 to Warren.  By May 20, 1870, E. Burgess Warren sold the two lots as 1920 Spruce Street to Randolph Wood of R.D. Wood Shipbuilders, Camden, New Jersey, and his new bride, Elizabeth.  After serious financial losses, Mr. Wood took his own life in a small room on the third floor (now the library) in 1874. 

Chain of Title:

Date Grantor Grantee
October 1, 1867 Zophar C. Howell Ebenezer Burgess Warren
May 20, 1870 E. Burgess Warren Randolph Wook
June 5, 1874 Randolph Wood and wife Lanmun Harman
April 4, 1881 Estate of James Harmen Joshua Gregg
March 26, 1902 Joshua Gregg and wife Emma Horace Brook
October 27, 1902 Hoarce Brock Debbie Morris Coleman Brock
June 13, 1938 Helen Warden and Marrian Gordon Thompson Academy of Vocal Arts


It is probable that the second owner, Joshua Z. Gregg, employed the firm of Furness and Hewitt in 1889 to design alterations to the first floor interiors.  These may be seen today in the oak wainscoting in the front hall, the receiving room and dining room (now the office-reception area) and the living hall and library (now the Furness Lounge).  The dining room’s ornately carved mahogany woodwork and leaded glass water lily panels over the doorways have all been authenticated as the work of the Frank Furness Studio. 

The third owner, Horace Brock, hired G.W. and W.D. Hewitt to make changes to the building.  The classical revival detailing of the receiving room, the decorative plaster ceiling of the living hall, and the music room addition (today it is the Academy’s theater) are all a result of this work. 

Additionally, AVA has made its own modifications, the most significant of which  was replacing a makeshift stage, installed in 1938, with a more modern professional theater named in honor  of AVA’s founder and fist president, Helen Corning Warden.  The 1982-83 renovations, done by Otto Sperr Associates, restored the room to its original dimensions and supplied a versatile chamber theater with appropriate stage lighting, comfortable seating, fly loft, and room for a 30-piece orchestra. 

In 1996, the Academy undertook major renovations to help restore the building to its former self.  Working in conjunction with George Thomas, Frank Furness expert, authentic period chandeliers and sconces, and the original color scheme was duplicated.  Furthermore, 1918 Spruce Street and 1917 Delancey Place were purchased to expand the AVA.  These two buildings house the main offices, and will eventually provide five new teaching studios, eight offices, a conference room, student and faculty lounges, new restrooms, a carriage house, and courtyard.


Courtesy of Pennsylvania's Historical Commission and Academy of Vocal Arts



Spruce Street

2013 Spruce Street