Locating Key Examples

Hotel
Address
Date of Construction
Class
 Aldine Hotel
1910-1922 Chestnut Street
prior to 1887
middle/upper
 American Hotel
515-519 Chestnut Street
1844
middle/upper
Arcade Hotel  
north side of Chestnut, west of 6th
prior to 1858
middle
Ashland Hotel  
Arch above 7th
prior to 1871
lower/middle
B. Naylor's Hotel
NW corner Spruce and Dock
prior to 1861
lower
Bingham Hotel
1026-1044 Market Street
1867
upper
Bolivar House
203 Chestnut (historical)
prior to 1830
middle/upper
Buck Hotel  
NW corner Coates Street near Fairmount
prior to 1861
lower
Burr's Hotel and Steamboat Ferry House  
No. 3 South Wharves, Lower side of Market Street
prior to 1840
lower
 City Hotel
unknown
prior to 1831
middle
 Colonnade Hotel
1500-1506 Chestnut Street
prior to 1876
upper
Columbia House  
625-631 Chestnut Street
1851
middle
 Continental Hotel
824-838 Chestnut Street
1857-1860
upper
Dooner's Hotel  
10th Street below Market
prior to 1893
middle
Eagle Hotel  
227-229 North 3rd Street
1853
middle
Exchange Hotel  
corner Bank St. and Elbow Lane
prior to 1835
middle
Girard House  
823-835 Chestnut Street
1851
upper
Globe Hotel
Belmont Ave. above Jefferson St.
prior to 1876
lower
Green's Hotel
729-735 Chestnut Street
1890s
upper
Harding Hotel
SW corner Bridge and 30th Streets
prior to 1861
lower
Hotel Walton
233-247 South Broad Street
1892-1895
upper
Indian Queen Hotel
15 South 4th Street (historical)
prior to 1831
middle
Kings Hotel
West side of Schuylkill opposite Fairmount
prior to 1861
lower
La Pierre Hotel
South Broad Street and Sansom Street
1853
upper
Lyons Hotel
112 North 6th Street (historical)
prior to 1835
middle/upper
Mansion House Hotel
372 Market Street (historical)
prior to 1840
middle
Montgomery House
S.E. corner of 9th and Nectarine Street
prior to 1840
lower
Plough Tavern
16 North 3rd Street (historical)
prior to 1840
lower
Red Lion Hotel
200 Market Street (historical)
prior to 1833
upper
Red Lion Inn
Torresdale
unknown
lower
Ridgway House
North corner of Market Street and Delaware Avenue
prior to 1840
lower
Robinson Crusoe Hotel
23 South 3rd Street
prior to 1833
upper
Tontine Hotel
corner of 7th and Carpenter between Chestnut and Market Streets (historical)
prior to 1840
middle/upper
United States Hotel
419-423 Chestnut Street
1826
middle/upper
Walnut Street House
foot of Walnut Street within a few yards of the New York and Baltimore steam boat landings
prior to 1840
lower
William Penn Hotel
327 Market Street
prior to 1848
lower/middle

The addresses and dates of construction in this table are based on information from images from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia, advertisements in city/business directories from the Pennsylvania Historical Society, and the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings database (www.philadelphiabuildings.org). Class has been determined by location, information about the accommodations in advertisements, floor plans from fire insurance surveys, and by architectural forms as depicted in images. The use of the sole term "upper" has been applied only to Philadelphia's best hotels, of which there were very few. Many hotels in this table are not classified strictly as one class or the other. This is to demonstrate that some hotels possessed some characteristics of both classes, and therefore leaned slightly toward one class lower or higher.

Geographically, the majority of middle and upper class hotels were located on Chestnut and Market Streets, east of 15th Street, with a concentration of undoubtedly upper class hotels around the 700 and 800-block of Chestnut. Lower class hotels were located near the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.


Investigating Geography, Layout, and Other Indicators and Components of Class

The majority of lower class hotels were located along the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers because they functioned principally as overnight stopping points. Tradesmen who were briefly passing through Philadelphia could spend the night in a tavern or hotel located near the wharves of the Delaware, which was their point of arrival and departure. Hotels located near the Schuylkill River often accommodated travelers who were waiting for a ferry to cross from one side of the river to the other. Upper and middle class hotels flourished in the center of Philadelphia because the majority of upper class businesses, government buildings, and cultural institutions were centrally located along Market, Chestnut, Walnut, and Broad Streets. Therefore, there was a perpetual influx of businessmen, politicians, and wealthy tourists in this part of the city who desired suitable accommodations.

The term "hotel" was adopted from the French in the 1790s. Initially, only upper class accommodations were called hotels because the term implied a luxurious, European-like layout and first-rate service. The first hotel in Philadelphia was Oeller's Hotel, established in 1790 and located on Chestnut Street beyond 6th Street. This hotel boasted a large assembly room whose design was inspired by rooms of comparable function that were in fashion in London's finest hotels of this period.


Lower class hotels were operated much like Philadelphia's taverns of the late 17th through late 18th centuries. They lacked a managerial hierarchy because they were owned and operated by one, middle-class family or sole proprietor who interacted with guests on a daily basis. Many lower class hotels provided laborers with more permanent accommodations, serving as boarding houses because the "guests" stayed for such a long amount of time that they became tenants. Single men, not women or families, usually stayed in lower class hotels. Visitors often had to share rooms; the lower the price, the more likely it was that several people would have to share a room.

The program of a lower class hotel typically consisted of a bar room, a parlor, a kitchen, and bedrooms. The floor plan below shows the program of King Hotel, an archetypical lower class hotel that was located on the west side of the Schuylkill River opposite Fairmount. The program includes an entryway, bar room, parlor, dining room, frame kitchen, and a stable. Bedrooms are presumably located on the second and third stories of the building. The buildings are described in the fire insurance survey as follows: "three story stone hotel and dwelling house with a one and a half story frame kitchen attached, and a three story stone stable standing 19 feet in the rear of the main building."

King Hotel, 1861. Pencil and wash sketch from Taylor sketchbook, "Views of Old Philadelphia." http://www.brynmawr.edu/cities/archx/taybigs/t34-679.jpg

 

Floor plans of King Hotel, 1865, from Franklin Fire Insurance Survey #20359, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. http://www.brynmawr.edu/cities/archx/05-600/proj/p1/cbccaf/Current/King.html


It was not common for lower class hotels to advertise in city or business directories. McElroy's 1840 Philadelphia Directory contains advertisements for three "ferry houses," or lower class hotels, near the Delaware River. These ferry houses were ideal stopping points for travelers who needed to spend the night in Philadelphia while waiting for a steam boat.

Advertisements for Walnut Street House, Ridgway Hotel, and Burr's Hotel, three lower class hotels. McElroy's 1840 Philadelphia Directory, page 48, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


In Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States, Paul Groth defines middle class hotels as "less expensive hotels [that] supplied housing needed for a mobile professional population that was expanding the American urban economy. [...] From the Civil War through World War II, people in rapidly expanding business markets were often sojourners," forcing them to use middle class hotels as transitory, or even more permanent, accommodations. "The expansion of trade and railroad links throughout the United States opened thousands of white-collar positions" (56-8). These businessmen required accommodations that were more refined than the lower class hotels frequented by laborers and passersby. However, they could not afford to stay in accommodations that were as expensive and opulent as the upper class hotels frequented by wealthy businessmen and elite tourists. Families often lived in middle class hotels for a few months, particularly if they had recently moved to Philadelphia and were still looking to purchase a private house.

The program of a middle class hotel, which is more ambiguously defined than that of lower and upper class hotels, usually consisted of a lobby, dining room, private bedrooms, and possibly private, but more likely communal, bathrooms. Some middle class hotels even included offices, in which businessmen could temporarily set up shop. The program of middle class hotels did not include luxury rooms like writing, smoking, and billiards rooms, or roof gardens. Shops, not associated with the hotel, (unlike the confectionary and barber shop of The Continental, an upper class establishment whose program is described further down the page) were often located on the first floor of middle class hotels.

Photograph of Arcade Hotel, January 1858, located on the north side of Chestnut Street, west of 6th Street. This hotel is an archetypical middle class establishment, with shops on the lower level and accommodations on the upper level. Stylistically, the building is more detailed than lower class hotels, but is not anywhere near as grand as Philadelphia's upper class palace hotels of the 1850s through the 1890s. Image from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

 

This advertisement for the Mansion House Hotel says that it is large, convenient, and well-suited for families, boarders, and transient customers. Because it explicitly states that the hotel is well-suited for families, the accommodations are most likely middle class. Middle class hotels were often frequented by families. The location, near the Railroad Depot, implies that the Mansion House Hotel typically accommodated overnight guests rather than long-term guests who would have stayed in the hotel for several months or longer. McElroy's 1840 Philadelphia Directory, page 47, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


The upper class hotel is the most explicitly defined of the three classes. In The First-Class Hotel and the Age of the Common Man, Doris Elizabeth King presents the definition of "upper class" hotel as described by 19th century newspapermen and travelers (180-1):

  1. It was an imposing, monumental, public-looking building, a building which had been designed by a professional architect especially for hotel purposes and which contained well over 100 rooms, including private suites.
  2. It was [...] costly and [...] luxurious.
  3. It was kept by an experienced, professional hotelkeeper whose system of management required no ordinary powers of government and administration.
  4. It was operated by a staff of well-trained, free servants [...].
  5. Its accommodations served both local and traveling public with food, liquor, and lodging, and inspired the awe of polished Europeans [...].

Very few upper class hotels existed in Philadelphia at any given time. The upper class hotels of the earliest part of the 19th century were not nearly as opulent as the palace-like hotels of the 1850s through the 1890s. Examples of early upper class hotels (in operation prior to 1850) include Bolivar House, Red Lion Hotel, Robinson Crusoe Hotel and the Tontine Hotel. The hotels often boasted choicest liquors, choicest provisions, new furniture, obliging servants, large rooms, and stables with first rate ostlers. The Red Lion Hotel, as advertised in Desilver's 1833 Philadelphia Directory, claims that the plan of the buildings had recently be improved "with Parlours, and a number of Single Bed Chambers with fire places, new beds and furniture." Many of these early upper class hotels were operated by a sole proprietor, with the help of a few servants not from his immediate family.

Advertisement for the Red Lion Hotel from Desilver's Philadelphia Directory of 1833, page 4, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Red Lion Hotel claims to have recently been rebuilt upon an improved plan, with parlors, and a number of single bed chambers with fireplaces. The availability of single bed chambers suggests that it was expensive to spend the night in such a fine establishment.

 

Advertisement for Bolivar House boasting choice wines, liquors, and accommodations for private parties. Desilver's 1830 Philadelphia Directory, page 14, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

 

Advertisement for the Robinson Crusoe Hotel, which informs the reader of a recent renovation and the availability of choicest wines and provisions. Desilver's 1833 Philadelphia Directory, page 2, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

 

Advertisement for the Tontine Hotel, which has large, airy, neatly furnished rooms, choicest liquors, superior cigars, and a table that is not surpassed in all of Philadelphia. The servants are active and obliging. McElroy's 1840 Philadelphia Directory, page 52, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


The program of an upper class hotel of the 1850s through 1890s included a foyer, lobby, dining rooms, private bedrooms, private bathrooms, writing rooms, smoking rooms, roof gardens (particularly popular during the high and late Victorian era), ballrooms, and banquet rooms. Some upper class hotels doubled as stock exchanges before an independent building type of "stock exchange" was created. Philadelphia's upper class hotels included The Bingham Hotel, Colonnade Hotel, Continental Hotel, Girard House Hotel, Green's Hotel, Hotel Walton, and La Pierre Hotel. These palace-like hotels "represent the American dream of democratizing old world opulence and luxury. [...] Hotels and resort complexes frequently defined the aspirations of not just the owner and guests, but also the city within which it was located. A large, first class hotel was essential to any city that attempted to attract trade and business and they became, in many cases, shrines to civic aspirations" (from Victorian Resorts and Hotels, 11-12).

The Continental Hotel, designed by John McArthur, Jr. and built 1857-1860. Image from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

The architectural plan of the Continental Hotel is described as follows in a historical and descriptive account from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia. The building's program appears in bold text:

The building, six stories in height, exclusive of the basement, presents a front of 170 feet on Chestnut Street, 235 on Ninth Street, and 194 on George Street. The principal story on both Chestnut and Ninth Streets, being mostly occupied with stores, is of richly ornamented cast iron piers, excepting the principal entrance on Chestnut Street, and the carriage and baggage entrance on Ninth Street, which together with the entire Chestnut Street front upon the principal floor, is of Albert and Pictou sandstone; the other fronts, of the finest selected pressed brick, are dressed with massive quoins, sill courses and window heads of stone similar to the principal front, and the whole crowned by a heavy modillion cornice of cast iron, exceedingly chaste in outline and proportions. There are three spacious arches on Chestnut Street, beneath a massive stone portico of eight noble columns, with richly carved capitals, by which entrance is had to the the interior. Through two of the arches and across the vestibule look the windows of the Gentlemen's Reading and Writing Room, while the third, directly opposite the Grand Corridor, leads immediately to the Exchange, separating the reading-room from the Gentlemen's Parlor, which, being twelve feet wide, and extending back the depth of the parlor, sixty-eight feet, opens at once into the Exchange, which is seventy-eight feet by fifty-four feet, and contains the public office, private business rooms, and two steam elevating cars, conveying guests and baggage to and from the upper floors.

The registering counter and clerk's office, lighted from above, is placed directly opposite the Ninth Street entrance, where all guests arriving in carriages, with baggage, are expected to enter. Immediately adjoining this entrance, and communicating with it, is the Ladies' entrance, so that gentlemen with their families can enter together, the ladies proceeding up stairs to the Reception Room, while the gentlemen go at once to the Registry Desk. To the right of the Ninth Street entrance, and nearly opposite the Public Office, is the Grand Staircase. This is of stone and self-supporting, broad and massive - a masterpiece of construction, and to our taste, is the finest thing in this truly grand building. The centre flight rises from two ornamental newels, clear of all support, in one graceful spring, to a broad stone half-pace, and then returns to the second floor in two side flights, supported in the walls. The wainscoting of these is of polished Italian marble, over six feet high on the half-pace.

As a scientific piece of masonry, this staircase is not excelled on this continent, and well sustains the reputation of William Struthers, the stonecutter of the Continental. All the wooden stairs are the work of Mr. Allen Bard. Back on this stairway, and fronting on Ninth Street, is the barber shop. Leaving the exchange, the Chestnut Street entrance is continued to the saloon, sixty-six by forty-seven feet, affording entrance to the Wash Room, Coatroom, Water Closets, etc. Adjoining the saloon is the Billiard Room, fifty-five feet by forty-seven feet. Behind this, occupying several stories in height, is the culinary department, including store room for flour, milk, ice, etc., the bakery, the meat and vegetable kitchen, and the confectionery, with all their attendant and multifarious requirements. On the second floor, fronting on George Street, and immediately over the saloon and billiard room, is the grand dining room, 90 feet by 47 feet, decorated with scagliola pilasters, by Thomas Heath, the capitals of which are most beautiful and appropriate, the principal feature being the American eagle and shield, surrounded by fruit and foliage. They were modeled for Mr. Heath, from the architect's designs, by Bailey, the sculptor. Around the entire room is a highly polished base of Italian marble, projecting into pedestals for the pilasters. This, together with all the tiling and mantels, is from the establishment of Mr. John Baird, on Ridge Road.

The frescoe decorations in this magnificent room and throughout the building, by K. Kaiser & Co., are of the highest order, and exhibit a thorough knowledge of effect in color and drawing. The paintings of flowers, fruit and animals on the ceiling of the dining room are exceedingly artistic. Opposite the Grand Staircase is the Tea Room, 65 feet by 36 feet, and between this and Chestnut Street is a suite of private dining rooms. The Ladies' Parlor is on the corner of Chestnut and Ninth Streets, connecting sliding doors with the other public rooms on both streets. The private parlors on this and the upper floor, with communicating chambers, dressing and bathrooms, etc., are replete with every convenience.

Business Exchange of the Continental Hotel. Image from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

 

Lobby of the Continental Hotel, 1860. Image from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

 

The Continental Hotel is described as being constructed of the finest materials. The program includes rooms that allow for the separation of served and servant spaces. The program accommodates the guests' indulgent lifestyle. The preceding architectural description provides a very precise textual reconstruction of Philadelphia's foremost upper class hotel of the mid-19th century, which was unfortunately demolished in 1923-24 in order to make way for the Benjamin Franklin Hotel designed by Horace Trumbauer.


Hotel Walton, constructed between 1892-1895 and designed by Angus S. Wade, is a palace hotel of the late Victorian era. Images of the grand foyer/lobby, dining room, and palm room are in the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

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Photograph of Philadelphia's Hotel Walton, 1908, by The Rotograph Company, New York. Image from the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

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Postcard showing a view of Hotel Walton's palm room. Brightbill Postcard Collection, The Library Company of Philadelphia.

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Photograph of the Walton Hotel dining room, 1908. From the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

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Photograph of Hotel Walton's foyer/lobby, 1908. From the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Hotel Walton was demolished in 1966.


Green's Hotel, another upper class, palace hotel built during the 1890s, was located on the 700-block of Chestnut Street.

This advertising card for Green's "European" Hotel boasts modern improvements, including elevators and new rooms with private baths. The card also advertises Green's Cafe, the finest in Philadelphia. Brightbill Postcard Collection, The Library Company of Philadelphia.

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Advertisement for Green's Hotel. The ad states up front that this hotel is on a European plan. It is centrally located in the very heart of the business district of the city, with convenient access to and from all points of the city because more trolley cars pass the door of this than of any other hotel in Philadelphia. The ad emphasizes that Green's is thoroughly firs-class in all of its appointments. The program includes a ladies' and gentlemen's cafe. The building is equipped with its own electric plant, ice plant, laundry, etc.

Unfortunately Green's Hotel was demolished in 1934. None of Philadelphia's 19th century palace hotels are still standing. The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, built in 1902-1904 on South Broad Street, became the city's most expensive and opulent hotel of the 20th century.

 

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