Continental Hotel
824-838 Chestnut Street, Southeast corner of 9th and Chestunut
John McArthur Jr. (1823-1890)
Built 1857-60
Alternations to Entrance by Frank Furness, 1876
Demolished 1923-24

Image: From The Baxter Panoramic Business Directory, 1857-80

In Philadelphia, like other cities, the first hotels, nineteenth-century evolutions of taverns were simply converted houses. John McArthur (1823-1890), Philadelphia’s primary architect of hotels and the architect of Philadelphia City Hall, used a restrained Italianate style for the Continental, employing brownstone in a Renaissance palazzo motif. Invisible was his use of cast iron for the cornice. Accounts from the time boast that the brownstone staircase in the main lobby was the only self-sustaining example in the county. The Continental had one of the earliest elevators, exemplifying the role hotels of the time played in developing and using new mechanical devices. It was estimated that the hotel could accommodate over 1,000 guests a night and was regarded at the time to be the best and most modern hotel in Philadelphia. According to the 1857 Public Ledger, “There will be an immense dining-room with large and small parlors; and that vulgar conceit, a bridal chamber, with all its meretriciuous setting up, and all the etceteras belonging to a first-class hotel.”

Built from 1857-1860 by McArthur, the Chestnut Street entrance was altered by Frank Furness (1839-1912) in 1876. Additional alterations were completed in 1903 and 1911, and the building was demolished in 1923-24.
The Continental Hotel opened on February 13, 1860 on a site now occupied by the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, built by Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938). A previous building on the block, built in 1837 and which burned down in 1854, had multiple incarnations including Burton’s National Theatre, Cook’s Circus and Chinese Museum. Also at this location lay the John Mustin Jr. Trimmings, Threads, Bindings, Fringes, etc. store.
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Sources Cited:

  • The Baxter Panoramic Business Directory, 1857-80.
  • Tatum, George B. Penn’s Great Town. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961.
  • Thomas, George and Michael Lewis and Jeffrey Cohen. Frank Furness: The Complete Works. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991.
  • White, Theo B., ed. Philadelphia Architecture in the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953.
  • The Public Ledger, September 25, 1857
  • Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site:

Additional information and references: