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
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.
- The Baxter
Panoramic Business Directory, 1857-80.
- Tatum, George
B. Penn’s Great Town. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
- 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
Architects and Buildings web site: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/17549