E. Persistence and Ambitions


The 20th century brought refections of nationwide forces that had a profound local impact. After the modernist landmark offce tower, the PSFS building, was built in 1929-32, the Depression and World War II effectively forestalled further tall buildings in the area, so that much of the old two- and three-story texture survived. Similarly, the rise of the automobile and the suburb meant that the regional dominance of the retail stores in the northern part of the area was eroding, as was the area's attractiveness for new residential investment. Parking became a voracious new force. The neighborhood was bypassed by major governmental initiatives like sweeping demolition in the name of urban renewal and the building of highways, the latter a prospect that South Street narrowly avoided in the early 1970s.

Even before the Depression, period photographs show that poverty in the southern parts of the district could be painfully evident, but that the neighborhood provided ways to make do, with sidewalk commerce, private philanthropy, and especially rental. Old rowhouses were altered and subdivided into multiple apartments, sometimes better described as tenements. If hygienic improvements and street-front cosmetics in such adaptations were meager, such units provided low rents for both homes and small businesses adjacent to the downtown fow of opportunity, nurturing many through hard times.

Recreational uses continued nonetheless. More theaters cropped up on three edges of the area around the turn of the century, while restaurants and nightclubs occupied some of the larger houses. Photographs of Locust and Camac streets from the 1930s through the 1950s show an insistent sea of neon, of pizza shops and Chinese restaurants, small hotels, and bars.

Quietly, in the 1960s and 70s the neighborhood began to be rediscovered. Small new brick rows and townhouses were built that generally respected the textures of the place, along with a few tall apartment buildings closer to Broad Street. Often the old was adapted, and the low rents in subdivided old houses on Spruce and Pine attracted new residents, many of them students drawn by the centrality of the location, the nearby schools, and the new counterculture night life rising to the east on South Street in the 1970s. The neighborhood also became a favored area for gay and lesbian residents, many of whom renewed historic small houses in the area.

Section E: [exhibition]
Last Revision. 03/10/00 eb.