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.