Plate 20: Congress Hall and New Theatre, in Chesnut Street
View in 1960
View in 2000
Congress Hall (FG-L) was built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1787-89 as a county courthouse but occupied by Congress from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia (1960 photograph) was the nation's capital. The Senate Chamber was on the upper floor and the House of Representatives on the lower. President Washington's second inauguration in 1793 and President Adams' inauguration in 1797 were held in the Hall. During the 19th century the building was used by municipal departments and various courts and since 1895 it has undergone a succession of renovations. The New Theatre (MG-R), which came to be known as "Old Drury," was the first theatre on Chestnut Street It was built 1791-94 (completion and opening were delayed owing to the yellow fever epidemic of 1793), remodeled in 1805 from designs of Benjamin H. Latrobe, and. destroyed by fire in 1820. When it opened it was the grandest theatre built in North America, having an audience capacity of 1,165. In the French manner stage lighting was controlled with oil lamps that were raised and lowered to darken or brighten scenes (the cause of many theatre fires). Moreau de Saint-Méry, a French bookseller resident in Philadelphia (1794-98) commented that during indecent interludes the ladies turned their backs to the stage, and that the interludes were more indecent than in the French theatres. After the fire the Second Chestnut Street Theatre was constructed on the same site. It opened in 1822 with gas lighting and was demolished.in 1856.
The 2000 view gives a wider perspective to show construction that is narrowing Chestnut Street from four lanes to two between Fifth and Sixth. For security reasons a row of bollards was installed in front of Independence Hall and on the newly created north side, which is in the middle of the former street. The work is being done in connection with redesigning Independence Mall from Chestnut Street north to Race (see commentary, Plate 7). A new home for the Liberty Bell will be erected near the north east corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets (MG -R). Across, on the northwest corner, where the New Theatre once stood, is the building erected in 1951 as a branch bank of the (omit former) Pennsylvania Company.(now occupied by First Union National Bank.) Adjoining it on the west is the building constructed for the Philadelphia Life Insurance Company, 1979-80. Beyond Congress Hall (FG-L), on the southwest corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets is the Public Ledger building, completed in 1927, and in the distance at Ninth Street is the Benjamin Franklin House (formerly the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, now residential). Horace Trumbauer was the original architect for both the Ledger and Franklin buildings.Back Next