Header:Philadelphia History
Header:Philadelphia History

Vine Street

From The Evening Bulletin, November 1, 1923

Probably no point in Philadelphia has drawn the fire of ministerial denunciation so heavily as did Vine Street, between Franklin and Eighth, in the latter eighties and the early nineties of the past century. Pulpiteers mustered their stirring invective in picturing applegate's carrousel, at the northwest corner of Franklin and Vine, as a place of sin and temptation outrivalling Sodom and Gomorrah, and no parental injunction was so strongly impressed upon the youth of respectable households as the admonition to shun this spot as a plague. Applegate by the way, was also the proprietor of noted photographic establishments, one on Eighth Street nearby and another in Atlantic City when the tintype was at the height of its popularity, and it is amusing today, when bathing beauties display their physical charms so widely on the printed page to recall the days when women, covered from neck to ankle in the voluminous bathing suits of the period, thought it quite daring to have their pictures taken in that garb at the shore.

The Lyceum Theater, as a home burlesque when tights were still considered shocking,-though they would now be regarded as the least objectionable feature of the performances staged-made the south side of Vine Street here impassable to moralists who wished to keep their skirts free from the contagion of vice. Jerry Donoghue's saloon, a popular rendezvous for sporting men of all sorts-with its side room fitted up like a Pullman palace car-was another target for critics of the neighborhood.

This condition, however, had not been of long standing. Previously the section about Franklin Square had been a quiet residential one. Indeed until about 1880 the First Moravian Church stood at Franklin and Wood Streets and the north side of Vine, below Eighth, was graced by the beautiful Episcopal church of St. Philip's built in 1841, and afterwards located on Spring Garden Street, below Broad, before removal to West Philadelphia. The same site, according to Watson, had previously been occupied by an old tavern, of wood and red painted, which had served as a busy rendezvous for enlistment's during the Revolution and succeeding Indian wars, afterwards becoming a headquarters for drovers when Franklin Square and the territory around it were still extensive green commons upon which sheep and cattle grazed.

The worst days of Eighth and Vine Streets were over by 1888, when the Brooks high license act and the vigorous enforcement of the dictum "Beer and music don't mix" by Stokley under the Fitler administration put an end to the "free and easies" which radiated from the intersection, dives which even the lowest of the present day "cabarets" do not approach in viciousness.

At the northwest corner of Eighth Street, in the large second floor hall which had frequently been the scene of boxing bouts under the supervision of "Johnny" Clark who kept a saloon below and who at one time managed the Lyceum, the Salvation Army made its advance base for rescue operations among the erring and fallen, a work in which the Galilee Mission nearby actively participated. Across the street at 810, William Boothby laid the foundation of a fortune in an oyster house noted for the excellence of its viands. There has been little change in the block during the past generation. There are the same old pawnshops, the same Turkish bath house, the same shabby "hotels" and restaurants now flaunting such up-to-date names as "The New Bridge" and "The Pershing," and the pavements swarm with the same old down-and-outers, ready to tell, at the slightest encouragement, the same old down-and-outers, ready to tell, at the slightest encouragement, the same old tale which has so often in the past proved serviceable in extracting dimes from sympathetic listeners "to buy a cup of coffee."

A similar atmosphere pervades the next block of vine Street, though it takes on something of the nature of a back eddy, the main current being diverted by the Ridge, which at its beginning is largely monopolized by second hand furniture and old clothes men, a newcomer in the resign being that paradoxical "institution," the Hobo College. A century ago the intersection was distinguished as the site of the site of the Mars "Iron Works, owned by Oliver Evens, who here probably though he was interested in like enterprise elsewhere in the city constructed his curious dredging machine, the Oruktor Amphibolis, which created quite a sensation on the day when it trundled out Market Street from Centre Square and into the Schuylkill.

Just above at a later day, Arthur Chambers kept a public house which, as "The Champion's Rest," was the favorite resort of the devotees of Fistiana. On the north side of Vine Street nearby for many years was the shop of an old German watchmaker named Wolf, one of whose sons had more than local repute as a wrestler.

From Tenth Street westward Vine Street was, not so many years ago, lined for the most part with three-story brick houses, with three-story brick houses, with the inevitable white marble steps and trimmings, and occupied by substantial families. Like Arch Street, however, it was disrupted as a domestic habitat by the blighting effect of the Reading viaduct. At the northwest corner of Tenth Street, Dr. Eliza Pettingill lived for many years, and built up a practice, even before the prejudice against women physicians had been entirely worn away. As a young man, the late Judge Morris Dales lived at No. 1010 with his widowed mother. Rooming houses, whose occupants comprise a number of foreign strains, including Armenians and Greeks, now predominate to Reading crossing.

From Twelfth westward to the very shadow of Broad lies the motion picture exhibitors' rialto, blazing with strikingly colored posters of the latest features. Until noon, the thoroughfare is almost deserted. Then the proprietors of the moving picture palaces arrive to ship for the next attractions. In their talk one may find the explanation of that oft-repeated interrogation, "What's wrong with his widowed mother. Rooming houses, whose occupants comprise a number of foreign strains, including Armenians and Greeks, now predominate to the Reading crossing.

From Twelfth westward to the very shadow if Broad Street lies the motion picture exhibitors' rialto, Blazing with strikingly colored Posters of the latest features. Until noon, the thoroughfare is almost deserted. Then the proprietors of the moving picture Palaces arrive to shop for the proprietors of the moving picture palaces arrive to ship for the next attractions. In their talk one may find the explanation of that oft-repeated interrogation, "What's wrong with the movies?" Each exhibitor, as he returns his reels, makes a report of how the film "took" with his audiences. That is the way Main Street makes its choice of stars and stories, for the motion picture people take these reports very seriously, and when the mass of opinions is thoroughly digested, the conclusions drawn are for guidance in the preparation of the next releases.

The two eastern corners of Broad Street are familiar to the present generation, one as the site the Catholic High School and the other, until the recent erection of a loft building, used for years as a lumber yard, justly regard as an anachronism on a corner So prominent in the central section, and constituting a dangerous fire hazard.

Just above Vine, on the west side of the street, Industrial Hall was long a landmark on the site on which the new home of the Elks is rising. In the auditorium on the site on which the new home of the Elks is rising. In the auditorium on the second floor, which also convention, some quite tempestuous. In the hall on local political convention, some as Nicholas' House Bazaar, were held a variety of exhibitions, such as prize fights, in one of which Kid McCoy received a lacing at the hands of Kid Carter. Theatrical performances, including those in which the eccentric "Court" Johannes did Hamlet behind a net stretched at the footlights to intercept the expected barrage of vegetables and eggs beyond their prime; cycling contests, walking matches and the like, dot the record of this spot.

At Vine Street, too, the first out-croppings of Automobile Row, which now extends far along Broad Street, made their appearance, and much of the block between Broad and Fifteenth Streets is now given over to accessory shops. Here dwelling long ago disappeared. Indeed business had made considerable inroads up to and beyond Seventeenth Street, where a fine row of marble-faced and brownstone fronts-one of the latter housing a bureau of the Department of Welfare-still defy its advance. At the southeast corner of Sixteenth Street Robert C. Davis, whose skill in analyzing handwriting made him a figure in many a sensational trial, had his drug store, while across the way was Christian Einseler's bakery, a popular resort for superior pastry and ice cream.

Emerging at Eighteenth Street into Logan Square-famous as the site of the Great Sanitary Fair during the Civil War and previously a commons which was the scene of many a hanging- a Philadelphian returning after an absence of ten or twelve years would be completely at sea, were it not for the continued presence of the Cathedral, the Wills Eye Hospital and the Academy of Natural Sciences on its further borders. The square is now a Circle, and the Precise lines of its formal landscaping strike strangely upon eyes accustomed to its former simplicity as a preserve of grass and old shade, broken only by the tulip bed which bisected "Jim McNichol's front yard" from east to west. The residence of that Napoleon of local politics, together with that of his friendly enemy, the late Mayor Blankenburg, and the homes of Martin Malony, of the Van Dusens, the Claghornes, the Smuckers, the Bonbrights, the Dunglisons, the Philbins and many another family of substance, have disappeared in the extension of the Square westward to Twentieth Street.

On Vine Street similar destruction has been visited upon the mansions which stood on the site prepared for the Convention Hall that is to be and of the Public Library, now advanced to a stage giving some idea of its impressive, yet not severe, dignity. Possibly the most distinguished resident of the 1800 block was the late William Sellers at No. 1819. Ex-Congressman J. Washington Logue lived around the corner at 308 North Eighteenth Street in his youth and later occupied a house in the 1900 block on Vine, which numbered among its residents such men as R. L. Brownfield, a Delaware Avenue commission merchant; Dr. Thornton Barnes, E. K. Nichols, well known at the bar; William C. Carrick, the cracker Man; W. H. Palmer, another prosperous baker; S. V. R. Hills, railroad freight agents, and Gustavus C. Ralston, well-to-do fish merchant. After the razing of these properties for Parkway purposes, it will be recalled that the lot was hurriedly graded for the erection of the great Tabernacle in which Billy Sunday exhorted sinners to hit the Sawdust Trail.

West of twentieth Street, the industrial district along the Schuylkill has made encroachments here and there which have served to blight the domestic atmosphere of the street, though the residents nearest the course of the invasion, in the section between twenty second and Twenty-third Streets, are putting up a valiant fight. Here the well-scrubbed white marble steps and attempts to keep a spark of life in a few grass plots and stunted trees stand out as symbols of the redemption that yet may come when the Parkway fulfills the promise of its projectors and a start is made on the Schuylkill Embankment. Perhaps the headquarters of the Municipal Court, shorn of the extravagant features which have halted the project, and the Administration Building of The Board of Public Education will be the first physical evidence of the regeneration of Vine Street, west of Logan Square.