Doppelgangers

1521 Sansom Street (Photo: Ben Leech)

Sansom Street and City Avenue: could any two Philadelphia streets be more dissimilar? Central versus peripheral, squeezed versus sprawling, a glorified service alley versus a wannabe expressway. One would expect this study in contrasts to play out architecturally as well, and for the most part it does. With one odd exception.

1521 Sansom is a building I know well. I admire its scruffy little art deco façade every time I leave Oscar’s Tavern (or the Nodding Head, or the Oyster House….) I’ve written about it elsewhere, and love to point out the bizarre homage to Frank Lloyd Wright that someone added to it sometime in the 1980s. But until a recent trip out West, I had no idea that the building has an even more unlikely twin.

215 W. City Avenue (Photo: Ben Leech)

215 West City Avenue, on the Merion side, is a long way from Sansom Street, but the resemblance is uncanny. Was this the work of a drafting room pirate? An architect on auto-pilot? Are there any more of these doppelgangers out there?

About the author

Ben Leech is a preservationist, architectural historian and illustrator based in Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Instagram @bentleech and support his capitalist alter-ego at Archivolt Press



4 Comments


  1. The host in Marion was the beloved Franklin’s 5&10 of my youth…not really relevant, I know. But still, interesting to me.

  2. Both were probably built for a now gone chain store, such as Woolworths or one of the other 5&10s.

  3. The Sansom street facade was the rear end of a Kresge’s that fronted on Chestnut. Thanks, Lisa, for the note about the Franklin’s. Interesting AND relevant!

  4. I love to laugh at the at the knockoff V C Morris storefront on Sansom. Just awful. Kudos to Mr. Leech for the reference. And as for doppelgängers, I grew up in the suburbs where all the houses, shopping centers, fire houses, et al were the same. Then again, that really wasn’t architecture.

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