Art & Design
September 7, 2011 | by Rachel Hildebrandt
Anthropologie, 18th and Walnut. Photo: Peter Woodall
Anthropologie’s flagship store at 18th and Walnut Streets contains a room featuring one of the city’s most opulent as well as unusual ceilings. The entire ceiling features a cluster of portraits of Italian princes encircled within three-dimensional gold frames. The 1898 mansion was originally Alexander Van Rensselaer’s home and later Penn Athletic Club’s clubhouse. In 1982, Anthropologie’s predecessor, Urban Outfitters, moved into the three-story mansion. By that time, much of the interior had already been deconstructed.
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Tags: Anthropologie Center City historic interiors
About the Author
Rachel Hildebrandt Rachel Hildebrandt, a graduate of PennDesign, is a native Philadelphian who is passionate about the changing city she inhabits. Before beginning her graduate studies in historic preservation with a focus on policy, Rachel obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College and co-authored two books, The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (2009) and Oak Lane, Olney, and Logan (2011). She currently works as a senior program manager at Partners for Sacred Places.
Is the ceiling an installation that was put up by Anthropologie?
The ceiling is original to the mansion. According to a 1982 Philadelphia Inquirer article… “The spacious four-story building was built in 1897 by Alexander Van Rensselaer , for the widowed Sarah Drexel Fell and her four small children. The next year, he married her. In 1942, the building was bought by the Penn Athletic Club, which sold it in 1963 to the Presbyterian Ministers Fund, an insurance company for clergymen, but the club continued to lease the building until 1972. In 1975, after renovations costing more than $1.1 million and taking more than a year were completed, Design Research of Cambridge, Mass., became the first retail occupant. It went out of business in 1979. A wicker store, the Eclectic Co., did business there until August 1980, and the mansion has been unused since”… When the mansion was “renovated,” much of the interior was removed, but the awesome medallion-covered ceiling was spared.
I went in there last year and was absolutely appalled at the way Anthropogy has neglected the building..the plaster peeling, the beautiful trim hanging off with no regard for the building or its past. It upset me so much I wrote about it in my blog, which I seldom do! America has so few historical buildings left, it was so depressing to see a company openly embrasing the neglect, which is the Anthropology look. There was a beautiful stained glass window half obstructed be the modern cement steps, and a relief on the landing which thankfully hasn’t been destroyed yet. What a depressing visit. The ceiling was still intact, and the massive fireplace thankfully unharmed. I know Anthropology didn’t create the destruction but I wish they they cared for the building a little more!
Anthropologie does not own the building they rent. And are limited to what changes they can make to the building. The neglect you speak of falls on the landlord of the building.
Although I was amazed by the structure and the beauty.. there were rooms that were neglected.. still an amazing building
I don’t think those guys are princes – I think they’re medieval popes, like Innocent III – https://www.papalartifacts.com/portfolio-item/pope-innocent-ix/ I wonder where Van Rensselaer got it. Presumably ripped from some ecclesiastical building.