The Tenderloin Doughboy

 

2nd & Spring Garden tenderloin doughboy | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

2nd & Spring Garden tenderloin doughboy | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

Looking as if he’s leading a charge out into traffic at the busy corner of 2nd & Spring Garden, this World War I doughboy is part of a memorial honoring fallen soldiers who hailed from the Philadelphia neighborhood once known as the Tenderloin.

Largely razed to make room for the Vine Street Expressway and its connector ramps, the Tenderloin was a hub of what was once known as “vice.” That is only part of its story, however. The Tenderloin was host to a complicated mix of uses, as authors Fredric M. Miller et al write in Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940:

The red-light district, or tenderloin … flourished in Philadelphia despite the city’s notorious blue laws and its strait-laced reputation. Philadelphia’s tenderloin district was small and unusual in not being exclusively devoted to illegal enterprise. Factories and warehouses shared the neighborhood with hotels and theaters, and many working people lived nearby. The area had long been tolerated and protected by politicians and the police.

2nd & Spring Garden tenderloin doughboy | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

2nd & Spring Garden tenderloin doughboy | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

The Tenderloin doughboy wasn’t always located at this busy intersection. E. David Horwitz, assistant professor of history at the Community College of Philadelphia, points out that the monument once graced a pocket park that stretched from the east side of 5th Street through to York Avenue, between Willow and Noble Streets. All but erased from living memory, York Avenue was a diagonal street that pre-dated the city’s current grid layout of streets. The names inscribed on this memorial are virtually all that remain of the Tenderloin district.

For more from Hidden City on the Doughboy and the new park surrounding him, click here and here.

 

2nd & Spring Garden tenderloin doughboy | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

2nd & Spring Garden tenderloin doughboy | Photo: Mike Szilagyi

About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

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8 Comments


  1. A tiny sliver of York Ave. can be discerned around 4th and Wood streets. The buildings along what is commonly considered 4th between Vine and Wood slant westward. That’s where York began.

    Thanks for remembering Philly’s former skid row.

  2. Harry Kyriakodis

    Here are excepts from my forthcoming book about Northern Liberties
    HarryK

    The cast bronze’s actual name is Over the Top and it is one of several comparable works by sculptor John Paulding. The Doughboy has been generating erroneous midnight calls to police for decades: “man brandishing gun!”. . . Over the Top first stood in a tiny triangular park at Fifth (York) and Buttonwood Streets. It was moved to 17th and Spring Garden Street when the Callowhill East Redevelopment Project destroyed that portion of town(i.e. the Tenderloin or Skid Row). Demands for the statue’s return to the Liberties in 1981 became the first rallying cry of the resurgent district. Local resident Mary Dankanis recalls that the woman who sang God Bless America at the statue’s 1920 dedication returned to sing the same song at its homecoming celebration. . . . It is placed at Second and Spring Garden Streets, commonly called Doughboy Park. This pocket park is formally known as Madison Memorial Park since it’s close to where James Madison Public School stood until Interstate 95’s construction. A long-awaited rehabilitation of the park concluded in early 2012.

  3. I love this statue. Now we just need people to stop duct-taping American flags to the Doughboy’s upraised arm.

  4. My grand-father’s name is on the one of the plaques. Of the four plaques, only 3 remain. My mom once stated that her father was on it, and it is, as well as his brother. Where 95 and the EL runs, there use to be a lot of boarding houses.

  5. What’s sad is the city spent a lot of money fixing up Doughboy Park a few months back but already it is nothing but crabgrass and weeds.

  6. It is a shame they tore 95 through Tenderloin and essentially what was the historic section of Philadelphia. The entire 95 corridor used to be old row homes and buildings such as those seen in old city. But being old they had become the low income sections. It has always been easy to tear down history when it is labeled as “an eyesore” and the area “blighted”. Just as it has always been easy to thow the poor out of their homes to redevelop.

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