The Architecture Of Overbrook Farms: A Portrait

 

Last week we published an article (which also appears in this month’s Grid Magazine) about the campaign to put an Overbrook Farms Historic District on the Philadelphia Historic Register, a move opposed by some neighbors. And then we realized it might be a good idea to give you a feel for what’s at stake by creating a portrait of the neighborhood’s architecture. The 20 photos in this essay are impressionistic rather than comprehensive, and probably lean towards the prettier or more unusual examples. However, some houses in the neighborhood are dilapidated, and a few have lost major architectural features, such as porches, so we’ve included a couple shots that show this aspect as well.

The neighborhood’s architecture is worth a look in its own right, politics aside. A stellar lineup of Philadelphia architects, including Horace Trumbauer, Mellor & Meigs, Willis Hale and Walter H. Thomas, designed the homes, and it shows. The architecture is primarily revivalist–Colonial, Tudor, Gothic and Federal, along with Italian Villa, Queen Anne and Arts and Crafts–and mostly avoids late Victorian frippery, relying instead on bold rooflines to create visual interest. The result is West Philadelphia’s answer to Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill.

For our analysis on the economic impact of historic districts, click HERE.

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All photos by Peter Woodall

Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.



6 Comments


  1. Sure looks a historic district to me!

  2. ‘The 20 photos in this essay are impressionistic rather than comprehensive, and probably lean towards the prettier or more unusual examples.’

    Not really. This is a good solid look at a broad range of the housing stock in Overbrook Farms. That said, the neighborhood is top heavy with some fairly amazing homes. It was built in the late 19th century as a consciously conceived high end small town within the city, the first of the Main Line communities on what was the brand new Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line train.

    63rd Street between City Avenue and Lancaster Avenue is the local commercial strip that is still trying to get its sea legs in the modern era, but the buildings are there and it is becoming more interesting… slowly.

    $300,000 will get you a two bedroom rowhome half a block off Passyunk with a backyard big enough for a bag of salt. The same money here will get you a four bedroom home with some combination of library, solarium, carriage house, stone wrap around porch and a ‘chill room’ studio on the top floor for your teenage kids.

    The train station has you in or out of town in just a few minutes, and Saint Joe’s security patrols looking for outside trouble and instantly kiboshes what used to be party nightmares from their students. Party nightmare no more!

    I’ve been telling a film collector friend who doesn’t like his current home and pays for storage in three locations to bring it all together here for half of what he’s paying, with room left aplenty to house visiting film people!

    The Historic District designation has been a tough sell here because, I believe, the pitch from downtown hasn’t really engaged the community in a way that addresses fears that residents without deep pockets will be forced to take only the most expensive options for renovations and that sort of thing. Still, I have seen a third rate disaster of a roof go up on a house that would be a key property in any other neighborhood, and HD designation could have opened doors that served as a sensible guide to the project.

    A friendly neighborhood worth exploring, with the oldest neighborhood association in America still in place and very active.

    • It’s not the Main Line train, it was part of the Main Line of Public Works, shortened to the Main Line.

    • Christine Filippone

      Thank you, Todd, for the excellent description. The fourth home from the bottom was my childhood home. My father lived here for 50 years. It was a privilege to grow up in this house, which we loved dearly, and in this neighborhood. I know it has much to do with why I became an art historian.

  3. If not for the header at the top of the page, I would have guessed Mt. Airy.

  4. This sampling of homes is beyond awesome. The architecture is so stunning it almost brings me to tears! I sure hope the Historic Designation happens.

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