Lost & Found (And Lost Again)

 

There are few sights quite as thrilling as walking down a familiar street and finding an unsuspected fragment of the city’s past that’s been uncovered in the course of a construction project. The former lives of these buildings are revealed during these oftentimes brief intervals, through a marble tablet that had been shrouded in stucco, a Hebrew inscription hidden beneath a sign or a cast iron facade concealed by a plywood storefront. Yet the discoveries are frequently bittersweet, for these older layers are usually concealed once again or demolished outright. We’ve devoted entire posts to this phenomenon in the past, but a number of small instances have accumulated over the past few years. Here are six favorites:

Lite Bite Luncheonette, 3rd and Vine Street

As the Lite Bite, circa 2011 | Google Streetview

On the southeast corner of 3rd and Vine stood a little luncheonette called the Lite Bite, an anomalous one-story box on a block of handsome commercial buildings from the 1850s. Here it is in 2011:

These cast-iron columns were hiding underneath the Lite-Bite's plywood exterior | Photo: Peter Woodall

These cast-iron columns were hiding underneath the Lite-Bite’s plywood exterior | Photo: Peter Woodall

There wasn’t much cute about the place except for the name, and it sat vacant for several years after closing around 2008. Demolition finally began in 2012 and there, underneath the wood facade, were cast iron columns that matched those on the rest of the block. For months, the columns stood alone, like some miniature, New World version of the ancient Roman ruins on Palatine Hill.

The southeast corner of 3rd and Vine | Source: Google Streetview

The southeast corner of 3rd and Vine | Source: Google Streetview

And then the developer did something all-too-rare: he incorporated what he’d found in the new building. Unfortunately, a few critical details got lost between the appealing rendering and the actual bricks and mortar, namely the lintels over the windows. The graceful transition between old and new features was also misplaced, but even so, the critical thing is that that the columns still exist, waiting for the next developer to do a better job.

Trenton China & Pottery, 2nd and Arch Street

Trenton China buildings in 2012 | Photo: Peter Woodall

Trenton China buildings in 2012 | Photo: Peter Woodall

The Trenton China & Pottery buildings, with their fire escapes on the front facade, were like a little slice of New York’s Lower East Side transplanted into Old City. Yet attaching a bulky metal contraption to the front of a building is pretty awful thing to do, nostalgic geographical associations aside, and along with decades of grime, made it tough to envision what might ben underneath there.

Trenton China & Pottery Buildings, Arch Street east of 2nd | Photo: Peter Woodall

Trenton China & Pottery Buildings, Arch Street east of 2nd | Photo: Peter Woodall

What emerged from beneath the dirt and metal and paint was a luminous red brick, and on 135 Arch, sharply contrasting black brick accents. Taken together, it is a tremendously handsome group of buildings.

Courtesy Phillyhistory.org, 1959

Courtesy Phillyhistory.org, 1959

Here’s what the block looked like in 1959. The building at right, 127 Arch, has a sign reading Trenton China Pottery over the doorway.

127 Arch Street pre-restoration | Screenshot of 2012 Google Street View image capture,

127 Arch Street pre-restoration | Screenshot of 2012 Google Street View image capture,

At some point the sign was stuccoed over.

Burgin & Sons Glass Ware | Photo: Peter Woodall

Burgin & Sons Glassware | Photo: Peter Woodall

Underneath the stucco, and perhaps the Trenton China & Pottery sign as well, was this sign for Burgin & Sons Glassware. The company is listed at 127 Arch Street in an 1899 directory, however that storefront location was probably a wholesale showroom and office for the firm, which did the bulk of its business manufacturing an assortment of glass products, including bottles, milk jars, carboys and imitation leaded glass. The company, then known as Burgin & Pearsall, purchased an old glass works in 1836 at Girard and Montgomery Streets (then known as Franklin and Cherry Streets respectively). It closed in 1910 and is now a playground.

Jumbo Theater, Front and Girard

Seeing the Jumbo Theater emerge from underneath the stucco and drop ceilings of what had been a Global Thrift store, and then to see new stucco and drop ceilings installed for a DEAL$ Market, was a heartbreaking experience.

Jumbo Theater on Girard Avenue at Front Street | Photo: Peter Woodall

Jumbo Theater on Girard Avenue at Front Street | Photo: Peter Woodall

Jumbo Theater ghost sign | Photo: Peter Woodall

Jumbo Theater ghost sign | Photo: Peter Woodall

Interior of the Jumbo Theater during renovation in 2011 | Photo: Peter Woodall

Interior of the Jumbo Theater during renovation in 2011 | Photo: Peter Woodall

Want to see more? For a superb collection of photos of the Jumbo both inside and out, click HERE.

Jumbo Theater, 1916 | Courtesy Phillyhistory.org

Jumbo Theater, 1916 | Courtesy Phillyhistory.org

Here’s what the building looked like in 1916. It seemed rather implausible that so much of facade should have survived.

Installing the DEAL$ facade, 2011 | Photo: Peter Woodall

Installing the DEAL$ facade, 2011 | Photo: Peter Woodall

And by the looks of the way they installed the new facade, perhaps it will remain intact under there until the next time someone decides to make a change.

DEAL$ Market, 2011 | Photo: Peter Woodall

DEAL$ Market, 2011 | Photo: Peter Woodall

In the meantime, though, the exterior of DEAL$ gives little hint of what lies beneath.

840 N. 2nd Street

Southwest; corner of 2nd and Poplar | Screenshot of a 2011 Google Street View image capture

Southwest; corner of 2nd and Poplar | Screenshot of a 2011 Google Street View image capture

Word around the neighborhood was that Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments was planning a boutique hotel for this corner. That talk has died down, but Tower did begin to demolish the building in May.

Building demolition, southeast corner of 2nd and Poplar Streets | Photo: Peter Woodall

Building demolition, southeast corner of 2nd and Poplar Streets | Photo: Peter Woodall

At first, there was a more modern looking script for “house furnishings,” with an older, illegible ghost sign underneath it.

Southwest corner of 2nd and Poplar | Photo: Peter Woodall

Southwest corner of 2nd and Poplar | Photo: Peter Woodall

After more of the building was taken down, some of the plaster sloughed off revealing another ghost sign.

Gold Medal Flour ghost sign in Frankford | Photo: Peter Woodall

Gold Medal Flour ghost sign in Frankford | Photo: Peter Woodall

This one seemed unreadable, too, but after blowing it up and increasing the contrast, something about the color scheme reminded me of a Gold Medal Flour ghost sign I’d shot in Frankford a few years back.

Detail of Gold Medal Flour ghost sign | Photo: Peter Woodall

Detail of Gold Medal Flour ghost sign | Photo: Peter Woodall

Now that I knew what words I was looking for, there they were, and even the few words visible at the bottom of the sign are recognizable if you look for Gold Medal’s slogan, “Why now now?” The wall was whitewashed soon after this photo was taken.

Northeast corner of 2nd & Fairmount

Construction site at the northeast corner of 2nd and Fairmount

Construction site at the northeast corner of 2nd and Fairmount

Someone on Facebook posted this photo, wondering what these vaulted chambers might have been used for originally. I asked the folks over at the Society for Industrial Archaeology, and while there were no definite answers, one person wrote that vaulted storage areas beneath the adjacent sidewalk were very common in the 18th and 19th century. The brick arching was the only practical way to support these extended cellar areas, given the building techniques and materials of the time.

2nd and Fairmount, northeast corner | Photo: Peter Woodall

2nd and Fairmount, northeast corner | Photo: Peter Woodall

By the time I made it over to the construction site, the series of arched openings were gone, but one large culvert remained. Soon it too will be buried.

B’nai Reuben Synagogue/Antiquarian’s Delight, 6th Street just north of Bainbridge

Antiquarian's Delight, 2013 | Photo: Bradley Maule

Antiquarian’s Delight, 2013 | Photo: Bradley Maule

For many years, the sign for the Antiquarian’s Delight hung over the entrance to the former B’Nai Reuben Synagogue on 6th Street just north of Bainbridge in Queen Village.

Hebrew writing above the entrance to the former Antiquarian Market | Photo: Morris Levin

Hebrew writing above the entrance to the former Antiquarian Market | Photo: Morris Levin

The sign was removed during renovations, revealing the Hebrew inscription beneath.

Chipping off a Star of David at the former B'Nai Reuben synagogue | Photo: Rob Kopf

Chipping off a Star of David at the former B’Nai Reuben synagogue | Photo: Rob Kopf

The developers decided to remove all traces of Jewish iconography from the building, however they did so by chipping off the stone reliefs rather than simply covering them.

The Hebrew inscription above the door has been chipped off and then stuccoed over | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

The Hebrew inscription above the door has been chipped off and then stuccoed over | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

Now that small yet valuable piece of neighborhood and city history is gone forever. Next time, why not figure out a way to cover the reliefs without damaging them, there to be rediscovered one day, perhaps by someone who would value them differently?

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.



5 Comments


  1. Back when I was working for Mambo Movers – we used to meet at LiteBite for eggs in the morning. Global Thrift was a huge place and yea the building seemed from a different time …and I remember a brief moment when the neighbors who lived next to the 2nd & Fairmount lot built up a great garden area there and then the guys who owned the neighboring meat store just tore it out…and covered it with gravel.

  2. Great post! Really fascinating look at the history through renovation. A great contrast & juxtaposition between looking back and moving forward.

  3. Really enjoyed seeing your findings.

  4. Nice piece,enjoyable read!

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
City Council To Vote On Ridge Avenue Demo Moratorium

City Council To Vote On Ridge Avenue Demo Moratorium

December 13, 2017  |  News

A bill to place a temporary hold on demolition applications for 300+ historic properties along Ridge Avenue goes before City Council tomorrow. Michael Bixler has the details > more

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

December 11, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Last June, one of Center City's last classic diners, Midtown II at 11th and Sansom, closed its lunch counter for good. The high-profile property is now under development, although plans for the space remain elusive. The Shadow takes us behind the façade to reveal a lively list of tenants and a colorful history of reuse > more

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly's Paint King And His Irish Lass

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly’s Paint King And His Irish Lass

December 8, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us to Old City where the flames of a secret affair scorched newspaper headlines in the early 1900s > more

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

December 6, 2017  |  Vantage

Academic, activist, and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill carries the tradition of the Black-owned bookstore into the 21st century with Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books. John Henry Scott has the details > more

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

December 4, 2017  |  Vantage

Hidden City's annual fund drive is in full swing on Generosity and we've got a brand new batch of perks celebrating Philadelphia available. Here's a look at this year's killer lineup > more

Three Historic Designation Removals Call Procedure Into Question

Three Historic Designation Removals Call Procedure Into Question

November 30, 2017  |  Vantage

Three historic properties on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places were abruptly stripped of legal protection last week. Contributor Starr Herr-Cardillo unpacks the details of each situation > more