What Lies Within: The Dazzling Art Deco Interior Of 1616 Walnut Street

January 14, 2015 |  by  |  Last Light  |  , ,

 

1616 Walnut is at right, the Sun Oil Building is at left | Photo: Peter Woodall

1616 Walnut is at right, the Sun Oil Building is at left | Photo: Peter Woodall

With apologies to the Chrysler Building, it’s the interiors of Art Deco buildings that usually contain the most spectacular designs. This is particularly true in Philadelphia, where the prevailing conservative taste took exuberant Art Deco and turned it into something relatively subdued thanks to exteriors clad in limestone or buff-colored brick.

There was, seemingly, no interior feature too humble or utilitarian for designers to lavish their skills upon. Even the mailboxes of great office buildings got the Art Deco treatment, and what a marvelous treatment it was, as Karen Greene illustrates in her new book: Art Deco Mailboxes: An Illustrated Design History. Karen will be presenting a slideshow on the subject tonight in a book signing event hosted by Hidden City at 1616 Walnut, one of three Philadelphia buildings featured in her book. Since it is sold out, we thought we’d do the next best thing and post this gallery of photos taken this summer, when the building’s conversion from offices to apartments was almost complete.

When 1616 Walnut was built by the Pew family in 1929, (the headquarters of their company, Sun Oil, was located next door), it included an apartment on the 25th floor for the family. The decorative woodwork survived subsequent decades when the rooms were rented out as office space, and were restored when the building was converted to residential use. What the stern Joseph N. Pew, the Republican political boss of Pennsylvania, and his flinty brother J. Howard Pew, a right wing Christian fundamentalist, thought of the decidedly whimsical motifs carved into the woodwork remains lost to history.

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.



1 Comment


  1. Great article . I love art deco and was actually born at the jersey city medical center in jersey city nj,
    Which is now perhaps the largest art deco structure to be saved from the wrecking ball anywhere.
    It’s a stunning example of that Art Deco , just takes my breath away. The entire complex I believe is
    being turned into condos. I know it’s been said a million times but………………..
    They just don’t build them like they used to ! Thanks

Leave a Reply

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

Recent Posts
Infill Philadelphia Brings Communities Together By Design

Infill Philadelphia Brings Communities Together By Design

August 17, 2018  |  News

Sacred Places/Civic Spaces helps three houses of worship plan for the future by opening their doors to the neighborhood. Starr Herr-Cardillo has the story > more

Our History Compels Us: We Stand United For A Free Press

Our History Compels Us: We Stand United For A Free Press

August 16, 2018  |  Soapbox

We join with hundreds of news organizations in defense of the free press, under dangerous attack by the President of the United States > more

For The Birds: An Ode To Philly's Old Goose Signs

For The Birds: An Ode To Philly’s Old Goose Signs

August 13, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. reminisces about the Bicentennial-era bridge signs that still point the way to the Delaware River > more

Legal Fund Fights Developers That Game The System

Legal Fund Fights Developers That Game The System

August 9, 2018  |  Vantage

The price of preservation is high when building owners undermine the authority of the Historical Commission through legal loopholes. Dana Rice unpacks the issue with this report > more

North Broad's

North Broad’s “Lion Of Zion” Finds Strength In Design

August 8, 2018  |  News

Zion Baptist Church opens its doors to a sustainable future and a North Philly revival. Rachel Hildebrandt has the story > more

Diorama Restoration At The Academy of Natural Sciences Confronts Loss & Conquest

Diorama Restoration At The Academy of Natural Sciences Confronts Loss & Conquest

August 6, 2018  |  News

Conservators on the Parkway give 80-year-old specimens a good scrubbing, while examining science's shady past with new interpretation. Mabel Rosenheck has the story > more