A Match Made In Metal On Federal Street

 

| Photo: Michael Bixler

A. & G. Bohem Cornice Works left a lasting mark on the corner of 15th and Federal Streets | Photo: Michael Bixler

Like so much of the city, the southeast corner of 15th and Federal has plenty of stories to be told, including two considerably different buildings in Newbold that share a forgotten, common thread. 1438 Federal Street, now a Mexican restaurant, shares its history with a ghost sign on its façade. The other, a corner beer distributor at 1442 Federal, has an ornate cornice and fancifully design that stands out from its modern, commercial use. Despite being separated by a row home and being used in very different ways today, the unlikely pair was once connected through the construction metalwork manufacturer A. & G. Bohem Cornice Works.

Heavy Metal Home Improvement

Anthony Oshe Bohem | Source: Who's Who in Philadelphia in Wartime

Anthony Oshe Bohem | Source: Who’s Who in Philadelphia in Wartime

1438 Federal Street was your typical mid-to-late 19th century mansion-sized row house until 1899, when A. & G. Bohem Cornice Works moved in from its original location at 15th and Clearfield in North Philly. The company was founded by Anthony Oshe Bohem in a partnership with his brother George. They specialized in construction materials made of copper and galvanized iron. The company was very successful, being one of the only businesses in the city that manufactured and installed the kind of metal decoration that developers of the period wanted: cornices, finials, window caps, and skylights. The A. & G. Bohem Cornice Works office and factory at 1438 Federal Street was (and still is) covered in much of the company’s product line, presumably to show off the kind of products Bohem produced. Anthony Bohem patented many of the metal products the company produced–a metal pie rack and a steel window ventilator distributed by the company were some of his own inventions.

In 1905, Bohem’s success pushed his business to expand wherever he could find space. Bohem excavated a new, deeper basement in 1438 Federal for an additional 2,000 square feet. He also acquired the building next door at 1440 Federal that the company had already been renting. Bohem used the property for offices and a new sheet metal workshop on the third floor. The company operated in both buildings until 1924 when it relocated to 18th and Washington. Over the next few decades, the company, later renamed the Bohem Manufacturing Company, shifted their focus to solely on skylights after cornices and other metal façade decorations went out of style. Bohem later settled in Conshohocken and opened several more locations around the country. By the time the company went out of business in the 1980s, Bohem was one of the top ten skylight makers in the country. It was a family business until the end as Paul Bohem, son of Anthony, was the last chairman of the board.

A & G Bohem Ad from 1900 | Source: Boyd's Co-Partnership and Business Directory of Philadelphia City

A & G Bohem Ad from 1900 | Source: Boyd’s Co-Partnership and Business Directory of Philadelphia City

Getting Realty

1442 Federal was was built by David McBurney, a friend of Anthony Bohem, for the headquarters of the David McBurney & Son Real Estate agency in the same year the cornice company set up shop on the block. McBurney was a developer responsible for much of the row house stock found in Point Breeze and the section we now refer to as Newbold. McBurney employed the Bohem company for much of the metalwork used on those homes. The elaborate metal decoration on McBurney’s office building at the 15th and Federal employed Bohem’s work, some of which can still be seen. McBurney is also signed as one of the witnesses to several of Anthony Bohem’s patents. McBurney’s Real Estate agency moved across the street to 1200 South 15th Street in 1932.

1438 Federal–After Bohem

| Photo: Michael Bixler

“A. & G. Bohem” is embedded in the cornice of 1438 Federal Street, while a faded, mid-façade ghost sign spells out “Metal Cornices, Skylights, and Windows” | Photo: Michael Bixler

After A. & G. Bohem moved out of 1438 Federal, the building was separated from the neighboring building at 1440 and purchase by Frank Lanza. He used the old factory space for his Victor Billiard and Pool Table Company, who operated out of the location for two decades until moving to Magnolia, New Jersey where they still exist today as the Lanza Billiard Company. The Lanza family retained ownership of the building. After a failed attempt to create an apparel manufacturing operation there they opened the Dagman Club, a 3-story billiard hall.

A few years later, the building found a tenant that would stick around in one form or another for nearly half a century: the Regular Fellows Club. The private social club, bar, and dance hall occupied the 2nd and 3rd floors of the old A. & G. Bohem Cornice Works under several different names over the years. In its last days, the bar of many monikers boasted 1,200 members. It made headlines in 1979 when Milton Williams, the club’s business manager of the era, lured a man into the building while it was empty and attempted to rob him. A struggle ensued and Williams cut the victim, Daniel Allen, with a knife several times in the face and thigh.

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Ghost sign detail | Photo: Michael Bixler

By the 1990s, the club was still operational, but the building was falling apart. After being cited by the Liquor Control Board at the end of 1997 for an expired liquor license, a series of inspections by other agencies lead the owner to seal the 3rd floor in January of 1998. The bar continued to operate under the name C & C’s Social Club until 2001 when an investigation by Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement led to eight counts of violations and the subsequent revocation of the its liquor license in 2004.

The current owners, Guo An and Xing Zheng, purchased the property in 2009 for $168,000 and opened a Chinese Restaurant on the first floor. They re-activated the third floor as an apartment for themselves and a year later re-constructed the 2nd floor into another apartment.

Today, the bottom floor of 1438 Federal lives on with a new Mexican restaurant, El Sabor Poblano. The A. & G. Bohem name remains on the large metal cornice; “Metal Cornices, Skylights, and Windows,” reads the hand-painted advertisement, now a ghost sign, in metal, below it.

1442 Federal–After McBurney

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Former home of David McBurney & Son Real Estate and South Philly staple Federal Paint & Glass hardware store | Photo: Michael Bixler

After David McBurney & Sons moved across the street in 1932, the fancy building at 1442 Federal briefly became home to the International Wall Paper Company. In 1937, the building was purchased by Nicholas D’Angelo and would stay in his possession for over four decades. D’Angelo was a local character in the neighborhood known as “Nick the Painter.” In his younger days, he made $3 a day pushing a cart through the streets of South Philadelphia offering house-painting services. His purchase of 1442 Federal was the culmination of those efforts, where he started the Federal Paint & Glass Company, a hardware store.

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Bohem’s cornice work on 1442 Federal Street gave the building a lasting, dignified presence | Photo: Michael Bixler

D’Angelo’s store was successful enough that he was able to build a three-story addition onto the back of the building in the 1940s, and in 1948 he expanded even further into 1440 Federal, linking the two buildings at 1438 and 1442 for a generous 36′ x 110′ ground floor retail space. In 1949, apartments were installed in the 2nd and 3rd floor sections of the buildings. Federal Paint & Glass stayed in business until 1977. D’Angelo later opened other businesses there and added a 6th apartment to the complex right before retiring in 1981.

The former hardware store space was used as a warehouse for a few years before the food distributor and corner store operator Bravo & Sons Inc. purchased 1440-42 Federal with the intention of moving the Bravo & Sons Beer Distributor there from the opposite corner. Infamous Philadelphia property owner Samuel Rappaport represented Bravo Brothers in their hearing with the Zoning Board of Adjustments in 1986. Over the next year, the building was altered into its current configuration under the designs of local architect Robert Beuchat. Today, Bravo & Sons Inc. is owned by Gary Patel and the beer distributor is now called Federal Beer. In 2013, a lucky customer hit a $131.5 million Pennsylvania Lottery jackpot there.

About the author

Dennis Carlisle (AKA GroJLart) is the anonymous foulmouthed blogger of Philaphilia, where he critiques Philadelphia architecture, history, and design. He resides in Washington Square West. GroJLart has contributed to Naked Philly, the Philadelphia City Paper's Naked City Blog, and Philadelphia Magazine's Property Blog.



4 Comments


  1. new construction cant even compare…great pics

  2. Great piece of research on an obscure company.

    • Thanks, Ron. Your Urban Explorer series (if this is fact the same Ron Avery) is one of the things that led me to get into Philadelphia history/architecture/development.

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