The small brick building at 1214 Sansom Street, occupied by Fergie’s Pub for 23 years, is once again enclosed on all sides after decades surrounded by a surface parking lot. The 150-year-old structure, now in the shade of 1213 Walnut, a 26-story apartment tower, has evolved through multiple uses over the years and will remain, for now, part of the neighborhood fabric as Center City continues to evolve around it.
The little building was originally a rear carriage house, horse stable, or shop to service a large house built for a prominent family at 1215 Walnut Street between 1830 and 1850. Sansom Street was then called George Street when, before mid-century, this section of Walnut Street was primarily residential.
The property at 1215 Walnut went through a long line of owners. Most notably it was the birthplace of church leader and U.S. Senator George Wharton Pepper. In the 1880s, the house and accompanying rear building were acquired by a prominent businessman, Travis Cochran, who offered 1214 Sansom Street as an office and/or shop building at the turn of the 20th century.
The first known commercial occupant of 1214 Sansom Street was a master plumber named George T. Gabell in 1900. An unnamed box making company followed in 1905. In about 1908, a printer moved into the second floor of the building, the configuration of which led to other printers using the second floor for two decades afterward–first Steward Printing then Bradley Printing into the 1920s.
In October 1908, a new kind of courier opened on the first floor: Pioneer Motorcycle Quick Delivery Service. The company used motorcycles mounted with boxes on the front to deliver parcels for small businesses who could not afford anything beyond horse-drawn carriage delivery. Pioneer’s management claimed that each one of their fleet of 18 motorcycles traveled 60-75 miles per day, delivering 100-200 parcels. The delivery range of the company was 30 miles.
Due to the small size and fast speed of motorcycles, deliveries were quicker and more efficient than the motorized delivery trucks of the day. Motorcycles were also easier to store and maintain. Packages from small businesses would be picked up by the motorcycles in the morning, processed at 1214 Sansom, then delivered the rest of the day, seven days a week. The business was so successful that horse-drawn deliveries, which had previously had a monopoly on small business deliveries, had to cut their rates by one-third less than a year after Pioneer Motorcycle Quick Delivery opened for business.
Wayne W. Light, the founder and developer of the service, would later go on to run major trucking companies throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
During this time, the future of 1214 Sansom was being conceived a few blocks away at 13th and Market, where an 18-year-old German immigrant named William Hoffmann was working at the Budweiser Cafe. In 1923, he leased the first floor of 1214 Sansom and opened the Hoffmann House, a German restaurant, “A Place to Dine Well.” The restaurant was an instant hit, leading Hoffman to lease the second floor and convert it into a restaurant. S. Fred Herberg, contractor and bar fixture manufacturer, executed the work.
At this point, commercial firms surrounded the former carriage house on all sides.
In addition to traditional German foods offered at the restaurant, strong German beer was also illegally available. In March 1926, at the height of the federal government’s prohibition on the sale and consumption of alcohol, police busted the Hoffman House and seized 20 half-barrels of beer. The bartender and restaurant manager were arrested.
After William Hoffmann died in 1937, his son, George, took over the establishment and in 1940 he installed faux-tudor half timbers on the facade, still in place today. At the time, there were no less than three restaurants on two consecutive blocks of Sansom Street with similarly styled facades–the Hoffman House, Sansom House, at 1302 Sansom (demolished), an Finn McCool’s predecessor at the northwest corner of 12th and Sansom.
The Hoffmann House was burglarized a number of times during the 1940s as Center City became overcrowded and suffered from disinvestment. In one incident, thieves were caught hiding in the restaurant’s dumbwaiter.
In 1957, 37-year-old police captain and future mayor Frank Rizzo arrested the bartender and waiter of the restaurant for serving underaged patrons.
The Hoffmann House survived many changes in the neighborhood. In the 1970s and 1980s, the buildings at 1215 and 1217 Walnut Street were demolished. The parcels were combined with an existing empty lot at 1219 Walnut Street to form a surface parking lot that would isolate 1214 Sansom along the lot’s northeast corner. The nearby neighborhood declined further but the establishment was still listed in travel guides as the city’s finest German restaurant. The building was sold to the current owner, Michael Singer Real Estate, for $60,000 in November 1985.
The Hoffmann House finally closed in the early 1990s after nearly seven decades in operation.
In 1994, Irish-born McGlinchey’s bartender Fergus Carey and Palestinian American Bookbinder’s bartender Wajih Abed partnered to open Fergie’s Pub in November of that year. Only small adjustments to the old restaurant were made, including repainting the Hoffman House’s hanging coat-of-arms sign.
Opening night welcomed a line around the corner into the new bar, as Fergie’s fulfilled a demand for a bar to serve Center City’s growing residential population of young professionals and graduate students. In 1995, Pat Hines began the city’s second-ever regular Quizzo game there. Hines is credited with inventing the term “Quizzo” to describe bar trivia games. That same year, artist Huston Ripley painted the detailed mural on the pub’s west wall. Murals by Desiree Bender and Robert Goodman would appear in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Events and performances made Fergie’s more than just another pub, and its success helped spur the development of the surrounding area.
In 2009, a 328-foot residential and hotel tower was proposed by developer U3 Ventures for the parking lot that surrounded Fergie’s. Although the tower project was named “1213 Walnut” from the start, many still refer to it as the “Fergie Tower.” Some feared that the new, larger-scale development would consume Fergie’s and demolition would eventually follow, but this was never part of the plan. In 2011, the former Jewish Federation thrift store building on Walnut Street was demolished in preparation for the tower. 1214 Sansom sat alone in a sea of asphalt for four years as Carey installed a beer garden, “Fergie’s Beach,” to take advantage of the newly open space.
Construction of the Fergie Tower finally began in 2015 under a different group of developers with a shorter, entirely residential design. Now nearly complete, the Sansom Street side of the tower development has a contextual roofline that lines up with the old carriage house building. Fergie’s Pub continues to operate with no end in sight.