Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Winter 2021 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
Unlisted Philadelphia highlights interesting and significant Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. To learn more about the local designation process and how you can participate in nominating a building to the Philadelphia Register, visit the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s website for more information.
Pearl Bailey House
Location: 1946 North 23rd Street
Architect: Willis G. Hale
Singer, actor, humanitarian, humorist, and Presidential Medal of Honor recipient Pearl Bailey (1918-1990) was born in Newport News, Virginia, but moved into this North Philadelphia row house with her mother and stepfather in the early 1930s. At the age of 15 she won an amateur night competition at the nearby Pearl Theater, launching her early career as a nightclub singer. After dropping out of high school, Bailey hit the road, first to Pennsylvania’s scrappy coal country vaudeville circuit, then to cross-country U.S.O. tours with Cab Calloway, and finally to Broadway stardom in the all-Black staging of Hello Dolly! Even at the height of her fame Bailey returned often to visit her mother who lived here until her death in 1969. The house, designed by famed Philadelphia architect Willis Hale, is in far less precarious condition than homes of other notable Black artists like John Coltrane and Dox Thrash. Yet, unlike the Coltrane and Thrash houses, the home of this national treasure is not protected on the Philadelphia Register.