Preservation

Unlisted Philadelphia: Pearl Bailey House

April 15, 2021 | by Ben Leech

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

Built: 1882

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.

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About the Author

Ben Leech Ben Leech is a preservationist, architectural historian and illustrator based in Philadelphia and Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Instagram @bentleech and support his capitalist alter-ego at Archivolt Press

3 Comments:

  1. Jim Clark says:

    I always liked Pearl Bailey, I was not aware she was from Philly.

  2. Heather M Davis-Jones says:

    As a teen and young adult, I was obsessed with her. Pearl Bailey was my favorite character in Carmen Jones. I hope this home is able to be registered.

  3. Linda Jenkins says:

    I actually live across the street from her former home.

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