History

Ghost Signs of Philadelphia: a Tale of Two Foundries in Allegheny West

April 6, 2022 | by Jordan Keiffer

The former Bureau Brothers Foundry at 2234 W. Westmoreland Street, later occupied by the John P. Kelly Foundry, is now the headquarters and retail space of Philadelphia Salvage Co. | Photo: Jordan Keiffer.

The Bureau Brothers Foundry was founded in the 1870s by French immigrant brothers Achille and Edouard Bureau. The company cast architectural and statuary works of bronze and brass and were commissioned by some of the nation’s top sculptors. Sources from 1890 listed the company at 811-813 Fairmount Avenue, but its main location early on was on the southwest corner of 21st and Allegheny Avenue. An article published in Harper’s Weekly, Volume 39 (1895) states, “In Philadelphia two energetic young foundrymen, the Bureau brothers, have a place capable of turning out large works. They have various orders for Washington and for the military monument at Indianapolis.”

Written in a reply to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance report titled “Replies to Tariff Inquiries (May 19, 1894),” Bureau Brothers note that most of its commissions, and subsequent cost estimates for those commissions, come from entering competitions from “drawings or models furnished.” At that time, commissions ranged from $10 to $10,000. About 90 percent of its workforce was considered “skilled labor.” Molders’ wages ranged from $3.33 to $4 per day, and finishers earned $2.67 to $3 per day. The company claimed to have estimates similar to “work by a reliable firm in France,” but much lower than those from German foundries. Bureau Brothers consistently competed against European foundries because, as the company stated in its response to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, foreign firms would “come here in competition against us and take the work abroad and have it cast and finish it and bring it over here free of duty by simply swearing that it is for a public monument and not for sale.”

This stereoscope was taken on April 27, 1899 at the unveiling of the Ulysses S. Grant statue at Kelly and Fountain Green Drives. | Image courtesy of Print and Pictures Division, Library of Congress

Early works by Bureau Brothers are still on display in Philadelphia including the General Ulysses S. Grant statue at Kelly and Fountain Green Drives. The statue of the Civil War hero and 18th president was designed by Daniel Chester French and his former student Edward C. Potter. It was dedicated on April 27, 1899, the 77th anniversary of Grant’s birth. Another local sculpture is the cast of The Lion Fighter by Albert Wolff, which was originally made for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. It was moved in 1929 to the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum where it still stands today.

Outside of Philadelphia the life-sized bust of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by sculptor Augustus Max Johannes Mueller still resides in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. The bust was given to the United German Singers of Brooklyn as the first prize at the 18th National Sangerfest, a choral competition held at Madison Square Garden in 1894. 

A 1909 photograph of Hermon A. MacNeil’s sculpture, Coming of the White Man, which was casted in Philadelphia and now resides in Washington Park in Portland, Oregon. | Image courtesy of University of Oregon Libraries

Other works are mentioned in Granite, Marble & Bronze, Volume 15 (1905). A notable statue, Coming of the White Man, by sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil depicted the Native American Chief Multnomah observing Lewis and Clark’s canoes on the Columbia River. The statue was originally on display in 1905 at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon and now stands in Portland’s Washington Park. The publication also mentions two Pennsylvania works, stating, “Governor Pennypacker and several interested friends recently visited Bureau Brothers bronze foundry, Philadelphia, inspected and approved the bronze statue to be erected at Hanover, Pennsylvania to commemorate the battle in that town on June 30, 1863.” The monument was of a Union skirmisher, armed with a saber and carbine, in a state of alert rest. It was delivered to the site in May 1905. The article also notes Bureau Brothers making a bronze door for the mausoleum of David H. Lane, a wealthy Philadelphian, and mentions, “it is understood the firm has several other large orders for monumental work under way and will be busy for an indefinite period.”

Right: A 1910 Philadelphia Atlas map shows the Bureau Brothers Foundry on the southwest corner of 21st Street and Allegheny Avenue. Left: a 1942 Land Use Map shows Bureau Brothers at 2234 W. Westmoreland Avenue. | Images courtesy of Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

In 1912, Bureau Brothers sold its location at 21st Street and Allegheny Avenue to purchase a large plot of land on the southeast corner of what was then 23rd and Westmoreland Streets. Several descriptions of the site state the company planned to build a larger space than their previous location with a 100-square-foot foundry, a finishing shop, and an office. Bureau Brothers hired architect W.L. Baithe for the project. The building was completed by 1913, right before the outbreak of World War I. Considering the steel and iron shortage caused by the war, the company was fortunate to open its new foundry in time. Much of the original steel pillars used to move heavy foundry equipment can still be seen in the building today.

An advertisement from 1913, the new location’s opening year, shows images of some of Bureau Brothers’ offerings. These including bronze and brass castings, memorial and inscription tablets, mausoleum doors, balcony railings, fountains, lamps, grilles, and gates. The same ad states that “Our manufacturing facilities are of the best, enabling us to fill orders of any size. There is no limitation to our territory.”

A Bureau Brothers advertisement from 1913. Image from Sweet’s Catalogue of Building Construction, 1913.

There are several notable statues that were made at this new location. They include a statue of Abraham Lincoln that stands on the grounds of the Greene County Courthouse in Jefferson, Iowa and Nuns of the Battlefield, a Civil War monument in Washington D.C. honoring over 600 nuns who nursed soldiers on both sides of the conflict. The statue of Icelandic explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni, in recent years a meeting place for white nationalists, was likely made in the new foundry. It stood at the north end of Boathouse Row until it was vandalized and dumped into the Schuylkill River, then recovered and removed, in 2018.

Directories show Bureau Brothers at the Allegheny West address through at least 1938 and then moving to 613 Greenwood Avenue in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania in 1941. It is unclear when the company officially went out of business.

Shortly after Bureau Brothers moved out another foundry moved in. The John P. Kelly Foundry, later known as John P. Kelly, Inc., made good use of the space and equipment. The company was active from 1938 to 1987 and possibly as late as 1990. A source from 1957 indicates that it was a family business, with Kelly listed as president. Mary L. Kelly and John P. Kelly, Jr. are both listed as treasurer and secretary.

A ghost sign on the facade of 2234 W. Westmoreland Street advertises “JOHN P. KELLY – BRONZE BRASS = ALUMINUM – FOUNDERY.” | Photo: Jordan Keiffer

John “Jack” Kelly, Jr. carried on his father’s business. He was a Pennsylvania State University graduate and served in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. He kept residency in Drexel Hill and Ocean City, New Jersey. He changed the name of his company to John P. Kelly, Inc. in 1951. A directory from 1997 shows the company at a West Chester, Pennsylvania address indicating that the foundry moved out of its Philadelphia location sometime in the 1990s.

In the 1990s and 2000s the building was used by a piano tuner to store over 200 pianos. In 2016, Philadelphia Salvage Co. moved in, using the old foundry as its primary retail location. A visit to their shop is like stepping back in time. Remnants of the old foundry are all over the building, including original steel beams and brick work, a belt system, and old hoists and winches.

Remnants of foundry equipment still on location include Harrington Peerless and Alfred Box & Co. Crane Builders. | Photos: Jordan Keiffer

One hoist still shows the name “HARRINGTON PEERLESS.” Edwin Harrington moved his business from Vermont to Philadelphia in 1867 and built his factory at 1666 Callowhill Street in 1903. The building is now Logan Lofts. In its day, the company produced a variety of machinist tools, a patent double chain screw pulley blocks, and an overhead tramway with patent switch. Harrington moved to Plymouth Meeting in 1923 is still in business in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. 

A piece of steel in the middle of the shop has a nameplate that reads “ALFRED BOX & CO. PHILA. PA. CRANE BUILDERS.” The company was active circa 1882 to 1921 and was located on Poplar Street between Front and Canal Streets. It produced hand and electric powered cranes for all types of applications.

It is incredible to think about the timeless works of art and other castings that were created in this local building by its former occupants. Many remain spread out across the country and are being discovered by new generations of art and history enthusiasts every day. Go check out the old foundry during Philadelphia Salvage Co.’s business hours: Thursday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. You may find yet another layer of the building’s past or your own piece of Philadelphia history among the salvage collection.



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About the Author

Jordan Keiffer has been documenting Philadelphia’s ghost signs on the Instagram page Philly Ghost Signs since 2019. His goal is to connect people to the forgotten stories of these faded signs through historic narratives and supplemental images. His work was featured in a special exhibition on ghost signs at the Neon Museum of Philadelphia. A native of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Keiffer is a proud Temple University alum and enjoys long runs through the city.

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