You certainly wouldn’t know it by looking today, but the stretch of Chestnut Street between 11th and 12th was once quite the happening nightspot. Today, even the buildings that aren’t vacant are most certainly not open at night. In its time though, 1116 Chestnut St. clamored with celebrities and revelers. But let’s go back just a little further. According to the image taken from G.M. Hopkins’ 1875 Philadelphia Atlas, the site of 1116 Chestnut Street was, at one time, the estate of one M. Baldwin.
The Estate of M. Baldwin, 1875
Baldwin would be gone before the turn of the century however. In his place, according to Cinema Treasures, Benjamin F. Keith opened Keith’s New Theatre in 1902. The photo here below, taken from the Library of Congress and dated somewhere between the opening and 1910, shows Keith’s New Theatre when it was, well, new.
When we bought a coffee table there fifteen years ago, Uhuru Furniture felt like it very much belonged on the 1200 block of Spruce Street. "Midtown Village" was barely an idea in Tony Goldman's mind, and the Gayborhood had a much grittier vibe in general. But a decade and a half of gentrification has brought ritzy restaurants, high-end shopping, and much less weirdness to the area, and Uhuru has become more of a throwback, with its narrow aisles and furniture piled high to the ceiling. But not anymore. Because a couple of weeks ago, they closed their Spruce Street store and moved to 842 N. Broad St., on the Francisville/Poplar border.
Former Uhuru space
Uhuru, in case you're unfamiliar, is a nonprofit furniture store that sells donated furniture to support the African People's Education and Defense Fund (APEDF). The mission of the APEDF is, according to the Uhuru website, to "develop and institutionalize programs to defend the human and civil rights of the African community and to address the grave disparities in education, health, health care and economic development in the African community."
It's been almost three years since Pearl Art & Craft Supplies at 417 South St.closed their doors. Since then, the building has sat empty. And while vacancy was de rigueur on South Street a few years ago, its resurgence of late that makes this large empty retail space stick out like a bit of a sore thumb. Thankfully, it seems that plans are in the works to make this building return to life.
Signs on the building suggest that a South Street Arts Center will soon be arriving here, with a planned opening in June. Passyunk Post provides more details. Eighty-five studios will be crammed in here over three stories, with space starting at $250/month for 140 sqft. The roof will have a restaurant (makes venting easy) and a sculpture garden. Studio space will be available for painters, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, textile workers, woodworkers, sculptors, jewelers, ceramics-makers, potters, and other visual artists. There are plans to completely rework the facade, but the initial setup calls for a simple tidying up of the existing building front.
The Walnut Street Theatre proclaims itself to be the oldest theatre in the United States. So it should come as little surprise that we don’t really know what stood at 9th & Walnut before the theatre’s conception. Still, the Walnut has undergone quite a few changes over its long and storied history. The image below, taken from John Hills’ 1808 Map of Philadelphia, shows absolutely nothing and makes us wonder why Hills went to the trouble. However, this location is only one year removed from the theatre’s 1809 construction.
Future site of America’s oldest theatre, 1808
The following year, according to Wikipedia, French touring equestrian circus company Pepin and Breschard brought their operation to Philadelphia. With it, they brought the construction of a new theatre. The sketch below, taken from the Walnut Street Theatre website, shows the theatre in its earliest days, when it was known as the New Circus.