Delorean Time Machine: Broad Street Doubletree Hotel

The Southeast corner of Broad and Locust would appear as stable a corner as any on the Avenue of the Arts. Here stands the massive DoubleTree Hotel. However, the history of the location listed as 237 S. Broad St. is distinguished by constant change, dating back more than a century-and-a-half. Indeed, the image shown here below, borrowed from Hexamer & Locher’s 1858 Philadelphia Atlas, indicates that Adam’s Express Freight Depot occupied the space where DoubleTree’s grand atrium now stands.

Hotel for freight in 1858

According to Wikipedia, Adam’s Express was one of the first and largest shipping concerns in the United States prior to the Civil War. In fact, Adams used its strong positioning in the South to distribute anti-slavery newspapers below the Mason-Dixon line. And in 1849, escaped Virginia slave Henry ‘Box’ Brown used Adams Express to ship himself to Philadelphia freedom. Following the Civil War, Adams increasingly turned its attention toward corporate investment, leaving the Broad Street location to serve as a privately owned warehouse for the next several decades. Then, according to Irvin Glazer’s Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial Architectural History from the Collection of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the Empire Theatre opened on this spot in 1891. The theatre is shown here below in a photo taken from the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.

The short-lived Empire Theatre circa 1891

According to Glazer, the lovely Queen Anne style theatre only existed for seven years. Glazer reports that “the site was too valuable for a theatre and it was replaced by the large Walton Hotel in 1898. The arches, turret effects and spires similar to the Empire theatre were reproduced with the building of the Walton Hotel.” Said hotel is pictured below in an image taken from the Historical Photo collection maintained by the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Hotel Walton, complete with arches, turret effects and spires, 1898

The Walton Hotel, alternately known as the Hotel Walton, merged the Empire Theatre with the neighboring Hotel Metropole to create the super-structure shown above. The upscale establishment offered visiting upper-crusters lodging for $1.50 to $4.00 per night according to The Philly History Blog. Occupying the location for roughly 50 years, the Walton would be the longest-lived of the corner’s tenants. Still, the Department of Records photo below shows the front entrance of the building in 1948, at which point it was known as the John Bartram Hotel.

The John Bartram Hotel, 1948

When the Bartram closed in the early 1960s, the building was dismantled to make way for an empty lot where homeless people and crackheads could congregate. According to Philaphilia, The entertainment division of the Hershey Food Company purchased the plot in 1980 and, in 1982, opened the largely unsuccessful Hershey Philadelphia Hotel. It was at this point that the current structure, with its questionable accordion aesthetic, was introduced to Broad Street. The photo below, also borrowed from Philaphilia, shows the Hershey upon its opening.

Hershey Philadelphia Hotel quietly failing, 1982

Philaphilia tells that Hilton partnered with Hersey in 1991 before selling out to DoubleTree two years later. To maximize confusion, Hilton purchased the DoubleTree company in 1999 and changed the name of the hotel to DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Philadelphia Center City.

DoubleTree by Hilton, 2012

Thirty years later, the building looks just as awesome as the day she was built.

–David Tomar

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