The Graduate Hospital neighborhood is home to three garden blocks, the 2300 block of Saint Albans Place, and the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Madison Square. If you live in the area, you’re probably aware of these blocks simply from walking around the neighborhood, and if you don’t live nearby it’s possible you remember seeing the 2300 block of Saint Albans as Cole’s house in the Sixth Sense. These blocks are unlike any others in the city, trading pavers for sidewalks and fenced-in garden space for street. The combination of the streetscape and the uniform architecture of the homes landed these blocks on the Historic Register back in 1969 (Saint Albans) and 1971 (Madison Square).
The homes on these blocks date back to around 1870 and are collectively the work of developer Charles M.S. Leslie, according to Evergreens: A Neighborhood History. In creating the garden blocks, Leslie, who also built Woodland Terrace in West Philly, created a trust that allowed him control of the gardens and the alleys behind the homes, and he charged residents for maintenance of the shared space. Within a couple years of the construction of the garden blocks, Leslie disappeared in an effort to get away from his creditors, resulting in the City becoming trustee for the garden blocks. As a result, the residents of the 2200 block of Saint Albans were able to get their garden eliminated in favor of a paved street. Yes folks, the 2200 block of Saint Albans was once a garden block as well! What a loss, indeed.
You may be wondering why we’re bringing these blocks to your attention today, and it’s true that we’ve buried the lede. A reader reached out several months ago, wondering about 2321 and 2323 Madison Sq., a pair of homes with an unusual condition on the garden block. As we suggested in the title of the post, it looks like 2323 Madison Sq. is giving a thumbs up to anyone that happens to be walking past the home.
There are actually two different things going on here that are of note. First and most obvious, there’s an awful pilot house that goes right up to the front of the property line for 2323 Madison Sq., disrupting the flow of the block and sticking out like a, uh, sore thumb. The other detail that you might have noticed is that the 2321 Madison Sq. is a three-story home that seems to have an overrun onto the roof of 2323 Madison Sq. that extends several feet. In fact, the extension of the third floor runs the entire length of the pilot house and we frankly couldn’t figure out what was going on.
In trying to get some answers, we reached out to a former owner of 2323 Madison Sq., who shared what he learned when he bought the property over a decade ago. The extension of the third floor of 2321 Madison Sq. dates back to the 1890s, when two brothers lived in the adjacent homes. For some reason, the brother that owned 2323 Madison Sq. gave the other brother a permanent easement to build a small addition onto his roof and that easement has remained in place for all of these years. Not so many years later, either the same owner or someone else built the pilot house in order to access a rooftop chicken coop. And there it has remained for all of these years, pretty much the only regrettable architectural element on the whole block.
It sure would be great of the owner of 2321 Madison Sq. took down that pilot house, especially because there’s no roof deck on top of the home. We aren’t positive, but we’re pretty sure that they would need to go before the Historical Commission to move forward with such a plan, as the pilot house was present when the block was designated 45 years ago. While it would be a nice improvement to the block, we’re not sure why the property owner would willingly go through the process and spend the money necessary to make this happen, so we’d expect that the status quo will remain for the foreseeable future. At least everything else about this block is totally awesome.