Delorean Time Machine: Bonwit Teller

17th & Chestnut is among the city’s more bustling intersections.  Every retail operation that has come to occupy its southwest corner has enjoyed the early fruits of this bustling.  The location did begin its recorded history as a private residence however.  As shown in the image taken from G.M. Hopkins’ 1875 Philadelphia Atlas, 1700 Chestnut St. and its adjoining structure belonged to one Lewis Albertson.

The Lewis Albertson estate, 1875

By the early 1900s, Albertson was gone and in his place was Thommen’s Restaurant.  Thommen’s is shown here below in a 1927 photo from the Department of Records.

Thommen’s Restaurant, 1927

It was within that very same year, according to Philly.com, that New York department store chain Bonwit Teller & Co. moved its Philly location from 13th & Chestnut to 1700 Chestnut.  The high-end ladies fashion giant erected the 8-story art-deco building where the old-timey restaurant once stood.  It is shown here below, in a photo taken from Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square upon its opening in 1928.

Bonwit Teller moves to 1700 Chestnut, 1928

Bonwit Teller would become a staple of the shopping mecca that was Center City in the mid 20th Century.  It would also become a fixture in Philadelphia culture, forever achieving immortality when, in 1979, Rocky Balboa purchased his iconic silk tiger jacket within.  The Rocky II images below, borrowed from Total Rocky, show the Italian Stallion window-shopping.

Rocky parks illegally in front of Bonwit Teller, 1979

Rocky sees something he likes, 1979

Even with Rocky’s support, Bonwit Teller wouldn’t be spared the sharp downturn in fortune that felled most of Philly’s major department chains.  The declining Bonwit Teller is shown below in this photo taken from the Department of Records in 1984.

Bonwit Teller in the waning days of the Department Store Age, 1984

According to an article in Philly.com, a dispute with its landlord over lease renewal would put the department store out-of-doors in 1990.  It would not be vacant for long though.  In 1992, Daffy’s replaced the high-end department store with a more eclectic collection of affordable odds-and-ends clothing.  The building remained largely unchanged as Daffy’s held the location for the next 20 years.  The picture here below, taken from Philadelphia Magazine, shows Daffy’s during a busy afternoon in 2009.

Daffy’s and assorted Philadelphians in variously awkward poses, 2009

Like its predecessor (though far less gradually) Daffy’s would also fall into financial decline.  According to Curbed, the retailer was forced to close its doors in 2013.  Today, the building stands vacant.  However, last October, we reported that next fall will bring a new Nordstrom Rack to the well-trafficked retail location.  The building is shown here below, eagerly anticipating the arrival of its newest tenant. 

The empty Bonwit Teller building awaiting the arrival of Nordstrom Rack, 2014

 

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