Recently Demolished Buildings on Lombard Street Had a Fascinating History

Over the weekend, we told you that a collection of buildings at 19th & Lombard were nearly demolished, and plans for ten new luxury homes were in full swing. After seeing that story, a reader sent us an email detailing the surprising history of these now-vanished buildings. He pointed us to the book Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, which has a couple of pages dedicated to telling how these structures were built.

Former view from the corner

Buildings along Lombard Street are now gone
According to the reader email, these apartments were constructed in the 1940s by Pearl and Benjamin Mason. A poor couple, they won $150K in a sweepstakes, which is equivalent to about $2.5M in today's dollars. Most of their winnings were invested in the construction of several apartment buildings on the corner of 19th & Lombard, which was at that time the end of Center City and the beginning of low-income South Philly. These apartments were intended to be affordable housing for African Americans. According to this reader, many African Americans were unable to get decent housing in those years, and it remained a terrible struggle until open housing laws were passed in the 1960s. So these apartments were a wonderful housing opportunity for people who were previously unable to find a decent place to live.
Over the years, the neighborhood has changed dramatically. Rather than being located on the edge of Center City, this corner is now on the edge of the middle of Center City, and homes nearby are selling for millions. It's our understanding that the apartments here had become rather run-down in recent years, and that this turned into a case of the land being worth far more than the buildings that sat upon it. Still, it's fascinating to hear about the history of this apartment complex, and peer into a very different time in our city's history.