Delorean Time Machine: Cosmopolitan Apartments

The website for the apartment building located at 221 S. 12th St. boasts the residence’s proximity to Philadelphia’s tourist-friendly historical district.  However, the building stands on a site with its own storied past.  Said past begins in the mid-19th Century, when, according to G.M. Hopkins’ 1875 Philadelphia Atlas, this location was occupied by a Young Man’s Christian Association (YMCA). 

It’s Fun to Stay at the YMCA in 1875

From Christian to Catholic, the building became home to the Philopatrian Literary Society in 1879.  The Philopatrian Hall was used as a center for Catholic-centered community activities.  The Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute describes its organization as originally founded to protect the growing demographic from ethnic violence at the hands of Protestants.  Over time, its mission evolved to include the development of the city’s Catholic School system.  The organization also outgrew its surroundings just north of 12th & Locust.  By 1892, the Philopatrian was sold to one Samuel S. White, whose dental manufacturing company was already well on its way to global success, according to Workshop Of the World.  The image below shows an ad for the burgeoning company, dated 1867.

The rapidly growing S.S. White dental concern, before its arrival at S. 12th Street, 1867

In 1898, following its purchase of the lot in question, S.S. White constructed a new 5-story structure to house its recently re-dubbed S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company.  Philadelphia Buildings provides the photo here below, dated 1899

The S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, 1899

During the ensuing years, S.S. White would actually become the largest dental manufacturing company in the world, making strides not just in the manufacture of false teeth but with dental equipment that we still use today.  This newspaper article, taken from a 1918 Saturday Evening Post article, denotes the global reach of White’s company.

S.S. White Dental Manufacturing, bringing smiles to the WWI battlefront, 1918

White’s growth was substantial enough that the company eventually added three stories to the building on 12th Street.  With the expansion, the building served as the company’s international headquarters until 1968, when White merged with chemical manufacturers, Pennwalt.  At some point over the ensuing 20 years, the Dental Manufacturing Company departed the location.  It was thus that, in 1987, the building was converted into apartments and combined with a new structure to the south and together dubbed the Cosmopolitan Apartments.  The Cosmopolitan is a residential anchor in a neighborhood today marked by hospitals and medical university facilities, and its history shines through. 

The Cosmopolitan Apartment building, 2014