Nearly Untouched 1829 Townhouse in Historic Center City Philadelphia $550K


IT’S ALMOST BEYOND BELIEF, that a grand 1829 townhouse like this, now on the market (<- Sotheby’s listing with many more photos) for only $550K in a primo Philly neighborhood, should remain in such antique condition to the present day.

Not that the owner of 31 years, a craftsman, didn’t put a lot of work into it. He did, even hand-laying slate tiles on the pitched roof.

29175352_bigThe current condition reminds me of the Dennis Severs House , which I once toured n Spitalfields, London, and which was never even electrified — this Philly house has much new wiring and plumbing — or the aesthetic of designer John Dorian’s New York apartment, where cracked plaster and scuffed wide plank floors were cherished, not renovated into oblivion.

Can you imagine granite countertops and a marble bath in this house? Sheetrock walls and recessed lights? Horrors. Sacrilege! Someone buy it, please, and live in it the way it is — or don’t live in it, just let it be. It’s a perfect house to do nothing to.

I’m sort of kidding. I would need to undertake some restorative plasterwork of the walls and ceilings, and there’s only one half-bath operational at present. No doubt one could sink millions into it. On the other hand, look at the asking price.


recent post on Curbed Philly says the house was built by Joseph and Eliza Shoemaker, Jr., who used the ground floor as a drug store.

It’s at 1221 Pine Street on the corner of Camac Street in the Center City neighborhood of Washington Square Park. It’s over 2,600 square feet, with six bedrooms. Only one half-bath currently functions; another full bath is almost ready to go.

The house is zoned RSA-5 for residential or mixed-use, with a historic designation the requires consulting with the city’s Historic Commission.

“Restore to historic grandeur”? Maybe. I like it the way it is.


More description gleaned from the Sotheby’s listing:

City records report 2,643 square feet, but the house could be over 3,000 if you count the basement was dug out and expanded top floor.
The exterior has two working gas lanterns, brick sidewalks and an iron fence.
The home has four entrances on both Pine and Camac Streets. The first floor has an entry vestibule and three large rooms with 10-12′ ceilings.
The second floor has three rooms with two fireplaces, one marble. The third floor has three rooms, one with fireplace, and the fourth floor has one large room with a fanlight window and a door leading to the roof.
The basement has been dug out, with high ceilings and a sidewalk entrance.
There are gas lines for some ceiling and wall fixtures.
The previous homeowner installed some new wiring and plumbing. There is one working half bath and a full bath will all new plumbing, but the water is not on to test it. There are two other bathroom spaces that have been roughed in.


Outdoor Shower of My Dreams & Other Home Improvements


AS THE SUMMER OF ’16 fades into memory (say it isn’t so!), I’m taking stock of what I’ve accomplished and trying to savor those accomplishments, instead of feeling, as usual, that I haven’t done enough.

By far the best and most ambitious thing I have to show for the season is a fabulous 5’x5′ outdoor shower designed and built by Max Greenberg of Works Progress, a young Philadelphia craftsman I happen to have given birth to.

I had had a generous platform built earlier in the summer, below, right outside my back door, and the shower plumbed against the outside back wall of the house, with a big rainhead showerhead, before construction of the enclosure began. (Yes, yes, I know… now that there’s a reason to go out back, I have to paint that side of the house. It’s never-ending.)

We went wood-shopping here in East Hampton for clear red cedar (cost a fortune, worth every penny). Then Max and his friend Curtis, working partly under a tent in pouring rain, constructed the shower, with slatted segments for ventilation and a fitted interior, in just two days.

An outdoor shower enhances the beach-house experience like nothing else.


Earlier in the summer, a friend helped me insert some cedar logs and railroad tiles into a sloping wood-chip path, below, to make climbing easier and prevent all the wood chips from ending up at the bottom of the hill when it rains hard — a definite functional improvement.


I also had a Suffolk County water line run from the road to the house, so I’m no longer dependent on my private well, wondering the water is really OK to drink.

That was a disruptive day-and-a-half, involving the invasion of a backhoe (remarkably, they maneuvered skillfully around all my plantings) and the digging of three enormous deep holes, two within the property line and one outside, to snake the new water line to my pump under the deck.

The water pressure is great, but now I’ll have to pay for water, something I didn’t think of before (duh).


I then had to repair the damage made to the soil, as the backhoe had turned over massive piles of orange-y dirt in three places. (Not that the quality of my soil is so great. In fact, when I realized I have only a few inches of decent topsoil over driest sand, I’m amazed I’m able to grow as much as I can).

02Outside the fence, stretching along about 150′ of roadside, I decided to plant a 6′-wide swath of evergreen ground cover called purple wintercreeper, at the suggestion of Brooklyn-based landscape architect Kim Hoyt.

(Those are not my initials on the photo at left; it stands for Classy Groundcovers, the name of the Georgia mail-order company they came from.)

I ordered 500 bare-root plants and spent two days in early September putting in 350 of them, using a combination of bulb digger, trowel and Japanese hori hori knife to dig the holes. Then, in severe pain from two days of crouching and kneeling, I called in reinforcements to plant the last 150.


To address the damage to the area just inside my entry gate, which had been a natural path through soft gray beach sand, I decided to avail myself of the free scallop shells some seafood operation had piled at the local dump, a wonderful resource where compost, mulch and wood chips are also available to residents.

I’d used scallop shells whole as a decorative mulch in one small area, but now I decided to use them in lieu of gravel, crushed, as the early Americans did (you can see them at Williamsburg, Virginia, used as path material between raised planting beds).

Dumping about 10 buckets of lightweight scallop shells, then stomping on them, was simple and rather fun, but whether it was a solution to anything, or whether I’ll be able to live with the look of it, remains to be seen. The jury is still out on the aesthetics of that one.

Hopefully they’ll bleach in the sun and mellow over the winter to look more organic, and I ought to plant something along the sides, perhaps. Right now, “It’s… crunchy,” is the best one friend could come up with upon seeing my new scallop shell path. That it is.



Summer of Sunsets


LIVING A SIX-MINUTE WALK from a west-facing bay beach on the East End of Long Island, N.Y., I’ve become something of a professional sunset chaser, often with wine glass in hand.

The sunsets here are particularly gratifying. I’ve learned you can’t tell beforehand how spectacular a sunset will be, and that the colors only grow more vivid after the sun dips below the horizon, reaching peak saturation about 20 minutes later, and then beginning to fade.

Since last May, I’ve missed very few sunsets, from the fair-to-middling to the wowie-kazowie. Here, a few of the latter.

May 15


June 10


June 15


June 16


July 10


July 26


August 26


September 2


September 11 (Montauk)


September 20 & 21