Landmark Philly Dollhouse 450K

photoAS READERS OF THIS BLOG KNOW, I have a great fondness for diminutive antique row houses, whether part of a mews (a row of converted stables or carriage houses) or just working- class homes along a narrow alley. They’re often coveted for their cuteness, and there’s none cuter than Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, Philadelphia, an intact, double-sided row of two dozen 18th century brick houses with multi-paned windows, dormers, wood shutters, and other Colonial details, including a few still-extant mirrors attached to the shutters on the upper floor, projecting a few inches over the street.

Elfreth’s Alley is a National Historic Landmark and the oldest continuously inhabited residential street in the United States, as you will hear many a group-herding tour guide say. There’s a museum in two adjoining houses — the only two open to the public — where for a $5 donation you can poke into several evocative rooms and hear stories of how families with seven or eight children managed to live in such tight quarters and maybe run a dressmaking business out of the front room besides.

One of the most frequently asked questions on Elfreth’s Alley is “Do people really live here?” Yes, they do. Right now, #130, top, is on the market for 450K, and has been for a few months. The whole well-documented story of the 7-room, 1,196-square-foot house, built in the 1740s, and its inhabitants, is here. The listing agent is Edward Gay, (215) 563-6724.

A similar house two doors down at #134 sold just last month for 420K. Check this link for its sales price history. For a little house of the 18th century, it hasn’t done badly for itself in the 21st.



More Philly (Much More)

Sunflowers, 1887

I DIDN’T GO TO PHILADELPHIA last week just to walk its cobbled alleys and take pictures of cute houses. I went to see my son and his girlfriend in Fishtown, and to catch the van Gogh exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, above, before it closes May 6. Full of rarely-seen paintings from his last four fevered years, gathered from around the world, the van Gogh (despite the terribly long line to get in, even with timed tickets) did not disappoint.

Nor did the city itself. I was with my indefatigable sister; together we covered half a dozen neighborhoods, including Old City, Society Hill, Rittenhouse Square, and Italian Market, in the space of two days. There seems no end of interesting buildings in Philadelphia, or of the fascinating things you can glimpse through iron gates and discover inside building lobbies.

Paid my first visit to the recently opened Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum, above, a decorative arts annex with several galleries carved into its remodeled interior. Detail, below, of its impressive Art Deco doors.

 ‘Great Coats,’ above, is one of several fun shows ongoing in the Perelman Building, along with 20th century photography and furniture, and fiber arts inspired by the botanical world.

The view from our 7th floor room at the Alexander Inn, above.

Behind an 18th century house museum (all of three rooms) on Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, the oldest continuously inhabited street in the U.S.

Above, Franklin Fountain, an old apothecary shop turned ice cream parlor in Old City, trying to make scaffolding a festive feature.

Mysterious building, above, in Old City, presently vacant but… what potential!

Self-portrait with iPhone at Anthropologie’s flagship store, in an over-the-top mansion on Rittenhouse Square.

The horse’s head on a brick building off Rittenhouse Square probably signifies its earlier use as a stable.

Tony townhouse near elegant Rittenhouse Square.

On Day 2, we had brunch at Sabrina’s in the Italian Market district, where produce and other food stalls are arrayed on the sidewalk underneath corrugated awnings. Italian Market signage, above and below.

Later, we strolled through Society Hill, below, admiring brickwork, shutters, and window boxes and peeking through gates at gardens filled with tidy boxwoods (that’s the garden of the late 18th century Powell House, below). Society Hill was where, in the 1950s, the preservation movement took hold and the revival of Philadelphia’s derelict vintage housing stock began.

Below, Philadelphia’s most extraordinary hidden treasure: an early 20th c. wall mural rendered in colored glass by L.C. Tiffany Studios, after a painting by Maxfield Parrish. It’s in the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Building on Washington Square, open to all.

Valencia: Historico Centro


I’M IN VALENCIA, SPAIN, city of parks and paella, of rich and tangled history, with many outstanding architectural remnants thereof.


Valencia has 300 days of sunshine a year. Yesterday was not one of them. But gray though it was, it suited a walk from our hotel, the SH Valencia Palace, for some preliminary exploration.


My small group of travel journalists is here during a high point in Valencia’s calendar: the five-day Fallas festival, Europe’s largest street party. Our guide, Vito, told us it dates back to medieval times, when carpenters would gather and burn wood scraps in honor of St. Joseph at the end of the winter season. The piles became bigger and more elaborate over the centuries, morphing eventually into sculptural creations.



These days, 400 organizations spend some 10 million euros creating papier mache and polystyrene sculptures with the kitschy appeal of Disney animation figures, some fifty feet tall, and some satirical (there’s one of Barack Obama I have yet to see).



These ‘fallas,’ as the sculptures are called, will be burned in a culminating event this weekend; meanwhile, marching bands, costume parades, and  fireworks are already in full swing, and the city is packed with visitors.

I am here primarily to see the architecture, and I’m not disappointed. Valencia tore down its old city walls in the 1860s and expanded beyond them along broad boulevards. Elegant apartment buildings went up in the city’s own brand of early modernism — somewhere between Nouveau and Deco, sometimes with a bit of baroque thrown in.


The area called Ciutat Vella, or Old City, is studded with monuments of all periods, including the Silk Exchange, or La Lonja, below, a late 15th century Gothic hall where merchants met and traded, with twisting columns on the interior and gargoyles along the roofline. Recently restored, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s spectacular.


Two amazing early 20th century market halls, made of iron and decorated with mosaics in the city’s characteristic ‘Modernismo’ style, bracket the Old City area — one still used for produce and foodstuffs, the other now housing craft stalls.


Mercado Central, one of Europe’s largest ongoing daily food markets, above




Mercado de Colon and details, above

We also peeked into the city’s cathedral which has a Gothic dome, Romanesque door, and ornate Renaissance chapels inside.


It’s a lot to take in, especially with the distractions of Fallas, and there’s plenty more to come.


Playing Tourist in Philly


The brand-new LeMeridien in Center City

TODAY BEGAN WITH COFFEE AND A CROISSANT at the Reading Terminal Market, an indoor foodie paradise the likes of which no city should be without (though I know of no other such place anywhere) — scores of stalls, from butchers and bakers to candlestick makers, literally. There are outposts of old-school Italian bakeries, Amish cheese makers, stalls selling Provençal linens and beeswax scented candles, handmade chocolates and unusual flowers — everything varied and fresh and reasonably priced.


We stopped in to the Wood Turning Center in Old City, a unique gallery whose current exhibition, “Magical Realism,” features a major work, above, by Randall Rosenthal, my neighbor in Springs — one of Randy’s extraordinary, carved-from-one-piece sculptures. This one is a creative jumble of pads and notebooks, so realistically carved and handpainted you could well mistake it for the real thing.


Then Nancy and I drove 30 miles south into Delaware’s Brandywine River Valley and spent the afternoon at Winterthur, above, the well-known 200-acre estate belonging to Henry Francis DuPont. His 175-room mansion is crammed with important American furniture and antiques. It’s more museum than historic home (H.F. removed bathrooms and kitchens to make more room for the display of objects). The interior of the house, which was built in the late 1800s and twice added on to before H.F.’s  death in 1969, is intentionally a pastiche of styles, with little architectural integrity of its  own. A fanatic collector, DuPont salvaged moldings and paneling and floorboards, even staircases, from various sources, composing some rooms in Federal style, others in Colonial fashion, and so on.


For me, the highlights of our hour-long intro tour of just two of the seven floors were the rooms with wraparound scenic wallpaper — one with Chinese vernacular scenes of the 1700s, above — and the big blowsy flower arrangements, specifically required by H.F. in his will.

We took a tram tour of the grounds, which are gorgeous — all rolling hills and meadows with grazing sheep and ancient cherry trees and sycamores. As an arboretum, Winterthur is unsurpassed, but overall, the experience paled in comparison to yesterday’s exhilarating visit to Chanticleer.

Returning to Philly in the late afternoon, we drove up to Fishtown for a look around, and had a beer at Standard Tap (I’m not much of a beer drinker, but the beers at this place are all local and on draft). We had dinner, on my son Max’s recommendation, at Southwark in Queen Village, a civilized change from the noise and madness we encountered the night before at El Vez, Steve Starr’s gimmicky, wildly popular Mexican restaurant in Center City.


We’re camped at Le Meridien, a sleek two-week-old hotel in a 10-story Georgian Revival building that has been done up by the Starwood chain in mod Eurostyle, top, above, and below. It’s fun walking into the lively lobby bar and reception area, where the building’s original carved decoration is set off by crisp 21st century furnishings, dramatic lighting, and abstract art. The hotel’s location couldn’t be more central — it’s right behind City Hall and next to the park with Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture.


I’m looking forward to tomorrow: a visit to several small private gardens in the Mt. Airy section, where I’ve never been (participants in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program), and a final stop at Greensgrow Farms in Kensington on the way back up 95, where I hope to find some out-of-the-ordinary annuals.

I ♥ Philadelphia


Thomas Bond, physician, 1712-1784

I’M IN PHILADELPHIA at the moment, in the breakfast room, below, of the Thomas Bond House, a delightful small hotel in Old City. The building dates from 1769, and I’m in my element, taking in the worn pine floors, 12-over-12 windows, toile de jouy wallpaper, Windsor chairs, etc. I’m a sucker even for the hokey details like electrified candlesticks in all the windows.




The Bond House is across the street from another of my favorite Philly places, which would be exceedingly corny if it wasn’t done so very well. City Tavern, below, is a painstaking re-creation of the pub/inn where George, Ben, and the rest spent many happy hours, on its original site.


That’s where I went yesterday for a late lunch (“midday fare”) after I concluded the business that brought me here: meeting with a contractor about interior repairs in my Queen Village building, following major roof failure during last month’s rainstorms, and welcoming a new tenant in Old Kensington.

I love to sit in a corner booth at the authentically underlit City Tavern, eating cornbread-encrusted oysters and sipping a citrus-y pale ale from Alexander Hamilton’s own recipe, served by waitstaff in bonnets or breeches who say “Good afternoon” rather than “Hey, what can I get ya?”


Today I’ll try for about the 5th time to get into the elusive Bishop White House, above, a fully furnished house of the 1780s run by the National Park Service. When I called yesterday for information, I was told its opening was ‘contingent upon staff.’

Happily, the Colonial garden at Walnut and 4th, below, is always open.