University City Historical Society

The Breslyn Apartments

4624–42 Walnut Street, 201–213 S. 47th Street.

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places November 14, 1982


As a well-preserved example of a housing type that grew in popularity after about 1890, the Breslyn Apartments possess both architectural and historical significance. In its use of relatively cheap manufactured elements to express the florid Beaux-Arts style, it is a significant example of speculative housing for a middle-class clientele. Its use of rough-faced stone at the street frontages sets it apart from the smooth brick that has been the traditional building material for Philadelphia dwelling; in fact, its uncharacteristic color and texture still catch the attention of passers-by. In this respect Breslyn Apartments was a good example of architectural advertising, which, in conjunction with its rich style, lent the building an attractive aura, helping to make it a desirable, but affordable, address. Yet its scale relates well to that of its row house neighbors, preventing it from becoming an awkward, aberrant folly. It is a significant example of marrying careful investment, middle-class taste, and sensitivity to — and successful resolution of — social pretensions and the existing built environment. A large number of such buildings can be found along the main thoroughfares of West Philadelphia, but few are as striking as Breslyn Apartments.

Breslyn Apartments in 1982
Breslyn Apartments in 1982
Breslyn Apartments in 1998
Breslyn Apartments in 1998

Historically Breslyn Apartments reflect the flurry of housing construction that broke out in West Philadelphia with the completion of the Market Street Elevated rail line in 1907. Built in 1913, these buildings stood as a response to the growing middle-class demand for new, more spacious housing removed from the crowded condition of business district and immigrant neighborhoods. This architecturally pretentious development best represents an unusual and short-lived building form in Philadelphia: the three-story walk-up apartment.

Breslyn Apartments in 1998
Breslyn Apartments in 1998

The architect-builder of Breslyn Apartments adds another dimension of local significance. Frederick C. Michaelsen was an excellent example of local real-estate developers who, because they grew out of the city's builders' families and operated with modest amounts of capital, contributed to the conservation of local domestic architecture. The son of a local bricklayer turned builder, Michaelsen worked ten years with his father and as a superintendent of construction before beginning his own "contracting builder" company in 1904. This helps to explain why his buildings reflect the tradition of solid construction and conservative style.

This National Register Nomination was researched and prepared by Richard Webster.

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