University City Historical Society

Frederick A. Poth Houses

3301-11, 3315 Powelton Avenue

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places April 19, 1979

In 1890, plans were announced in the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide for the construction of seven houses on the north side of Powelton Avenue, west of 33rd Street in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia. The houses, designed by Otto Wolf for brewer and real estate developer Frederick A. Poth, were described as being brick, with brownstone trimmings, in German gothic style, with mansard roof(s), open halls, with separate entrances, hard-wood finish, and all modern interiors.

Frederick A. Poth Houses in 1979
Frederick A. Poth Houses in 1979
Frederick A. Poth Houses in 1998
Frederick A. Poth Houses in 1998

The most immediate significance of the Frederick A. Poth development houses is their importance to the streetscape of Powelton Village, a middle-class neighborhood that developed in the second half of the nineteenth century as a quasi-suburban alternative to the bustle of center city. The German gothic doubles are central to a play of architectural styles that was produced by a generation who saw vitality and beauty in the build-up of various forms and surfaces. Together with the Flemish-styled row developed by Henry Gibson and the Queen Anne row developed by Wendell and Smith, to the east, Poth's own German-styled house across the street and the large Romanesque, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival singles to the west, the Poth houses create a milieu that is characteristic both of the late nineteenth century and of the community.

Beyond their significance to the neighborhood, the houses are important to the social and architectural history of the Philadelphia region. Poth was a German immigrant who made his fortune in Horatio Alger fashion after coming to America at mid-century. As one of the founders of the Poth and Engels Brewery, he parlayed the business into one of America's largest breweries of the last century. He also engaged in various real estate development projects including a number in Powelton Village. The houses on the 3300 block of Powelton Avenue were of special importance to him, being directly across the street from his own house. They reflect both his taste and, through the German gothic style, his ethnic pride. That he chose to retain control of the properties until his death rather then sell them individually as most developers did, is indicative of his interest in the project. They were not sold by the family in fact, until 1953.

The architect of the houses also is of considerable interest. Active in the decades before and after the turn of the century, Otto Wolf was Philadelphia's chief brewery architect at a time when local breweries and their outlets abounded throughout the city. Aside from Poth, for whom he also designed a number of outlets, factories and warehouses, Wolf worked for Christian Schmidt and Sons, The Philadelphia Brewing Company and Betz Brewery. Stylistically, Wolf worked in a manner similar to Willis Hale, architect to another wealthy German immigrant, P. A. B. Widener. Both tended to work in Germanic styles and sought richly decorated surfaces, though Hale's work, for the most part, was more extreme. Wolf's design instead reflected the more controlled taste of clients such as Poth, who found merit in the values of the American middle class.

The Frederick A. Poth Houses National Register Nomination was researched and prepared by Carl E. Doebley.

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