University City Historical Society

Hamilton Family Estate

4000 block of Pine Street
4039, 4041 Baltimore Avenue
4000, -02, -06, -08, -10, -12, -14, -16, -18 Pine Street

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places June 22, 1979


The 4000 block of Pine Street forms one of the handsomest and best preserved mid 19th century suburban streetscapes of Philadelphia.

As an ensemble it recalls the years when West Philadelphia was the place of residence of many of the city's financial, social and professional elite. Despite the potential variety presented by three separate groups of houses, the spacing of the buildings, the underlying staccato rhythm of openings and the common materials of stucco and masonry, and the repeated motifs of porches, and bracketed cornices gives a complex unity to the block all too rarely encountered in American suburban developments.

Not only does the street survive intact, but the houses that are its constituent parts are themselves of note, 4000, 4002, 4004–6 being fine examples of their types and 4008–18 forming an important composition. Each of the buildings is in sound condition, and as more and more come into single ownership, more can be incorporated into the unified open space that links the rear yards.

Third, the 4000 block of Pine Street is a response to the mid 19th century fashion of the suburban house promulgated by Andrew Jackson Downing and locally popularized by architects Samuel Sloan, John Riddell and later, Isaac Hobbs, whose published plans for houses of these types appeared regularly in Godey's Ladies Book. As such, the block is an important architectural precursor to the contemporary American ideal of the single family house on a tree shaded quarter lot in the suburbs. The continuing value of the houses, despite changes in architectural style, attests to the transcendent power of the suburban vision. On the other hand, the variety created here—single and double houses, later apartment conversions—is a powerful argument for the potential vitality of the complex suburb which is all too often lacking in the conventional single class suburban development. As such, the 4000 block of Pine Street should be a profoundly telling lesson for contemporary urban planners.

Finally, the block has been the home of many of Philadelphia's leading citizens as well as those who have made significant contributions to the neighboring University of Pennsylvania. Thus, 4004 Pine Street was from 1870–1880, the residence of Lutheran minister, the Reverend Charles Krauth, a trustee of the University, and from 1868–1883, a professor of moral and mental science. He in turn sold the house in 1880 to John B. Colahan, one of the founders or the Real Estate Trust Co. and a director of the Land Title and Trust Co. Other faculty members have resided here, providing a significant link between university and community—an important connection, given the University's expansion in the past decade.

Until 1851 the property between 40th and 41st streets, Baltimore Avenue and Pine Street remained in the hands or the heirs of William Hamilton, the great 18th century proprietor of much or what is now called West Philadelphia. At that time, the various heirs were found in England and the United Stales and the block was assembled as a single property by John E. Newman for Nathaniel B. Browne, who sold the block to Philadelphia merchant Jacob Knorr, a descendent of the builder of the Chew mansion, Cliveden, in Germantown. Knorr, in turn, broke the block into house lots in 1852 and sold the eastern and western portions subject to the condition that "substantial stone or brick buildings" be erected. He retained, presumably for his own use, a large property in the middle with frontages on both Pine Street and Baltimore Avenue.

Of particular interest are the later land transactions, all of which involved an owner in the building trades. The eastern end was acquired in 1852 by Thomas Allen, a plasterer; the middle portion in 1863 by Edwin Rafsnyder, a carpenter builder and a member of a family whose members were generally in the building trades, and the western piece was owned in 1860 by James D. Shaw who was variously listed as a plasterer and a builder. Presumably each had a role in the design process, accounting for the stylistic differences from one project to the next.

The earliest houses were erected at the east end of the block by plasterer Thomas Allen. A handsome stuccoed symmetrical Italianate villa was built at 400 South 41st Street. It was a typical center hall plan villa with a heavy cornice and a large belvedere giving the facade its distinction. The next house, 4000 Pine Street, was sold by Allen to Philip Duffy in 1859 but was complete enough in 1855 for an insurance survey to describe it as "a fancy brick dwelling rough cast on the exterior…" The Duffy house is cruciform in plan with a projecting front wing containing the parlor surrounded on three sides by a spacious porch (altered, c. 1910 to meet turn of the century classical taste); the cross bar contained entrance and a stair on one side and the dining room on the other. In the rear were the kitchen and the servant spaces of the house. Paired brackets, window details and the plan suggest Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan, whom Harold Cooledge finds working in the region, for Thomas Allen and was presumably responsible for 400 S. 40th and 4000 and 4002 Pine.

The last of the houses erected In the 1850s is now numbered 4002 and was constructed between 1852 when the property was acquired by merchant Thomas White and prior to 1856 when it was sold to widow Louisa Rohr. Sitting back on its high lawn, 4002 is an exceptionally gracious three story Italianate residence, with a subtle projection that accentuates the symmetry while denoting the entrance. Three horizontal decorative zones give added interest to the facade—on the first floor a lacy cast iron porch, on the second floor, bracketed, ornamental window heads, and crowning the whole, a heavy bracketed cornice. Internal finishes have been largely retained from the Rohr days.

The next group of houses to be erected were those at the western end of the property, on the land acquired by John C. Mitchell. He sold the property to James D. Shaw, a builder who presumably designed the houses numbered 4008,10,12,14,16,18 on Pine Street and 403 and 05 on South 41st Street. Of particular note is the compositional system that links the Pine Street houses beyond the usual devices of material, decorative detail and form. Here a central symmetrical flat roofed double Italianate villa is flanked by double villas, each of which is flat roofed on the outer units and gable roofed on the unit nearest to the center. The result is an overall symmetry that is uncommon in Philadelphia suburban development.

As befits their less pretentious scale and finish, for examples, the jig-sawed gingerbread decorations of the porches, the interiors are relatively plain with standardized newel posts and balusters, and plain fireplaces. Because their scale has been attractive to several generations, these have remained mostly single family houses, and as a result have been modernized as tastes changed. For example, 4014 was given some colonial revival alterations, columned porch, columned fireplaces, and a heavy mahogany door around 1908, and then in the 1930s received a handsome Mercer tile library fireplace. Similarly, 4018 Pine Street was embellished with an oval, baroque framed window by architects Cope and Stewardson who were then engaged in designing the buildings of the neighboring University of Pennsylvania. These are all stuccoed houses, with simple wood exterior trim, brackets, and large front porches.

The last of the double houses to be erected were 4004 and 06 on Pine Street, and an identical double to the south, fronting on Baltimore Avenue. These towered brownstone residences with "stick style" porches were built on the land which Jacob Knorr had held until it was sold at sheriff's sale to Clarence H. Clark in 1861. He in turn transferred the land to Edwin Rafsnyder who built the houses in 1863–4. Marble fireplaces, dark stained balusters and massive newel posts, and heavy mol dings around doors and windows give a feeling of substance and quality to these houses and mark the transition from the unpretentious pre-Civil War villas to the greater elaboration, conspicuous cost and individualism of post war Victorian design. Together, these houses form a unified suburban streetscape, preserving the sense of the street when West Philadelphia was an affluent middle class suburb.

Buildings contributing to the quality of the district:

Buildings not contributing to the district: none

Known architects:

400 South 40th, 4000 Pine and 4002 Pine were probably the work of Samuel Sloan who also designed the house at 400 South 41st Street as well as other houses in the University of Pennsylvania area.

This National Register Nomination was researched and prepared by George E. Thomas.

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