University City Historical Society

LaBlanche Apartments

5100 Walnut Street

Placed on the National Register of Historic Places March 7, 1985

The La Blanche Apartments reflect the second wave of housing construction in West Philadelphia brought about by the completion of the Market Street Elevated in 1907. Built in 1910 according to City Building Permit records, the building filled a growing need for respectable housing for the new middle classes. The building also stands among the first large apartment buildings to come to this City, and is a fine example of the Georgian Revival Style.

La Blanche Apartments in 1985
La Blanche Apartments in 1985
La Blanche Apartments in 1985
La Blanche Apartments in 1985

The new industrial mass production together with the building boom of the first decades of the twentieth ce ntury, provided more conveniences and better living conditions to more people than ever before. The western part of the city provided an open environment for the housing flurry, and for the new middle classes who were making their way out of the business and slum districts. Better lighting, ventilation and drainage systems allowed the apartment building to provide a respectable housing alternative for the new classes. Its acceptance came late in the City of Philadelphia which is characterized by the large majority of single houses, and whose residents' opinion of the apartment building had long been colored by memories of the slum tenement.

In the early twentieth century, West Philadelphia was considered the favored side of the Schuylkill and Philadelphia's finest examples of old large apartment houses can be found there. One of the earliest was Hamilton Court (39th & Chestnut Streets) built in 1901, which although taller than La Blanche, shares many stylistic similarities, such as projecting bays and an extensive cornice. In fact, many of the early apartment buildings in the area that did not disguise as row houses, were built in a Georgian Revival Style. Two of these, Kingscourt (36th & Locust Streets) and Brighton (52nd & Locust Streets) typify the early Georgian Revival type with their simple massing, projecting stacked bays and extensive cornices. These buildings share a friendly and approachable, yet dignified quality that is made possible by the relaxed eclecticism of the early Georgian Revival.

La Blanche differs from the typical early Georgian Revival apartment building in the area in its abundance of recessed niches with balconies and Palladian windows which are added to the basic type. Elliptical arched niches as well as Palladian windows are details which can be found on other buildings in the area, but never in such an arrangement or abundance. In this way, La Blanche is a fine example of creative eclecticism in a revival style.

Of the apartment buildings listed in a 1915 Real Estate brochure of the neighborhood, roughly half of them remain today. The Georgian Revival continued in apartment buildings after 1915, but these had a more formal and more institutional quality. At the expense of the expression of the individual unit with the use of many repeated details, to the grander expression of the whole with fewer and more centralized detailing, these stylistic differences reflect the more academic turn of the style after 1915.

The La Blanche Apartments, with its Georgian Revival detailing, well embodies the dreams and pretensions of the new classes who were successfully making their way in society. Its details, including the pompous doorways, deep recessed porches and elegant Palladian doors opening onto balconies, emulate a wealthy house of the period. Hidden behind the forms of the past, the progressive technical developments in the building industry can be found in the use of new industrial materials. At La Blanche, galvanized sheet iron and cast stone allowed for a generous indulgence of detailing at an economically feasible cost. Few apartment buildings in the area can boast of such a display as La Blanche.

The Architects of La Blanche, Anderson and Haupt (Julius J. Anderson and Max Haupt) designed numerous industrial and commercial buildings, as well as housing and churches in Philadelphia and surrounding regions, most of which were built in a revival style. Both men had varied backgrounds including architecture, engineering and practical trades work. Their buildings show both a competence in construction techniques, and a knowledge of architectural detail including classical window and door ornamentation and revival style. Their Hebrew Free School of 1909 at 314 Catherine Street in South Philadelphia housed for a time a group of newly immigrated Russian Jews, demonstrating the Architects' awareness of, and involvement in, the need for adequate housing of ethnic groups, particularly Jews. This building, in an historic district, is currently being remodeled into condominiums. The La Blanche Apartments were one of the firm's largest and most substantial architectural commissions and afforded them the opportunity to show their ability with the Georgian Revival architectural style creatively.

The present neighborhood in which the La Blanche Apartments stand today has somewhat deteriorated, as evidenced by the cutting up of La Blanche's spacious apartments to provide cheaper housing. Despite these changes, much of the interior detailing remains, and the building's exterior remains unaffected. The apartment building stands among a sea of row houses, and breaks the monotony of the neighborhood. It well preserves the corners of an urban block, and stands as a distinct landmark in the neighborhood. It is a building which deserves to be preserved and, if well-renovated, will bring back some of the glories of the neighborhood of the past, encouraging the renewal that is starting in that neighborhood.

This National Register Nomination was researched and prepared by Mather Lippincott, Jr.

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