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1600 Callowhill

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Cartouche on eastern side of building 
1812 is the date of founding of the C. C. Knight Company.
1909 is the date of completion of the 1600 Callowhill building.

This past December saw the opening of 1600 Callowhill, 95 apartments in a building on both the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places. It is one of the few large buildings in the Baldwin Park neighborhood to survive the failed Franklin Town project of the 1970s. The history of the building is kindly mentioned on the 1600 Callowhill website, and this post will explore a little further.

In the 19th century, iron, railroads, and coal ruled the Baldwin Park neighborhood, with massive brick buildings turning out the machines of the industrial age, along with the thick haze of burning coal.

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View looking east from just north of 16th and Callowhill Streets, 1896.
The Callowhill Cut was being made to submerge the surface rail lines.
Note lettering at top of the building on the bottom left. This was the Edwin Harrington Machine Shop at 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue. It would move ten years after this photo to the southeast corner of 17th and Callowhill and eventually become today's Lofts at Logan View Apartments.

The Bromley map from 1895 below shows the intersection of 16th and Callowhill Streets as the left intersection.  The Whitney Car Wheel Works is at the NW corner, there making wheels for railroad cars, not automobiles. The Continental Market is the present site of 1600 Callowhill on the SW corner. On the SE corner was a market and money lender and on the NE corner was the Pennsylvania Warehouse Company. The market and warehouse are seen in the two images below from the same year, 1894.

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Detail from 1895 Bromley map here.
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SE corner 16th and Callowhill, 1894.
The building on the far right bears the name Continental Market at its top, but this building's days are numbered.
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Pennsylvania Warehouse Company, 1894, NE corner 16th and Callowhill.
This is now a surface parking lot with its own history.

In 1909 the C. C. Knight Metal Works had built and moved into a new building at 1600 Callowhill. Like many of the foundries in the neighborhood, much of its output contributed to the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The Knight company preceded Baldwin and was a Philadelphia mainstay since it was founded by Joseph Knight in 1812. The business passed to his son, C. C. Knight, and then to his son, another Joseph Knight. The same year the 1600 Callowhill building was completed this Joseph Knight, the last of the Knights in the business, died at age 38 of typhoid fever. The eastern gable of the building contains a cartouche with the date of the founding of the business, 1812, and also the date of completion of the building, 1909.

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Photo from 1898 showing the building of the C. C. Knight metalworks prior to its move to our neighborhood. It was at 2nd and Vine Streets.
(Photo from Engelhardt, George Washington, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, The Book of Its Bourse & Co-operating Bodies, Philadelphia, Lippincott Press, 1898-99., p. 268)
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Detail from Bromley map of 1909 showing new uses for buildings at the intersection of 16th and Callowhill.

After the death of Joseph Knight, two employees of the business, Samuel S. McCormick and Edwin L. Parry, acquired a portion of the building to stay in the iron and steel business. Other factors, however, affected the business. The Baldwin Works initiated a slow move to Eddystone in 1906, allowing unlimited expansion from its 14-acre site in the city. Baldwin was the major client of Knight. In addition, the Panic of 1907 caused a major recession and stocks dropped by 50%. The C. C. Knight Company was liquidated. The building was then acquired by Louis Bergdoll as a site to build his race cars. He already had a car manufacturing site at Broad and Wood Streets, and he owned a major taxi service in Philadelphia. Louis was the grandson of Ludwig Bergdoll, the founder of the brewery whose buildings became the Brewery Condominiums at 28th and Parrish. He was the good son, when compared to notorious brother and draft-dodger Grover Cleveland Bergdoll. Two other near-neighborhood connections to the Bergdoll boys: both grew up in the still-existing mansion at 22nd and Green Streets; and the 1911 Wright Brothers Model B biplane in which Grover got into so much trouble is on display at The Franklin Institute. Look up in the Franklin Air Show Exhibit.


Louis Bergdoll's car business went bankrupt in April of 1913. He was involved in bankruptcy lawsuits for the next 13 years, concluding with a United States Supreme Court ruling in 1926. After the 1920 treason trial of his brother Grover, Louis changed his surname to Bergson.

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At least the name on the car lived on (credit)
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The short-lived Louis J. Bergdoll car plant circa 1910
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Detail from Bromley map of 1922 showing the intersection.  I am not sure what the "Factory Lofts" refers to, whether apartments or warehouse units, but I suspect the latter in 1922. The "COAL POCKETS" in the upper left will be photographed in 1928 and 1955 in the three images below. 
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Aerial view of Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928, ten years before its demolition.
1600 Callowhill is seen at far right middle with water tower on the roof. The coal pockets are just left (north) of what is now The Lofts at Logan Square. These open bins will later be made into cylindrical silos.
The angled bridge over the Callowhill Cut between 16th and 17th Streets, to the left of the coal bins, still exists and is the last remnant of William Sellers' machine shop. (credit)
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View from NE corner of 16th and Callowhill looking west in 1955. The coal pockets, now in silos, loom large just beyond the billboard, and the industrial buildings in the future Baldwin Park loom larger to the right.
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Alternate 1955 view from SE corner of 16th and Callowhill looking west. 1600 Callowhill on left, cylindrical Reading RR coal pockets on right. The granary appears just under One Way sign.

Back to the chronology: by 1917 the building was used by the Lees Company of Norristown to manufacture yarn. In the 1920s the building served as a warehouse, and then sat vacant until the Middishade Clothing Company, founded in 1899, acquired the building in 1929. The construction of the Ben Franklin Parkway had required demolition of numerous textile and carpet factories in the neighborhood, and Middishade took advantage of the skilled and available work force.

Middishade specialized in men's blue serge suits. In the United States seventy per cent of suits sold in the 1940s and 1950s were this style, becoming popular clothing as well as symbols of post-WWII dreams and conformity, as heard on radios in an Irving Berlin song from 1945 and a Cab Calloway song from 1946, respectively. The suits were off the rack and cost about $35, eventually leading the Middishade factory to open up a retail outlet through a constructed faux-granite southeast entrance to the building. 

In the 1930s through the 1950s, Middishade took a page from Henry Ford's business book: You can have any ready-to-wear suit you want, as long as it is a blue serge. Serge was a type of woolen weave. Philadelphia's own historic Saturday Evening Post (coming up on its bicentennial or tricentennial, depending on your view of its origin story) was used frequently for Middishade ads.

Middishade vacated the building in 1986. It was converted into office space and occupied by a branch of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services until it was forced to vacate by the sale of the building in December 2016 to Greenwich, Connecticut, based Ivy Realty. Sale price: $11 million. The 1987 placement on the National Register of Historic Places (see 36-page nomination form here) made it eligible for federal tax credits for redevelopment, and in the same year it was placed on the more protective Philadelphia registry (as 352 North 16th Street). The building, just opened for its new use in December 2018, includes 95 apartments (studio, one, and two bedroom), 33 parking places, and 2600 square feet of ground floor retail in the southeast corner.


Photo from 2000 of the Community College of Philadelphia annex at the western corner of the 1600 Callowhill building. The arrow marks a proposed location for a video camera.

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1600 Callowhill currently.
The Alexander Apartments are to the left.
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Obviously there is no lack of self-esteem at Sixteenth and Callowhill Streets

The Baldwin Park neighborhood has seen substantial changes over the last 100 years: industry and residential removal brought on by the development of the Ben Franklin Parkway, the later Vine Street Expressway, and the Franklin Town debacle of the 1970s. The C. C. Knight building (now 1600 Callowhill), and the neighboring Harrington Hoist company (now The Lofts at Logan View) have survived the devastation gracefully and with a nod to history.

authored by Joe Walsh, January 2019
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