2000 Hamilton Street

The building on the south side of the 2000 block of Hamilton has a complicated history due to its episodic growth by additions in horizontal and vertical space. Older photos in historical archives accentuate its railroading past, but it has several distinct chapters in its story. The first three chapters have been discussed in previous articles on this website:

 

  • Land of the Lenape  circa 8000 BC-1682, discussed here

  • Land of William Penn since 1682 and Springettsbury Manor, home of his son Thomas Penn, 1732-1788 (manor destroyed by fire in 1794), as discussed here

  • Land of Robert Morris 1788-1798. He owned from 19th Street to Lemon Hill for a decade before his bankruptcy and stint in debtors' prison, as discussed here

  • Textile mill

  • Philadelphia and Reading Railroad warehouse and freight yard  1832-1937

  • Quaker Stores warehouse1937-1961

  • Hancock-Gross Plumbing supply warehouse 1961-1983

  • Rodin Place  1990-today (with ownership by P&A Associates from 1984-1990)

 

The fourth chapter belongs to a textile mill. As discussed in our article about Dalian on the Park, Philadelphia's biggest industry in the 19th century was textiles, not machine making. By 1860 the southwest quadrant of this block had multiple textile factories; the northwest quadrant had a few residences; and the western half was devoted to rail freight.

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Portion of 1796 Hills map. The orange rectangle represents the current site of 2000 Hamilton.
The shaded rays represent the slopes of hills. Springettsbury Manor is on the low hill at center left at the current site of 2000 Hamilton Street. Bush Hill to its east was on Buttonwood Street between 17th and 18th Streets. The pond between them is the approximate site of Baldwin Park today.
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Portion of 1860 map
21st Street runs  vertically on the left; Hamilton Street horizontally at top.
There is a small cotton mill (Washington Mill) and a few residences in pink (pink represents brick construction) on the western half of the block. The railroad depot is on the eastern half. Pennsylvania Avenue is at grade with multiple tracks.

 
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Portion of Hexamer map from 1867 showing more detail on the western half of the block between 20th and 21st. A four-story textile mill and dye-house occupy the site
 

Chapter Five: Reading Railroad Freight Yard

As industry boomed west of Broad Street in the second half of the 19th century, imports to and exports from businesses that were not immediately adjacent to the railroad right-of-way needed a freight depot. The one at 20th and Hamilton Streets became one of the busiest. It had a huge railroad yard at grade, which in 1898 was dropped twenty-four feet below grade into what is known today as the Callowhill Cut. The true extent of this yard is not apparent today because the Target parking lot was expanded above the yard and the warehouses were expanded into the yard, as discussed below. 

By 1937, most of the Baldwin Locomotive Works buildings were torn down. The Bement machine shop was removed to make way for the Fairmount Parkway. The Sellers had moved most of their large machine manufacture to their Midvale Steel site in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia. The demise of heavy industry in the neighborhood meant a diminished need for the freight yard.

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1894 photo looking west from 20th Street along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The bridge-like structure is an electric crane over the tracks. You can see the pulley system just above the heavy pallet to be lifted.
The building in the back left is the Caledonia Worsted Mills, at 21st and Pennsylvania; it is shown in an 1892  Hexamer sketch in the inset.
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1894 photo with opposite view, looking southeast along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Note the locomotive turntable.
To the left of the stove pipe can be seen the statue of William Penn atop City Hall. Penn's head was lifted into place on November 29, 1894.
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1894 sketch looking west from 20th Street along Pennsylvania Avenue.
After the 1898 dig that lowered the tracks, the area from Hamilton to Pennsylvania (the Callowhill Cut) was below street grade. The same large expanses below grade occurred between 18th and 17th Streets and between 15th and Broad Streets.
In this sketch the granary is in the lower left and the Preston Retreat is on the right.
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1901 map showing the turntable shifted one block west after the tracks were placed 24 feet below grade in 1898.
The site of the turntable in this map is now covered completely by the 2100 Hamilton condominiums.
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Sketch of the rail yard between 20th Street and the tunnel entrance in 1902 from here
A steam locomotive needs periodic supplies: the water towers on the left supplied the liquid water to be converted into high-pressure steam; the coal station dropped coal by gravity into the tender for use as a heat source; the ashes of burned coal would be dropped into ash pits below the locomotive; and sand would be delivered into the locomotive sand boxes to be dropped on the tracks when traction was needed.
There is a 33-page description of the Pennsylvania Avenue sewer modifications in the Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, volume 44, 1900 available here and a 100-page review of the subway and tunnel construction from the same journal volume 48, 1902, starting here.
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The 50-ton crane running parallel to Hamilton Street before the freight house, repair shop, and engine house were constructed, and before the below-grade tracks were laid down. The crane overlaps the tracks as well as Hamilton Street, allowing direct loading from rail car to road wagon. This crane was built by nearby William Sellers and Company. There were also hydraulic elevators within the freight house to move material from tracks to street level. 
During construction of the sub-grade railway, a temporary railway was set up on cobble-stoned Hamilton Street from 10th to 22nd Street, and some of the railway cars can be seen on Hamilton Street on the left in the photo. Hamilton Street was repaved with granite blocks when it was restored. The wooden granary can be seen on the right in the photo with the houses lining the east side of 20th Street in the background. Photo credit here.
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The finished rail yard 
The crane would be on the left just out of the frame. The granary is in the back right.
Photo credit here.
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Portion of 1917 Sanborn map 
There were 20 tracks running in this depression. The turntable at 2100 Hamilton would direct the locomotives and cars to the appropriate track for loading, unloading, and coaling. The letter E within the freight depot represents an open elevator. The ramp up to what was the Knickerbocker Ice Company would start in the lower left. The two tracks in the lower right supply the Bement machine shop. The Railroad YMCA in the upper left was for between-shift shut-eye for the railroad workers.
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1927 aerial view from the west of the actual buildings in the Sanborn sketch above.
Photo credit and high resolution here.

In the Sanborn sketch above, the freight depot parallels Hamilton Street and is about 308 feet long and 33 feet wide (not counting the overhanging eaves). Evidence of this 1898 structure is easily found on the three levels of self-storage units that run below today's retail level on Hamilton Street.

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Photo of the north wall from inside the lowest level, three stories below the retail level. 
This is the northern side of the retaining wall erected in 1898 when the railroad tracks were dropped below grade. These large blocks are now the foundation for the north side of Rodin Place.
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Approximately 25 feet south of the retaining wall seen in the prior photo is the southern wall of the original freight depot, seen here on the lowest level. The series of arches in this south wall would not have been blocked off when the depot was active. These arches would open up to the loading docks at the ground level of the Callowhill Cut.
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These arches seen in the hallway one floor below the retail level mark two-story windows that allowed light into the high-ceilinged second story of the freight depot. The lower half of the window is on the level below. These are directly above the larger arches seen in the above photo. The floor seen here splits the original room into two.
Self Service Storage is the tenant with the most floor space in Rodin Place. There are over 700 lockers of various sizes on the three levels below its entrance on Hamilton Street. On the second level below the entrance the lockers run all the way from 20th to 21st Streets, from below the loading dock on Hamilton to below Wawa.
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Freight stations, represented by circles, mapped along the Philadelphia and Reading line in 1920.
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Philadelphia and Reading crane capacities in 1920. 
The 20th and Hamilton freight yard had a heavy-duty crane capable of lifting 50 tons, only matched by Pier G in Port Richmond.

Chapter Six: Quaker Stores

In the 19th century outdoor food stalls evolved into neighborhood grocery stores, with 485 grocers within the original city limits of Philadelphia in 1835. These businesses, usually based in rowhomes and, if lucky, in a corner rowhome, struggled. Judging appropriate inventory was always an issue in the days before refrigeration. As discussed in our article on the Tivoli and Acme Markets, chain stores and then consolidation of chain stores began in the late 1800's. These aggregations accelerated after World War I, at which time there was roughly one retail grocer for every sixty families, or one to three grocers on every square block. Many became part of chains. Other neighborhood grocers retained their independence but joined cooperatives to enhance their buying power. Quaker City Wholesale Grocery Company was one such cooperative. It occupied most of 2000 Hamilton, functioning as a wholesale distribution center. The rest of the building was used for storing cars.

 

Quaker merged with the Unity-Frankford cooperative in 1963, and then evolved into various supermarket chains. For a brief history of grocery stores in Philadelphia, see outside article here.

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Quaker Store ad from 1937 in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Quaker City Wholesale Grocery Company warehouse was at 2000 Hamilton at this time.
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Portion of an Aero Services photo from August 1936. The bridge from Hamilton Street into the automobile storage at 2000 Hamilton can be seen shortly after its construction. The garage where Wawa is now will be built in 1939. 
The photo includes the airship Hindenburg flying along the Schuylkill River. In May of 1937 it would crash and burn in Lakehurst, New Jersey. 
(Photo credit Free Library of Philadelphia, Aero Services v14 print #17723, hi-res here)
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Portion of 1950 Sanborn insurance map
In 1927 the bulk of the structure shown in tan (tan means fireproof) was constructed.
In 1939 the private one-story garage at 21st and Hamilton (now Wawa) was built in the air space over the tracks and another story was added to the three-story reinforced concrete Quaker City warehouse running from 20th Street.  That same year the infill building in the center was constructed.
In upper left is seen the bridge from Hamilton Street allowing automobile access into the garage.
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Photo from 1947 looking north across the empty lot at 2001 Pennsylvania Avenue, the former site of the Bement machine shop. The four-story Quaker Stores warehouse is seen in the background, and behind that is the lighter-colored Preston Retreat. In 1947 the 9th District police station was just across 20th Street from the Preston Retreat, and the police vehicle maintenance shop was at 1903 Callowhill Street.
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Photo looking north circa 1955.
2000 Hamilton, when seen without the current parking lot obscuring its architecture, looks very much like the other commercial buildings in the neighborhood that were built in the early 20th century.
From left to right, 2000 Hamilton (built 1927), the American Stores Warehouse (1914), the Otis elevator building (1927), and the Baldwin Munitions Plant (1916) were all constructed between 1914 and 1927. The granary was built in 1925. Also note the building in upper left that is now the Wawa was built on columns in the air space over the rail tracks. That space has since been enclosed with two levels.
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Photo looking east at the 21st Street bridge and 2000 Hamilton in 1959.
The building on the left had been built on piers so trains could pull in beneath.
Just to the right of the granary can be seen the new police station under construction at 20th and Callowhill Streets. The parking lot that would cover over the rail yard had not yet been built.
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Southeast corner along 20th Street in 1955.
The vertical sign at right says Home of Quaker Food Markets

Chapter Seven: Hancock-Gross

(and unfortunately it really was chapter 7 for Hancock-Gross)

The Hancock-Gross Plumbing Supply Company in 1961 was located in four industrial buildings near 2nd and Chestnut Streets in the Old City section of Philadelphia. The Redevelopment Authority, in an effort to clean up that section of town, wanted to bid good riddance to large industrial operations. It arranged a swap: Hancock-Gross out of Old City and into our neighborhood. The City purchased the industrial buildings in Old City for $550,000. Hancock-Gross purchased the four-story building at 420 North 20th Street for $490,000, stretching from 20th Street almost to 21st Street, with two stories below grade and two above. Old City was spruced up and the 300 Hancock-Gross jobs stayed in Philadelphia. The City would sell the vacant industrial buildings in Old City in 1975 for $452,000. The largest building there, the Keystone Telephone Company building at 133-137 South 2nd Street, would be torn down in 1978 to make room for Welcome Park.

Hancock-Gross apparently did very well in our neighborhood, and a new addition was built at the western end of the warehouse. This had the new address of 401 North 21st Street.

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The building occupied by Hancock-Gross before moving to our neighborhood in 1961.
This impressive French Empire structure was built in 1870 and occupied by the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce before being leased to the Keystone Telephone Company in 1901. The building was abandoned in 1961 and demolished in 1978. This site is now that of Welcome Park. Photo from The Philadelphia Electrical Handbook (1904).
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A different neighborhood in this aerial view from 1962.
2000 Hamilton is in the center, before the addition to the western end. The 9th District police station is just to its south (now the Target parking lot). At top is the Franklin Motor Inn (now the site of the Dalian), and to its east is the neoclassical Preston Retreat (now the site of the City View Condos). The Acme warehouse (now the site of the Tivoli), is on the right edge of the image. The Youth Study Center (now the site of the Barnes) is on the left edge just east of the Rodin Museum. The Free Library is on the bottom left and the granary is in the center-right.
Higher resolution image is here.

 
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Sketch and caption from the Philadelphia Daily News of September 17, 1965.
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Want ad from the Philadelphia Inquirer on October 11, 1968.
Hancock-Gross was hiring in batches of 10-40 men (and for these warehouse jobs, only men) in the late 1960s. The two words "draft exempt" were a big draw in 1968. Civilian jobs considered essential to the war effort were exempted from the draft.

On September 19, 1969, a seven-alarm fire tore through the four-story Hancock-Gross building. The east wall and upper floor were destroyed, and the homes from 417 to 429 North 20th Street had to be evacuated until the fire was brought under control. This fire triggered more alarms than any other fire in our neighborhood's history.

 

In 1970 the 63,000 square feet destroyed by the fire was replaced with 75,000 square feet of reconstruction. In 1971, the 245,000 square foot complex received a major addition. In a deal helped along by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, two full floors were added to the structure at a cost of $2 million, bringing the total space to 375,000 square feet. 

By 1981 Hancock-Gross, with offices in four other states besides Pennsylvania, was in financial trouble, owing First Pennsylvania Bank more than $8 million. In 1982 the inventory within the Philadelphia building was auctioned off. At the end of 1983 First Pennsylvania Bank sold the 364,000 square foot building at 401 North 21st Street for $2.1 million. The buyer was P&A Associates, a Pennsylvania general partnership headed by Alan Cashoff and Peter Shaw.

If you are following the dollars in this discussion, one conclusion is that the City is not the most financially savvy real estate developer.

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Photo and caption from the Philadelphia Daily News of September 20, 1969.
This is the southeast corner of what is now the MANNA building. The east wall facing 20th Street is seen here collapsing; the top floor was destroyed.
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Aftermath.
From the
Philadelphia Inquirer of September 21, 1969
This view is looking northwest at the corner of the building closest to 20th and the Callowhill Cut. The metal rail along the bridge of today can be seen on the lower left of this photo. The ramp down into the Cut had not yet been built.
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This is a portion of a photo taken in 1979 during the visit of Pope John Paul II.
Just over the Free Library can be seen the logo for Hancock-Gross on their building. To the left (west) of that is the Franklin Motor Inn, now the site of the Dalian Apartments.

Chapter Eight: Another Swap

After the exit of Hancock-Gross, the building was divided up for smaller leases. At the 401 North 21st Street address, Bright Start Center and Self Service Storage moved in by 1985 and are still there. Domino's Pizza and Wawa moved into the former one-story garage in 1986 and are also still there. By 1987 there were over 20 small businesses in the complex of buildings that is now 2000 Hamilton Street.

 

The area between the Callowhill Cut and today's Pennsylvania Avenue, and between 20th and 21st Street (now Target), was an empty lot from the time the Bement machine shop was demolished for the Parkway until the police station was built in 1960 (see police station article here). There was really no connection between the lots on either side of the Cut. In 1990 Danish firm Valhal Corporation, with Sheldon Stein as president, offered $10.1 million for the six-story building at 2000 Hamilton Street. Also purchased were the air rights above the Callowhill Cut from 20th to 21st Street, with a proposal to build a 30-story residential tower (similar in siting concept to the recently erected 2100 Hamilton condos). The name of the building, up until then informally called the Channel 57 Building (see below), was changed to Rodin Place.

 

There was another part to this deal. By 1993 the 9th District station, only three decades old, was considered rundown. The proposed deal: New York-based Valhal Corporation would remodel 401 North 21st Street to accommodate a larger police station; in return, Valhal would acquire the 1-acre  former site of the police station in order to demolish the station and build a new supermarket. City council approved this deed swap in 1993. The police station moved in late 1995, the old station was demolished, and Fresh Fields supermarket opened in January 1997. In addition, the police gas pumps behind the 1960s station were moved to the northeast corner of 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue. The air rights over the Callowhill Cut were used not for a high-rise, but to build an extension of the supermarket parking lot, a ramp down into the Cut from 20th Street, and a one story extension of the supermarket that allowed a loading dock on 21st Street.

On the eastern part of the complex, at the 420 North 20th Street address, Channel 57 moved into new digs in November of 1985. That presence, and the giant number 57 on the tower in the southeast corner of the building, gave the building the informal name "the Channel 57 building" until the station moved out in 2002. The Philadelphia architecture firm KieranTimberlake moved into 420 North 20th in 2003 when Channel 57 moved out. Rite Aid has occupied the northeast corner since 2004. MANNA moved into the 420 North 20th Street address in 2017.

Both the south, north, and east facades of the complex have been redone in recent years, so that the building hides its industrial past.

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Aerial image from 1996 showing the Fresh Fields under construction after the clearing of the police station. 20th Street runs vertically on the right and 21st on the left. Notice the new ramp dropping down into the Callowhill Cut from 20th Street and the extension of the parking lot and building over the Cut.
On the bottom of this photo can be seen the Youth Study Center, a short-stay city detention center for juvenile offenders that was there from 1952 to 2009. 
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Work began in 1995 for the organic grocery Fresh Fields, which was to be a 33,000 sf superstore on the western end of the parcel at 20th and Callowhill Streets. Whole Foods acquired this competitor in June of 1996 and changed the name on the building. It was there until its move in 2016. Target now occupies the space. This 2015 photo shows the crane in back that is building the Dalian Apartments to house the larger Whole Foods (and some people).

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Hamilton Street main entrance to the upper floors in February 2022.
The retail level on Hamilton Street has two levels above and three below it. It is a six-story building.
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Building directory at the entrance on Hamilton Street in February 2022. The Ninth District Police Department had just moved out in January of 2022.

The development of this block with respect to air rights over the Callowhill Cut can be seen in conjunction with the changes that occurred at the site of 2100 Hamilton, which you can read about here

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It may go unnoticed to most shoppers at Target, but much of the building and parking lot, shown outlined in red, is built on stilts in the air space above the Callowhill Cut. It is completely open in the space below.
2100 Hamilton is under construction in the upper left of this Google Earth image. It is more narrow than the potential air space outlined in red.
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The pillars that support the Target building and parking lot are seen here from below.
An untitled Percent for Art sculpture is at the base of the ramp from 20th Street.
The colorful piece by artist David Stoltz was mounted on stone blocks from the retaining walls of the Callowhill Cut and rigged up with PVC pipes to function as a fountain. The transverse white PVC pipe seen at the top of the stones is perforated, allowing water to flow with a waterfall effect over the staggered stones. This was installed in 1999 after the police station move and the Whole Foods construction. It is covered with grime now, but the inset shows how it appeared when created by Stoltz in the 1980s. The fountain is not operating. 
authored by Joe Walsh, April 2022