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The Community College of Philadelphia
Part Two

The Community College of Philadelphia is Born

Our first article about CCP looked at the former businesses on the site of the current main campus. Let’s step ahead into the second half of the 20th century.

 

The Community College of Philadelphia was chartered as a city-owned public two-year college in 1965. The men's store annex of the Snellenberg’s Department Store at 34 South 11th Street became the first location of CCP, having taken out a ten-year lease from the Girard estate. The initial student enrollment was 1,200 (700 full-time), and this would grow five-fold in the next four years. This first home was considered temporary from the beginning. The United States Mint building vacated its 1600 Spring Garden Street facilities in 1969 and in 1971 the federal government gave this “excess federal property” to the City of Philadelphia. After two years of renovations, this building became the main building for CCP. 

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Snellenburg's main department store, on the southeast corner of 11th and Market Streets, as seen in 1922. When the history of CCP is presented, this photo is often shown as the first CCP building. It is NOT.

Photo credit here.

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THIS building was the first home of CCP.  This is 34 South 11th in 1965. The complete move to our neighborhood was accomplished in 1983 after the West and Bonnell buildings were finished.

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The concrete office building still stands, with Mom’s Organic Market on the street level and modern warehouse-style offices above. The concrete pillars and beams were redone and look like metal I-beams. See Phiadelphia Inquirer architectural critic Inga Saffron’s article here.

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The Gimbels warehouse at 1925 Chestnut Street was the proposed new home for CCP before the Mint building became available. This 1966 photo is from here. The building is still intact. 

As discussed in our article on the Mint Building, CCP moved into it in 1973, the first building of a planned larger campus. 

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Mayor Rizzo tests a spigot in the new science lab in the refurbished Mint Building in August of 1973. CCP President Allen Bonnell is on the left. Photo credit here.

Franklin Town Changes the Neighborhood

The Franklin Town Development Corporation (FTDC) announced in 1971 its plans, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, to clear 50 acres of land and build a new “city-within-a-city” within ten years. This planned “city” in our neighborhood extended from Vine Street to Spring Garden Street and between 16th and 20th Streets. This was a privately financed development (see the first of two articles on the website here), but needed the resources of the City of Philadelphia to use the power of eminent domain to remove the 600 residents of the neighborhood. The residents were relocated; structures were leveled; a few new structures were built; then high inflation and expensive financing put the brakes on construction. This left surface parking lots in the neighborhood for decades, some still existing. It did, however, create an opportunity for the expansion of the CCP campus.

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1971 model of Franklin Town (the very white buildings). The blue inked rectangle marks the current CCP campus. Note the new diagonal boulevard from Vine Street, terminating in a new park in the center of the development. That park was completed in 1991 and named Franklin Town Park. A citizens’ petition changed the name to Matthias Baldwin Park in 2011.

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From The Philadelphia Inquirer in June 1971. Note that pharmaceutical giant Smith Kline & French owned much of what was to become the CCP campus in 1971.

Low-income housing is often dangled by developers to get zoning clearances. In this case, the low-income housing was actually built but never achieved the 20% of residences promised by FTDC. Spring Garden Towers at 1818 Spring Garden Street has 208 units available for low and very-low-income residents over the age of 62 (or age 18 with a disability).

Realizing its financial position, the FTDC sold off land to CCP to expand the campus. In 1980, 5.5 acres near 17th and Spring Garden were purchased for $5.9 million. This site would accommodate the West and Bonnell buildings in 1983. The Lit Brothers warehouse between 17th and 18th Street was sold to CCP in 1980 and the building demolished, A new 631-car-capacity parking garage was erected at a cost of $6.1 million. Classes at 34 South 11th Street were then discontinued. All CCP classes, with 15,000 students, were then consolidated at the main campus. Tuition at the time was $912 per year. The Winnet Building and Athletic Center were added in 1991, the Pavilion Building in 2011, and the Center for Business and Industry in 2003. The next series of photos show the changes.

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CCP campus in 1980. There are only three buildings on campus: the Mint Building in upper right; the PECO substation (built 1950) in upper left at the northeast corner of 18th and Buttonwood Streets; and the Lit Brothers warehouse in center left. The warehouse would be removed in 1985 and replaced by a CCP parking garage by 1987. As can be seen in this photo, parking on campus would not be an issue.

Photo credit here.

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By 1985 the West Building would be built and connected to the Mint Building via the pedestrian bridge over 17th Street. The Bonnell Building would also be integrated with the Mint Building. Notice the rectangular cutout made by these new additions, which is hard to distinguish at street level. The parking garage in the lower right was built by Smith Kline on land owned by CCP. An athletic track and courts would be placed on the roof. The Lit Brothers warehouse has been demolished and will be replaced by a parking garage running from 17th to 18th Street along the Callowhill Cut.

Allen T. Bonnell was the driving force to establish a public college in Philadelphia and was the first president of CCP. He died in 1983 at age 101.

Photo credit here.

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By 1995 the Athletic Center and Winnet Buildings are completed. The PECO substation is still there in this photo. The only missing building is the Center for Business and Industry, which will be completed in 2003. The Winnet Building was named for Nochem Winnet (1898-1990), a lawyer and an early trustee at CCP.

One Franklintown Apartments has built its parking garage on Callowhill Street between 17th and 18th. This 1.5-acre parcel is owned by Forest City Franklin Town Corporation and is the only non-CCP-owned lot on what we have been calling the campus.

Franklin Town Park is at the left center edge of the photo, having been completed in 1991. It will be renamed Matthias Baldwin Park in 2011.

Photo credit here.

The early growing pains of CCP were eased temporarily by buying or renting spaces in the neighborhood. In 1978 the building at 1809 Spring Garden Street was sold to the CCP for $85,000 ($336,000 in today’s dollars) as discussed below. Rented space for CCP was found in the western part of the 1600 Callowhill building. Both the 1809 Spring Garden address and the 1600 Callowhill address were roughly contiguous with the campus. 

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Photo from 2000 of the CCP annex at the western corner of the 1600 Callowhill building (now an apartment building). The arrow marks a proposed location for a video camera.

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This photo from 1974 shows the third “campus” of CCP at the time, in the YMCA at 1421 Arch Street. The cardboard sign on the right directs students to the CCP Classrooms. Photo credit here.

In addition to the main CCP campus in our neighborhood, today there are three regional campuses. The West Regional Center opened in 1992, the Northeast Regional Center in 1994 and the Northwest Regional Center in 1999. This last campus has ties to another institution that was present in our neighborhood, the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO). As discussed in our article here, PSCO moved from 1809 Spring Garden Street to a new 32-acre campus in the Oak Lane section of Philadelphia in 1932 and used the 1809 Spring Garden Street building as a satellite clinic. In 1978 the building at 1809 Spring Garden Street was sold to the CCP for $85,000 ($336,000 today). CCP sold the building to the Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters in 2007 for $1,000,000. Both of these purchases included the building from Spring Garden Street through to Brandywine Street. The Carpenters Union by then owned 1803 through 1817 Spring Garden Street and placed the Carpenters Museum at 1809 Spring Garden.

In 1998 PSCO classes moved to a new Elkins Park campus, on 11.5 acres of land that had once been part of the Wanamaker (retailer) and Breyer (ice cream) family estates. In 1998 PSCO’s administration and academic buildings at Oak Lane were sold to CCP to become the Northwest Campus.

 

One of the retrospective complaints about the Franklin Town development is that the promised property tax benefits to the City treasury never materialized in large part due to the CCP campus being non-taxed. The 20-acre CCP campus, for tax purposes, is split into two parts. The 1600 Spring Garden parcel runs from Spring Garden Street to Callowhill Street between 16th and 17th Street and has an assessed value of $152 million. The mirror-image 1700 Spring Garden parcel has the same north-south boundaries and is between 17th and 18th Streets. This is assessed at $140 million (including the College of Business and Industry at 1751 Callowhill Street). The parking garage at 1701 Callowhill Street is owned by Forest City Franklin Town and is assessed at $14 million.  For comparison, the first NxNW Tower is assessed at $100 million and the two-acre Matthias Baldwin Park is assessed at $23 million. The counterargument is that the CCP campus was going to be non-taxed no matter where it was built, but certainly the tax-exempt status of some buildings in “Franklin Town” significantly decreased the projected tax benefits of the project to the city.

Smith Kline & French and the Campus

As seen on the above map of the proposed Franklin Town project, Smith Kline & French owned a good portion of the future CCP campus. The company was started by Philadelphian John K. Smith at 296 North 2nd Street in 1830. He sold the usual early 19th century potions and remedies. He was joined by his former bookkeeper Mahlon N. Kline in 1865. In 1891 the business bought another pharmacologic company, that of Harry B. French. In 1948 the company moved into a new 1.2-million-square-foot headquarters at 1500 Spring Garden Street, on a site vacated in 1937 by Baldwin Locomotive Works. There were 1,600 employees working in the building across 16th Street from the Mint Building. As noted above, by 1971 Smith Kline & French owned much of the land on which CCP would be built. The parking garage at the northwest corner of 16th and Callowhill Streets was built by SKF on land owned by CCP. In 1977 SKF vacated the 1500 Spring Garden Street building to move into the first office building constructed by the Franklin Town Development Corporation, at 16th and Race Street. In 1989 a merger led to a company called Smith Kline Beecham and in 2000 another merger led to GlaxoSmithKline, by far the world’s largest pharmaceutical firm. In 2011 GSK moved from 16th and Race Streets to the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia, and in 2021 to the FMC building in University City. There is one remnant of GSK on the CCP campus, a ghost sign at the northeast corner of 17th and Callowhill Streets.

Unbeknownst to many Baldwin Park neighbors, there were two colleges in the old SKF building across 16th Street from CCP. The Philadelphia branch of Harrisburg University is still in Suite 101. It is a nonprofit college that offers 4-year degrees in computer and information sciences.

Hussian College was a small for-profit college also in Suite 101, offering a BFA in various visual art specialties, a diploma program in Medical Assisting-Clinical, and non-degree programs in software coding. There were about 70 full-time students in 2022. It was started in Philadelphia in 1948 and had, as a for-profit college, branches in seven cities throughout the United States. In August 2023 the board of trustees of Hussian decided to fold due to financial distress.

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GlaxoSmithKline sign marking the location of its private parking facility on the north side of Callowhill Street between 16th and 17th Streets. It is now a public parking facility. This site was originally the site of the Asa Whitney wheel works, then a coal and freight yard. There is a similar sign at the 16th Street entrance of the garage.

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Across 16th Street from CCP were two colleges until August 2023, when Hussian College folded. Harrisburg University is still there. Photo from January 2024.

Mascots and Endocrinology

The CCP athletic teams, formerly known as the Colonials, are now collectively known as the Lions. In 2019 CCP changed its mascot from Colonial Phil to Roary the Lion. Someone realized that in a college in which the student demographics were only 23% male, 32% white, and 0% colonizers, Colonial Phil was less than representative. The transition was caused by a Main Campus student petition in 2016, which led to a collegewide vote to choose a new mascot. According to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, CCP's mascot needed to reflect “inclusion, diversity, and strength,” and in 2019, Roary the lion officially became CCP's new mascot.

The lion is depicted in brass and stone on the Mint Building, and that may have inspired the lion idea. If you go here you can find the backstory for Roary, and it is indeed interesting in an endocrinologic way. Roary has a mane, typically associated with male lions, but according to their fictional biography mascot Roary is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. Roary comes from an area in Africa with a higher than usual prevalence of maned-female lions. The nonfictional science explanation is that there is a genetic mutation in a gene called 5-alpha-reductase that causes these chromosomally-female lionesses to grow manes and adopt typically male behaviors. An excess of testosterone after puberty is the mechanism. This happens in humans, also, causing females-at-birth to transform into a male appearance at puberty, and there are enclaves of such populations in the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea where a female sex assignment at birth is only tentative. At puberty there may be a reassignment to male if testosterone overwhelms the system. In the Dominican Republic these folks are called “guevedoces,” from the Spanish for eggs (testicles) at twelve. South African world-class middle-distance runner Caster Semenya has this genetic difference that temporarily stymied her racing career.

 

Couldn’t resist a biology tangent.

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Out with the old (Colonial Phil on the left) and in with the new (Roary on the right)

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A portion of the massive bronze doors of the Mint Building main entrance.

There are also dozens of lion head gargoyles along the roofline of the Mint building, mimicking the lion head gargoyles on ancient Greek buildings like the Parthenon.

The Future

What does the future hold for the Community College of Philadelphia? One thing that could be done right now is closing 17th Street to car traffic from Callowhill Street to Spring Garden Street. The two garages on either side of 17th Street have vehicle access points on 16th and 18th Streets, so the 17th Street entrances would be superfluous. Add to this pedestrian-friendly campus access to the two blocks of the future rail park between 16th and 18th Street.

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From the 2017 master plan. All the non-built lots would be covered with new construction. The Callowhill Cut is utilized as a campus park.

One thing that could be done now is to close off 17th Street to traffic and allow a pedestrian campus.

Further reading: 

Colonial Era

https://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/1609017/Philadelphia+1824+++APSdigobj3561/Philadelphia+1824/Pennsylvania/

1824 Drayton map of city  

 

https://www.mapsofpa.com/19thcentury/1824-6653b.jpg  1824 Drayton map with prominent buildings

 

https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=qvEMnbhssKoC&pg=GBS.PP1&hl=en

1824 book text to accompany Drayton map with hundreds of building numbers.

 

 

https://archive.org/details/firstpurchaserso00penn/mode/1up  28-page booklet with reproductions of two parchment pages listing the first purchasers

 

 

CCP era

https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/essays/community-colleges/   Community Colleges’ history and Philadelphia area

https://www.myccp.online/sites/default/files/documents/FacilityMasterPlan/2013LandscapeVisionPlan.pdf   2013 CCP Landscape vision plan including rail park site

unfinished draft article

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