The current 9th District police station, its fourth home, at 401 North 21st Street
Since the 9th Philadelphia Police District was formed in 1854, there have been four different police stations in the district. Three of those four have been in the Baldwin Park neighborhood. In a few years, the station will move to the edge of the district in the Inquirer Building at 400 North Broad Street, so this article will look at the history of the station sites up until now.
Until 1854, the City of Philadelphia was a two-square-mile parcel within the 130-square-mile County of Philadelphia. The Nativist Riots of the 1840's made officials realize that a county-wide police force would better ensure domestic tranquility. The districts around center city Philadelphia were heavily populated, so much so that in 1800, while Philadelphia was the second most populated city in the United States, Northern Liberties was sixth and Southwark was seventh. The Spring Garden District, site of the future Baldwin Park, was growing in population due to industrialization, so that by 1850 the Spring Garden District was the ninth most populous city in the United States.
Consolidation of city and county was considered in the State Legislature, with Eli Kirk Price (memorialized by the fountain in Eakins Oval) elected in 1853 to push the bill through the State Senate, and our own consolidationist Matthias Baldwin elected to push it through the State House of Representatives. The Act of Consolidation did pass both houses and then was signed by Governor Bigler on February 2, 1954. The area of the City of Philadelphia increased 65-fold at the stroke of a pen.
The Spring Garden District in 1854 extended from 6th Street to the Schuylkill River and from Vine Street to Poplar Street.
Top ten ranking for the Spring Garden District in the 1850 census! (from Wikipedia)
For almost 100 years after consolidation, the police districts were coterminous with their former districts that were added to the city. The 9th District police force shared the same boundaries as the old Spring Garden District, except that its eastern boundary was Broad Street instead of 6th Street. The first 9th District police station was at the northwest corner of 23rd and Brown Streets. For a quick read on some of the early police officers in the 9th District in 1887, see here.
Portion of map from 1867 showing the 9th District police station at the northwest corner of 23rd and Brown.
Eastern State Penitentiary (operational from 1829 to 1971) was one block away.
The very sadly named Northern Home for Friendless Children (an orphanage) had opened in 1854 and was across 23rd Street. This home is now the site of the Martin part of Bache-Martin School.
The former police station at 800 North 23rd Street is now home, for almost 100 years, of the Ukrainian League of Philadelphia, a social club.
There was a police substation in our immediate neighborhood during the era of the 800 North 23rd Street station, which was far away. According to the article below, it is described as being at 17th and Wood Streets, quite possibly associated with the fire substation at 1725-27 Wood Street. This station is mentioned in our article on fire stations here.
There was also a place in the neighborhood to pay your fines for police citations. In 1874 Philadelphia abolished the alderman system in favor of the new statewide magistrate system. Magistrates functioned as courts for issues involving a fine of less than $100. The Magistrate Court #13 was established at 1917 Callowhill Street in 1875. This is now the site of the retail stores on the ground floor of the Granary Apartments.
Article from the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 3, 1904.
On June 23, 1909, the new 9th District station was dedicated at 511-517 North 20th Street, replacing a Presbyterian Church that had occupied the site. The church, and then the police station, were between Ralston Street and Buttonwood Street, neither of which now exist on that block. The east-west drive lanes in the Hamilton Town Homes development are roughly where these two streets were located.
The Fifth United Presbyterian Church, built prior to 1867, in 1893.
Buttonwood Street looking east is on the left, and the front door opens onto 20th Street.
Portion of Bromley map from 1909, showing the police station between the narrow Ralston Street and the more robust Buttonwood Street.
The most famous person to "visit" the 20th and Buttonwood station was Al Capone. On Thursday, May 16, 1929, at 8:15 pm he was seen by two 9th district detectives exiting the Stanley Theater at 19th and Market Streets (the Stanley was named after the brother of our neighborhood's Jules Mastbaum). When he and his bodyguard were frisked they were found to be carrying loaded revolvers. Capone was brought to City Hall for his booking, then to the 20th and Buttonwood station for his arraignment. By 12:45 pm the next day, he had been threatened with an immediate trial, had entered a guilty plea, and was sentenced to the maximum sentence of one year in prison. He first went to Moyamensing prison, then Holmesburg, but by August was in Eastern State Penitentiary, where today you can visit a mockup of his cell.
Capone by 1929 was a known gangster and the main suspect in the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago in February of 1929. Philadelphia police, including those in the 9th District, were not intimidated by his reputation and orchestrated tactics to expedite the judicial proceedings over just 16 hours from arrest to sentencing. As Edward Carney, the magistrate at the 20th and Buttonwood station later testified he told Capone. “You are responsible for a good many murders in the country. Some district attorneys and some police officials are afraid of you in some other cities, but they are not afraid of you in Philadelphia, nor am I afraid of you.”
Article on placard outside Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary.
The southwest corner of the police station at 20th and Ralston Street in 1960, shortly before demolition. The ivy-covered house on the right is 509 N 20th street and will also be demolished.
The east face of the police station in 1960, with its main entrance on Buttonwood Street.
The trees in the distance are on the overgrown lot where the Preston Retreat will be demolished in 1963. Many of the lots and houses in the neighborhood were vacant by this time.
Ten houses built in 1974 at the site of the old police station. This was part of the Franklin Town Development Corporation's concession to the neighbors as discussed here.
The photo shows the east side of the 500 block of North 20th Street looking south.
Photo from 1947 looking north across the vacant lot at 20th and Callowhill Streets, the next site of the 9th District police station. Police car #442 is on the left. The Preston Retreat (demolished 1963 and now the site of City View Condos) is in the back right.
Another police car shot: pulling into the police repair garage at 1903 Callowhill Street in 1955. This garage was the Fire Engine Company #18 from 1871 to 1900, at which time it moved across the street to 1920 Callowhill in a new building. The garage then became the city-wide repair shop for the police department. Both were on the 1900 block of Callowhill until about 1962.
In 1960 work began on a new 9th District station at the northwest corner of 20th and Callowhill Streets. This had been the site of the Bement and Miles machine manufacturing plant up until the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway necessitated demolition.
Its location here recalls the first station's placement near Eastern State Penitentiary. The Youth Study Center, a juvenile detention center in a brutalist building oddly facing the Ben Franklin Parkway, was completed in 1952 just across the street at the southwest corner of 20th and Callowhill. The center was replaced by the Barnes Museum in 2012.
Bement and Miles plant in 1888. Callowhill Street runs from bottom left to the right. The corner of 21st and Callowhill Streets is center front, and 20th Street is to the right. Pennsylvania Avenue with its still-surface train tracks is seen beyond these buildings.
Still vacant lot at the northwest corner of 20th and Callowhill Streets in 1936.
The white Preston Retreat, now the site of City View Condos, is back right.
The Rodin Museum is in the upper left. Between the two, with the rooftop water tank, is a warehouse used by Gimbel's in 1936, although it had been the William Wood and Company Pequea Mills cotton and woolen manufacturing plant since 1874, and then replaced around 1960 by the Best Western Motel that was shaped like a fidget spinner. In 2016 the motel was replaced by the Dalian Apartments.
Portion of a map from 1942 showing Hahnemann athletic fields on the site.
Hahnemann sold the parcel to the City in 1944.
Looking southwest across the empty lot at 20th and Callowhill in 1955.
The north face of the Youth Study Center, the modern version of a "House of Refuge" completed in 1952, is seen in the background.
Foundation of the new police station in what is now the Target parking lot, looking east in 1960. To the left of the granary is the building used by I-T-E, now the site of the Tivoli. The sign on the right edge of the photo is for the F. A. Mitchell Company, which sold hardware and cutting tools. Starbucks now occupies that building.
Very 1960's look of the 20th Street side of the finished station. It opened in May of 1960.
The 9th District station moved to its current location at 401 North 21st Street in 1995.
By 1993 the 9th District station, only three decades old, was considered rundown. City Council approved an innovative swap in 1993: New-York based Valhal Corp. under its president, Sheldon Stein, would remodel 401 North 21st Street to accommodate a larger police station; in return, Stein would acquire the former site of the police station to demolish the station and build a new supermarket. The police station moved in late 1995, the old station was demolished, and Fresh Fields 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.
Over the span from 1995 to 1997 organic grocery Fresh Fields built a 33,000 sf superstore on the western end of the parcel at 20th and Callowhill Streets. Whole Foods shortly afterwards acquired this competitor, changed the name on the building, and 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).
One other "station" deserves mention. In the 1980's there was a push for more community policing, having two or three officers stationed in police mini-stations in at-risk neighborhoods. The building at the northeast corner of 17th and Wallace pictured above was the first mini-station in the City. It was placed in the thick of the drug trade and was occupied by the 9th District mini-station from about 1985 to 1995. A hand-grenade was tossed through the window of the station on August 20, 1990. It failed to explode and was detonated by the City's bomb squad.
In 1985 there were no Philadelphia Police mini-stations. By 1993 there were 31 scattered throughout Philadelphia. As best I can determine, there is now only one, at 905 South Street.
The 9th District has enlarged since 1854, as the two maps below show.
Map of the 15th Ward of Philadelphia in 1893.
These were also the boundaries of the 9th police District at that time.
The red numbers indicate the chronological order of the sites of the police stations in the district, with number 5 being the future site in the Inquirer Building. The blue rectangle is the current site of Baldwin Park.
In 1948 police districts boundaries were modified.
This is the current configuration of the 9th District, now extending as far south as Lombard Street and split into three police service areas. Baldwin Park is in PSA 2.
There is a limited memory infrastructure in the Baldwin Park neighborhood. There are two State of Pennsylvania historical markers, one for Matthias Baldwin on 19th Street outside the park, and one at 1937 Callowhill Street honoring helicopter pioneer Frank Piasecki. We also have our new mural on the south side of 417 North 20th Street. There are often overlooked memorials to some real heroes, the police officers who have died while doing their duty, duties like running towards gunfire and disasters while everyone else is running away from these dangers. These plaques are city-wide, with the very first police memorial plaque placed December 9, 2001, at the southeast corner of 13th and Locust Street, sponsored by lawyer Jimmy Binns to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the murder of PO Danny Faulkner by Wesley Cook, alias Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Here are the Baldwin Park neighborhood plaques and locations honoring these fallen heroes, with underlined links to more biography.
Plaque on south side of Carpenters Union building at 1807 Spring Garden Street. It is mounted on the wall rather than embedded in the sidewalk like the other plaques so it is in better condition for its age.
Officer Donahue, age 42, was shot dead in front of 1926 Brandywine Street by a man he was attempting to arrest.
This plaque is embedded in the sidewalk at 532 North 19th Street.
Officer Savich, age 32, was shot dead by a man he was trying to arrest.
This sidewalk plaque is at the northeast corner of 17th and Spring Garden Streets.
Officer Trench, age 43, was sitting in his patrol car at that corner when he was assassinated by gunshot.
This plaque is in the sidewalk at 1904 Spring Garden Street.
Officer Dmytryk, age 47, was shot and killed while confronting two men who had forced a resident to withdraw money from the MAC machine near the southwest corner of 19th and Spring Garden Street.
Mural on the lobby wall at the police station at 401 North 21st Street.
Of the two foreground figures, Officer Trench is on the right and Officer Dmytryk is on the left.
The last memorial is outside our neighborhood but well known to the neighbors.
Frank Von Colln was an officer in the Fairmount Park Police Department, which did not become a part of the Philadelphia Police Department until 1972.
Officer von Colln, age 43, was shot and killed while talking on the phone at a guard house at 63rd and Catherine Streets. His murder by a radical group on August 29, 1970, led to a crackdown on August 31 by then Mayor Frank Rizzo, documented in a controversial photo (here).
Looking east to the new police station from the parking lot of the 1960 police station.
The Inquirer Building, formerly called the Elverson Building, was built in 1924. James Elverson was the publisher of the Inquirer from 1889 until his death in 1911, at which time his son took over.
This building will house the 9th District as well as be the headquarters for the whole Philadelphia police force.
I suspect this free standing wall (or at least its foundation) on 20th Street on the east side of the Target parking lot is a remnant of the parking garage of the 1960 police station. The parking lot for what is now Target was extended over the Callowhill Cut in 1996 as part of the deal discussed here.
Unfortunately, as I was writing up this article, 46-year-old Corporal James O'Connor IV was shot and killed March 13 while attempting to serve an arrest warrant in Frankford. His son is a police officer in our 9th District. Our sincere condolences go out to his family, and to the police family of which father and son are a part.
authored by Joe Walsh, April 2020