top of page
Spring Garden Towers/PCOM
Surgical Amphitheater 1925, at 1822 Spring Garden Street, from source here.
2018 is the centennial of a hospital building that still stands 300 feet north of Baldwin Park. Many neighbors have been inside without realizing its original purpose. But let's start with a former mayor of Philadelphia who lived in the Baldwin Park neighborhood.
John Edgar Reyburn (1845-1914) was Mayor of Philadelphia from 1907 to 1911 after serving a few terms in the US House of Representatives. He lived at 1822 Spring Garden Street, on the southeast corner of 19th and Spring Garden Streets, in a house he had built in 1871. Reyburn was best known, as far as the Baldwin Park neighborhood is concerned, for overseeing the slight redirection of the proposed Ben Franklin Parkway from just north of Fairmount Reservoir to its current course directly toward the former reservoir and now towering Philadelphia Museum of Art. The model below in the mayor's office from 1911 was part of his sales pitch for the Parkway. The spectacular view from the Rocky steps to City Hall was saved by Reyburn, but with a substantial $2 million price tag for that slight shift.
Pre-Reyburn plan on left, post-Reyburn on right
Post-Reyburn plan. Beautiful straight line view from future Rocky footprints to Billy Penn's hat has been preserved
Mayor Reyburn advocated for the funding and completion of the Fairmount Parkway (renamed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1937), and the open space just northwest of City Hall was named Reyburn Plaza in his honor. The section of the model below shows the proposed plaza with a band shell, but the size shown in the model was scaled back. The stage pictured in the 1952 photo was last used in 1960 for a campaign speech by John F. Kennedy, and torn down shortly afterward. The plaza was elevated and rebuilt in 1962, and is the site of the Municipal Building and the giant game pieces. Although dominated now by the statue of another mayor by the name of Rizzo (statue dedicated in 1998, and its days there may be numbered), it was officially Reyburn Plaza until City Council changed the name to Thomas Paine Plaza in 1992.
Planned band shell in plaza directly in center.
The Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) was founded in 1898, 25 years after the origination of osteopathy by frontier physician Andrew Taylor Still. Osteopathy and homeopathy, which was started by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, were alternatives to the standard practice of medicine. Homeopathy believed that giving potions diluted to almost zero concentrations, these potions causing symptoms similar to the disease symptoms ("homeo" means same), would promote healing. Osteopathy believed that muscle and bone manipulation would cure non-musculoskeletal diseases ("osteo" means bone). Hahnemann coined the term allopathy to describe the conventional medicine of the time, in which medications had effects different than the symptoms of the disease, like an anti-fever drug for fever ("allo" means different).
At the time homeopathy and osteopathy were developed, allopathy was just beginning to establish a scientific basis. Bloodletting, purges with mercury, and cold water treatments were allopathic therapies which often caused more harm than good for the poor patient. Osteopathy and homeopathy essentially did nothing, including nothing harmful, and therefore often gave better results. To be blunt, doing nothing or giving placebo treatments was better than conventional medicine. As the germ theory of disease gained acceptance in the second half of the 19th century (see Preston Retreat article here), allopathy began to reject non-evidence based treatments. Both osteopathy and homeopathy lacked mechanistic plausibility and became regarded as quackery, and now both Hahnemann and Osteopathic Colleges teach standard allopathy.
The first home of PCOM was in the Girard Building at 21 South 12th Street in 1899 (building still there), then moved to an equally impressive Witherspoon Building at Juniper and Walnut in 1900 (also still there). The peripatetic PCOM then moved to 33rd and Arch in 1903; 1715 Broad Street in 1908; 832 Pine Street in 1912; and then had an extended stay at the Reyburn Mansion from 1916-1928. In 1917, it added a hospital behind 1822 Spring Garden on vacant land, and in 1921 the school expanded into two houses to the east of the Reyburn Mansion, at 1820 and 1818 Spring Garden Street.
1818-1822 Spring Garden Street PCOM buildings in 1925, as seen from the northeast. The Reyburn Mansion is on the far right. Image from The Athenaeum.
Same view from the northwest today. The Reyburn mansion was razed and replaced by this building in 1937. Note (for later) double eagles on the top of the curved corner on the art deco building. Spring Garden Towers in background.
In this detail from the 1922 Bromley map can be seen the Osteopathic Hospital, Garretson Hospital, and the State College of Optometry at 1809 Spring Garden Street. The Baldwin Locomotive Works at bottom occupies the northern half of what is now Baldwin Park.
In 1928 PCOM moved to a new building at 48th and Spruce (still there) and was there until 1973, when it moved to its current location on City Line Avenue. After PCOM vacated the old corner building it was purchased by Eli Kirk Price III, who had been a strong supporter of Reyburn's vision for the Parkway and who was the grandson of Eli Kirk Price, a civic leader for whom one of the fountains in Eakins Oval is a tribute. Grandon Price leased the building as an annex for the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO), as described here. PSCO moved out in 1932, and then 1822 Spring Garden was rented to F. H. Hill Company, a casket maker based in Chicago. In 1937 the casket maker bought the corner building, razed it (but not the former hospital building), and put up the current structure as its casket display building. This corner building was designed by the Ballinger Company architectural firm, which had absorbed by this time the firms that designed Hallahan High School and the Graham and Laird factories just down 19th Street. The buildings fronting Spring Garden Street at 1818 and 1820 were also demolished in 1937, the same year most of the Baldwin Locomotive Works buildings from Broad to 18th Streets were razed. The Osteopathic Hospital building fronting 19th Street was left intact and today looks much the same. The current bike shop on 19th Street has the address of 1822 Spring Garden, and that address is one long interconnected building from Spring Garden to Buttonwood, as was the hospital building (although the original structures were only connected via the lowest level floor).
PCOM hospital building on corner of 19th and Buttonwood as seen from the southwest: 1925 on left and today on right.
The Reyburn Mansion site/PCOM Hospital survived the bulldozers from the Franklin Town developers, as this 1970 aerial photo shows. Note the round edges of the current building at 19th and Spring Garden Streets.
Detail from 1970 aerial photo survey of Philadelphia
So what happened to those vacant lots at 1818-1820 Spring Garden Street? In 1978 Lutheran Associates completed a single tower called Lutheran Elderly Housing (now called Spring Garden Towers), a 17 story subsidized apartment complex for older folks. There are 208 units, all one bedroom, one bath with an average area of 300 square feet. It has minimal windows on its north and south faces, with most windows on the east and west faces. The 16 story Museum Towers I, built in 1987, obstructed many of the views from the east side of Spring Garden Towers. Museum Towers II, built in 2016, blocked more of the easterly views from Spring Garden Towers. The Museum Towers complex, now called NorthxNorthwest, includes 570 apartments in the two towers combined, plus 16 two story townhouses along 19th Street and Baldwin Park, and a 400 car parking lot behind the townhouses.
Photo from 1979. The tower is labeled Lutheran Elderly Housing. To the right is 1822 Spring Garden Street, in 1979 occupied by Cohen Enterprise Corporation, a distributor of bedding textiles. To the left is the former Baldwin munitions plant on the north half of what is now Baldwin Park. In 1979 it was occupied by I-T-E circuit breaker company.
Rendering of townhouses and second tower. The NorthxNorthwest townhouses face Baldwin Park. Spring Garden Towers is on the left.
The new corner building at 1822 Spring Garden has been used as it currently is, as a home for small businesses, from 1937 onwards. The hospital building also had a succession of businesses, including a casket maker, a produce market, a bike shop, and a flower shop. In 2004 Nette Properties LLC. bought 1822 Spring Garden for $1.8 million. Unbeknownst to Nette, in 1975 the then owner of 1822 Spring Garden had sold the air rights to Franklin Town, and the land rights were sold to Aron and Melba Cohen. Franklin Town in 1976 sold the air rights to Lutheran Associates. In 1980 the land rights were sold to Claire Nelson. In 1997 Nelson paid off the installation payments and the deed had no mention of air rights being excluded. In 2004 Nelson decided to sell the property. Nelson received a quit claim deed for air rights from Franklin Town in January 2004, which was not helpful when Nette bought the property in June of 2004, since Franklin Town had sold the air rights 28 years earlier. In December 2005 Nette signed an agreement of sale for $3.9 million with a developer, Meyer Greenbaum, who planned to build a 40 story building. The neighborhood association opposed the height of the proposed structure, but their opposition was to become moot anyway. In August 2006 Lutheran Associates asserted their ownership of the air rights, and Greenbaum walked away from the deal. Result: lawsuits with a multitude of parties and cross-claims. In 2007 claims were settled with Nelson owing Nette the $100,000 difference between the purchase price and the value of the land rights alone. Lesson: if you are buying for the view, buy up neighboring air rights!
Proposed 40 story tower at 1822 Spring Garden Street. Note the adaptive reuse of those two eagles from the art deco precursor, although most people don't notice them two stories up, never mind forty stories.
Arrow shows site of proposed tower and why those interested in views from Spring Garden Towers might object.
Spring Garden Towers today has two other features, one interesting and one annoying, that merit comment. In the southeast corner of the building, best seen along Buttonwood Square (the driveway south of the building), there is a retaining wall that represents remnants of a set of steps that went from Buttonwood Street to the back of a Linton's Restaurant at 1816 Spring Garden Street in the 1960's. Linton's was a Philadelphia chain that served "faster" food, but the restaurants fell victims to the really fast food chains of the 1970's. That is the interesting feature.
Stone blocks forming wall behind Spring Garden Towers, 2018. This wall section would have been the western side of a staircase from Buttonwood Street to Linton's Restaurant in the 1960's.
The annoying feature is the Spring Garden Street sidewalk in front of 1822 Spring Garden Street. As one can see in the image of the current sidewalk, the planter in front of 1822 Spring Garden and the tree make a less than three foot passageway on the sidewalk. There was a lawsuit decided in 1875, in which the owner of 1818 Spring Garden Street sought to prevent the owner of 1822 Spring Garden, Mayor John Reyburn, from building a bay window on the front of his house. In 1860, curb to house distance was set at 35 feet, shortened in 1864 to 19 feet to allow owners to put 16 foot wide gardens in front of their houses. Nineteen foot wide footways were to be preserved (until the widening of Spring Garden Street in the 1870's further eroded the sidewalk width). Even though Reyburn's 4 foot deep bay window was to be over the garden, not the sidewalk, his neighbor brought him to court. Reyburn won the case and built those beautiful bay windows. I would like to think it is karmic payback that the owners of 1822 built the intruding planter in front of their building to leave neighbors at 1818 with less than a three foot sidewalk! See 3 page court ruling here.
Less than three foot wide footway in front of 1822 Spring garden Street. Reyburn's revenge?
Spring Garden Towers, 2018, looking northwest from Baldwin Park
authored by Joe Walsh, November 2018, updated March 2020
bottom of page