Nicknamed West Philly, is a section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though there is no official definition of its boundaries, it is generally considered to reach from the western shore of the Schuylkill River, to City Line Avenue to the northwest, Cobbs Creek to the southwest, and the SEPTA Media/Elwyn Line to the south. An alternate definition includes all city land west of the Schuylkill; this would also include Southwest Philadelphia and its neighborhoods.
The topography of West Philadelphia is composed of rolling hills rising slowly from the Schuylkill River toward Cobbs Creek in the west and toward Belmont Plateau in the northwest. This gradual elevation makes the skyline of Center City visible from many points in West Philadelphia. The Wynnefield neighborhood is a location frequently used by photographers and organizers of civic events.
Most of the houses in West Philadelphia are rowhouses, although there are areas of semi-detached and detached houses. The earliest developments began in 1850 and the final period of mass construction ended in 1930. Development was enabled by the creation of the horsecar, which pushed development to about 43rd Street, and, after the arrival of the electrified streetcar in 1892, accelerated to the west and southwest. Largely commissioned by speculative developers and designed by some of the city's most prolific architects, they were purchased by industrial managers and other professionals who led the first movement of upper and middle class from the more crowded city center. Developers found they could increase profits by catering to this emerging group, shrinking lot sizes, and building more compact, less ornate houses.
Initial development was divided into block lots and sold in 1852 with the condition that "substantial stone or brick buildings" be erected. The houses in this grouping are primarily three-story Italianate buildings, linked by material, decorative detail, and form. Located around Chester Avenue, an additional but smaller and less ornate 16 Italianate, brownstone, semi-detached houses, similar in form to the initial houses. The setback of these houses was 25 feet, allowing generous front yards.
Another development on Locust Street, a project by banker and West Philly resident Clarence Howard Clark, was composed of three-story, two-bay, brick, restrained Queen Anne rowhouses. The street was unified by front yards, and enclosed by decorative iron fences. The houses melded the suburban principles of front porches and greenspace with the urban rowhouse form, producing profitable, yet desirable, middle-class suburban housing. Other developments introduced urban density and architectural uniformity: the Queen Anne style with columned porches and decorative spindlework, brickwork and corbelling; steeply pitched gables with fishscale slate shingles; turrets; balconies; and windows with a single pane surrounded by small panes. These houses are typical of the early 20th-century developments in West Philadelphia, and are unified by rhythmic patterning of porch and gable features. The second story, projecting, semi-hexagonal bay is incorporated into this design, an element which defines the later rowhouses.
The western reaches of West Philadelphia included miles of two-story rowhouses with bay windows above classical columned front porches. What resulted was a collection of Colonial Revival houses with Arts and Crafts influences, which reflect the sophisticated tastes of post-World War I Philadelphians. For the first time in West Philadelphia, houses had garages. Later Tudor and Spanish Revival houses, and the Art Deco influenced apartment houses also filled in available lot spaces between developments and made it possible for more middle-class Philadelphians to move to the area.
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