Rittenhouse Square

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Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square - autumn - IMG 6570.JPG
Rittenhouse Square in October 2010
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Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Coordinates 39°56′58″N75°10′19″W / 39.9495°N 75.1719°W / 39.9495; -75.1719
Architect Thomas Holme and Paul Philippe Cret
MPS Four Public Squares of Philadelphia TR
NRHP reference No. 81000557 [1]
Added to NRHPSeptember 14, 1981

Rittenhouse Square is a neighborhood, including a public park, in Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rittenhouse Square often specifically refers to the park, while the neighborhood as a whole is referred to simply as Rittenhouse. The park is one of the five original open-space parks planned by William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme during the late 17th century.


Together with Fitler Square, the Rittenhouse neighborhood and the square comprise the Rittenhouse–Fitler Historic District.

Rittenhouse Square Park is maintained by the non-profit group The Friends of Rittenhouse Square. [2] The square cuts off 19th Street at Walnut Street and also at a half-block above Manning Street. Its boundaries are 18th Street to the east, Walnut Street to the north, and Rittenhouse Square West, a north–south boundary street, and Rittenhouse Square South, an east–west boundary street, making the park approximately two short blocks on each side. Locust Street borders Rittenhouse Square to both its east and west in the middle of the square.


19th century

An early 20th century postcard of Rittenhouse Square looking towards 19th and Walnut streets Rittenhouse Square, towards 19th and Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA (61947).jpg
An early 20th century postcard of Rittenhouse Square looking towards 19th and Walnut streets
Lion with a Snake, a statue by Antoine-Louis Barye erected in 1832 Rittenhouse Square - autumn - IMG 6554.JPG
Lion with a Snake , a statue by Antoine-Louis Barye erected in 1832
Rittenhouse Square in April 2006 Rittenhouse Square.JPG
Rittenhouse Square in April 2006

Originally called Southwest Square, Rittenhouse Square was renamed in 1825 after David Rittenhouse, a descendant of the first paper-maker in Philadelphia, the German immigrant William Rittenhouse. [3] William Rittenhouse's original paper-mill site is known as Rittenhousetown, located in the rural setting of Fairmount Park along Paper Mill Run. David Rittenhouse was a clockmaker and friend of the American Revolution, as well as a noted astronomer; a lunar crater is named after him.

In the early 19th century, as the city grew steadily from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, it became obvious that Rittenhouse Square would become a highly desirable address. James Harper, a merchant and brick manufacturer who had recently retired from the United States Congress, was the first person to build on the square, buying most of the north frontage, erecting a stately townhouse for himself at 1811 Walnut Street (c. 1840). Having thus set the patrician residential tone that would subsequently define the Square, he divided the rest of the land into generously proportioned building lots and sold them. Sold after the congressman's death, the Harper house became the home of the exclusive Rittenhouse Club, which added the present facade in c. 1901.

From 1876 to 1929, Rittenhouse Square was home to several wealthy families including Pennsylvania Railroad president Alexander Cassatt, real estate entrepreneur William Weightman III, department store founder John Wanamaker, Philadelphia planning commission director Edmund Bacon and his son, actor Kevin Bacon, as well as others.

20th century

Elegant churches and clubs were constructed by John Notman and Frank Furness. In 1913, French architect Paul Philippe Cret redesigned parts of the Square to resemble Paris and the French gardens, adding classical entryways and stone additions to railings, pools, and fountains.

After World War II, Rittenhouse Square's Victorian mansions began to be replaced with high-rise residential and office buildings such as Claridge and Savoy. Vacant lots were converted to apartments and hotels. Still, some prominent Italianate and Art Deco buildings remain, [4] [5] [6] and Rittenhouse Square has changed the least out of the city's initial squares. Journalist and author Jane Jacobs wrote about two main ideas in Cret's redesign: intricacy and centering. [6]

In the mid-20th century, the park became known as a safe area for gays and lesbians to meet in Center City. [7]

Arts and culture

Rittenhouse Square is surrounded by high rise residences, luxury apartments, an office tower, a few popular restaurants, a recently shuttered Barnes & Noble bookstore, a Starbucks that has been the center of controversy for racial discrimination, [8] and a five-star hotel. Its green grasses and dozens of benches are popular lunch-time destinations for residents and workers in Philadelphia's Center City neighborhood, while its lion and goat statues are popular gathering spots for small children and their parents. The park is a popular dog walking destination for area residents, as was shown in the fictional film In Her Shoes . The Square was discussed in a favorable light by Jane Jacobs in her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities .

The Rittenhouse Square neighborhood is home to many cultural institutions, including the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, the Ethical Society, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Plays & Players, the Wine School of Philadelphia, and the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum. Delancey Place is a quiet, historical street lined with Civil War-era mansions and the setting for Hollywood movies, located only two blocks south of the square.

The square is home to many works of public art. Among them is a bas-relief bust of J. William White done by R. Tait McKenzie. Billy, the goat was created by Philadelphian Albert Laessle, who also designed the Penguins statue at the Philadelphia Zoo.


Residents are in the Albert M. Greenfield School catchment area for grades kindergarten through eight; [9] all persons assigned to Greenfield are zoned to Benjamin Franklin High School. [10] Previously South Philadelphia High School was the neighborhood's zoned high school. [11]

The Curtis Institute of Music, University of the Arts, and Peirce College are all in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.

The Free Library of Philadelphia operates the Philadelphia City Institute on the first floor and lower level of an apartment complex at 1905 Locust Street; the apartment building is known as 220 West Rittenhouse Square . [12]


Rittenhouse Square is accessible via several forms of public transportation.

All SEPTA Regional Rail lines stop at Suburban Station, about six blocks north and east of the Square.

The PATCO Speedline, a rapid transit system connecting Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, has its western terminus at 16th and Locust Sts., two blocks east of the Square.

The SEPTA 9, 12, 21, and 42 buses westbound run along Walnut Street. The 17 runs northbound along 20th Street and southbound along 19th Street and Rittenhouse Square West and the 2 runs northbound along 16th Street and southbound along 17th Street.

The SEPTA Subway–Surface Trolley Lines have a station at 19th and Market Streets, two blocks north of the Square. The Walnut–Locust station on the Broad Street Subway is four blocks east.


See also

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