Monday, November 9, 2009

Then and Now: 13th and Sansom Streets looking southwest, Philadelphia


Few visitors to Philadelphia today, standing at the corner of 13th and Sansom, would feel much indication of 13th Street's turbulent recent history beneath its glimmering boutiques and restaurants. Neither, ufortunately, is any of it easily apparent in the above montage.

At the time of the original photo, 13th Street between Chestnut and Locust Streets was a fur district dotted with bars and luncheonettes serving office workers from South Broad Street. By the early 90s, 13th Street had become downtown's skid row and red light district, blamed upon the continuous western movement of Philadelphia's office district. Then, it attracted substantial attention from the press for its new reputation as Center City's most blighted street, a haven for prostitution, and the new center of gay nightlife. Officials decried it as an enormous black hole between the new Convention Center and the Avenue of the Arts theater district.

Remarkably, the area's turnaround is largely attributed to one individual, shrewd New York developer Tony Goldman. In 1998, Goldman Properties began purchasing buildings in the 13th Street area, investing millions into their renovation, and aggressively marketing the district to new retailers. No doubt, that story is overly simplistic, but the changes that have occurred in the decade since then have been nothing less than momentous. Today's 13th Street is one of downtown Philadelphia's liveliest retail corridors, and the proud heart of the city's gay community.

Source: Stoiber, Julie. "'The whole street is popping' - On 13th south of Chestnut, two blocks in a red-light district are turning funky." Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 Apr. 2006. Newsbank Access World News. Haverford College Library, Haverford, PA. 12 Nov. 2009.

Original photo: Carollo, R., and John McWhorter. "Historic Commission-3299-18." 1965. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 12 Nov. 2009.

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