YE OLDE PHILADELPHIA
Philadelphia has a special connection to the 18th century, and with good reason. After all, during the 1700s Philadelphia was home to Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and Adams, it was the birthplace of America, and it served as the federal capital. Since that golden century, Philadelphia has repeatedly taken its important role in American history and mythologized, commercialized and repackaged it. In 1965, while Ed Bacon was busy refashioning Society Hill, that urge to capitalize on the city’s past took the form of a complex called “Philadelphia 1700,” see the two views below, built off Delaware Avenue, one block north of Spring Garden Street, on Pier 37 and owned by Alfred M. Johnson.
Philadelphia 1700’s advertising ran like this:
Visit this delightful re-creation of Philadelphia’s colonial seaport. Dine and shop amid the surroundings of an earlier day. Seafood and steaks served in a true maritime surrounding.
The “true maritime surrounding,” below, included bright red tablecloths, wall to wall carpeting, spindle backed captains chairs and a buffet served from a lifeboat.
The rest of the complex was made up of various “shoppes” and businesses, including a blacksmith, a candle-maker a baker and a small tobacco shop. In 1965, that particular shop gained notoriety when the owner, Stephen Weinstein, was involved in the gristly murder of a male customer who inflamed him to an “irresistible sexual impulse,” by wearing tight fitting Levi’s.
To complete the old timey atmosphere, a four-masted early 20th century Swedish schooner, “The Sonja,” above, was docked on the north side of the pier. The Sonja served as a floating cocktail lounge. It sat in the dock for a few years after the 1700 complex closed, forlorn and abandoned. In 1975 it was damaged by fire and later that year was struck by a freighter and heavily damaged to the point where it could no longer be restored.
The Philadelphia “1700” complex lasted about 6 years, closing down some time in 1971.
DINNER AND A SHOW
In 1972, the pier became home to the 520 seat Riverfront Restaurant & Dinner Theatre, left, and The Admiral’s Club, a private dining facility. Both were owned and operated by the Tabas family, who had a dominant interest in Royal Bank and ran the Downingtown Inn and Twelve Caesars on City Line Avenue. There’s a great web page about a production of Guys and Dolls presented there in 1978-9: http://www.actorr.com/guysand.htm. The last curtain rang down at the Riverfront Restaurant in 1993, after a dinner show production of the musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” For the next 10 years, the site remained largely unused.
WATERFRONT SQUARE TODAY
In 2004, work was begun at Piers 36-39 on what is now Waterfront Square, above, a five tower gated condominium community covering 9.6 acres. The buildings range from 22 to 35 stories comprising 780 condominium units. With amenities like valet parking, a fitness facility, spa, pool and private clubhouse within the complex, residences are marketed “to people who want to live in the city but feel as though they are living or on a vacation at a private resort.”
Except for a few postcard images, all traces of Philadelphia “1700” are gone.
Please do let me know if you’ve been to Philadelphia “1700” complex, or if you know anything more about it.
Many thanks to reader Eric Staudt, who very kindly shared this picture, below, of himself standing on the stocks at Philadelphia “1700” in 1966.