From Arrive Magazine, May/June 2009
The Rhythm of the Row
A timeless form provides an ideal backdrop for urban exploration
By Eric Wybenga
Any conversation about rowhouses properly begins in the City of Brotherly Love. It's here that, contrary to the intentions of founder William Penn (who envisioned a "green country town" of detached houses surrounded by gardens). the London rowhouse took hold in the New World. With high quality clay in abundant supply, brick became the building material of choice. As architect Rachel Schade, author of Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual (avilable in PDF format at philaplanning.org), observes, this is a town where "you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a rowhouse."
Among the walks she recommends are the 1800 to 2000 blocks of Delancey Street, near Rittenhouse Square, an area of opulent Victorian houses dating to the 1860's and 1870's. Older rowhouses, predominantly in a style known as "trinities" for their three stories, tend to cluster near the Delaware river, with successive development radiating outward.
Elfreth's Alley (off South Second Dtreet, between Race and Arch streets), one of the oldest continuously occupied residential streets in the United States, traces its narrow path just blocks from the waterfront. There you'll find rowhouses dating back as far as 1728, including House 126, which is open to the public.
Girard Row (Spruce Street between Third and Fourth streets), a short walk from Independence Hall, offers a look at Philadelphia's first "true" rowhouses- that is, thse built simultaneously and speculatively. And for a firsthand look at the Victorian, garden-facing row featured in the movie The Sixth Sense, visit the 2300 block of St. Albans Street in South Philadelphia.