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Jayna Wallace/ Billy Penn

Rittenhouse Square: The ritzy home of Phillies, Eagles and Flyers and the backdrop of Philly movies

It’s all about the neighborhoods here in Philadelphia, and Billy Penn will take a deep dive into many of them with these “postcards” throughout the year. We’ll go over their history, their demographics, community centers and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Rittenhouse Square? Buy the stuff.

Welcome to Rittenhouse Square, the luxurious Center City neighborhood that’s home to Philly’s rich and famous and one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country. Once known simply for its park, the neighborhood is now the pinnacle of exclusivity and features rows of the trendiest (and priciest) bars, restaurants and stores. Here’s your look at Rittenhouse Square:

Boundaries

The Rittenhouse Square neighborhood is loosely bounded between Market and South streets to the north and south, Broad Street to the east and 21st Street to the west. Some consider the Fitler Square area to be a part of Rittenhouse. Click here for our separate Fitler Square neighborhood guide. 

Population

14,712

Population Age 20-to-34

7,017 or 48 percent

Racial Composition

 

Rent vs. Own

71.6 percent of housing in Rittenhouse Square is occupied by renters while 28.4 percent is occupied by owners.

Median home price

The median sale price for homes in Rittenhouse Square between December and March was $635,000, according to Trulia. Sale prices in Rittenhouse have appreciated by more than 50 percent in the last five years, and the median sale price in Rittenhouse is almost four times higher than the median sale price for Philadelphia as a whole.

Median rent price

The median rent price in the area is $1,950, higher than the Philadelphia median of $1,320, according to Zillow. Rent in Rittenhouse Square is among the highest in the nation and the neighborhood sits at 14th in the list of the country’s priciest areas. Worth noting that the high rent in Rittenhouse is still much less than the $4,440 average rent price in New York’s Penn Plaza/ Garment District in Manhattan.

Name origin

Rittenhouse Square was once known as the Southwest Square after it was one of the five original open-space parks established by William Penn. In 1825, it was named after astronomer and clockmaker David Rittenhouse, who was one of the leading scientists of the 18th century. After experimenting with magnetism and electricity, Rittenhouse later became treasurer of Pennsylvania and the first Director of the U.S. Mint. After Rittenhouse Square was named, the neighborhood surrounding it quickly donned the same name.

History

Despite its seeming fashion now, after becoming one of Philadelphia’s first five parks established by Billy Penn himself, Rittenhouse Square Park became a place where local livestock chilled in the 1700s. It wasn’t until the 19th century when people started moving into the surrounding areas. 

The first home facing the square went up in 1840, and the next several decades held a building boom for the area. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the neighborhood hit its stride and became the most fashionable one in the city. Philadelphia’s elite started to move there and it was seen as a place where aristocrats settled. Some of the mansions of that time still stand today.

Women buy lillies at the Rittenhouse Square Flower Show in 1931. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University Archives.

By 1913, architect Paul Cret — who’s famous for being responsible for the grandeur of the Ben Franklin Parkway — designed entrances to Rittenhouse Square as well as the central area, the pool and the fountain. Around the same time, architects and builders saw the influx, and began ridding the area of private homes to clear the way for apartment buildings to make more money on the prestige of the area.

Rittenhouse Square in the spring in 1968, courtesy of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University Archives.

Since 2000, Rittenhouse Square has benefitted greatly from the condo-building boom that took hold in cities and high-end neighborhoods across the country. Now, the area attracts some of the city’s richest and most well-known residents, and nearly two-thirds of people who live in the neighborhood make $100,000 a year or more.

Much of the development of the neighborhood — and preservation of its history — can be attributed to the robust presence of the Center City Residents’ Association. This civic group was formed in 1947 to fight back against a proposal to dig up the Square for an underground garage. Since then, it’s worked to help preserve the historic and residential character of the neighborhood.

Alumni

Rittenhouse Square is a hub for local celebrities, executives and athletes who can afford the exclusivity of the area. Here are some of the recent, more notable residents:

Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Papelbon and Cliff Lee

Both professional athletes at one time owned condos in 1706 Rittenhouse, a 31-story tower that sold $18 million in units during just the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal. Papelbon’s $7 million, four-bedroom condo was listed on the market in December. 

Philadelphia Flyer Claude Giroux

This Flyers captain paid more than $2 million for a 29th-floor condo at 10 Rittenhouse Square last summer.

Philadelphia Eagle Connor Barwin

While a lot of his teammates have mansions in South Jersey or on the Main Line, Barwin for some time shacked up in a place in Rittenhouse. His condo was listed in March at $1.25 million.  

Developer Bart Blatstein

Local developer Bart Blatstein purchased a property called the McIlhenny Mansion (that spans 1914-16 Rittenhouse Square and 1915-21 Manning St. ) in 2013 for a cool $4.2 million. Demolition and a makeover on the property began last fall. 

Chef Stephen Starr

Celebrity chef and local restauranteur Stephen Starr’s home near 21st and Locust streets was 6,000 square feet and listed at $2.5 million in 2012.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

In 2012, Roberts bought a 6,900-square-foot penthouse at 10 Rittenhouse Square. You may remember: He also has a place in Chestnut Hill. Not surprising for man who makes upwards of $30 million a year. 

CEO of Comcast’s NBCUniversal Stephen Burke

The executive paid $5.85 million for a six-bedroom, 5.5-bathroom townhouse at 1817 Delancey Place, which was listed in 2013 at $5.6 million.

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest

Philanthropist and Inquirer/ Daily News owner Gerry Lenfest has a condo on Rittenhouse Square. 

Backdrop

The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film “The Happening” filmed in Rittenhouse Square.  

Trading Places

The 1980s film “Trading Places” with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy was set mainly in Philly, and some scenes took place near 18th and Walnut streets. 

Rocky II

The second installment of the Rocky films was partly filmed in Rittenhouse Square Park where Rocky and Adrian walk through just after they leave the doctor’s office.

In Her Shoes

In 2004, Cameron Diaz visited Rittenhouse Square with co-star Toni Collette to shoot scenes for “In Her Shoes.”

Controversy

Little Pete’s

This little diner near 17th and Locust streets has caused quite a stir over the last six months since a proposal was put on the table to knock down the late-night institution to make way for a new luxury hotel. The news prompted widespread disappointment, as the diner has been at the same Center City location for upwards of 35 years.

Since the proposal, city officials have gone back and forth with whether or not they’ll allow the ordinance to fully go through. In February, the Center City Residents’ Association voted not to fight the proposed ordinance. 

Legendary event

Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival

This yearly festival that takes place on a Saturday every May draws more than 50,000 people. It takes over six blocks of Walnut Street and includes food, fashion, arts and entertainment from around the neighborhood. The free, outdoor event is held annually and will take place this year on May 2.

Thing to check out

Some of the city’s most famous public art and sculptures can be found in Rittenhouse Square, like the Lion Crushing a Serpent piece or or the bronze statue of “Duck Girl.”

Community Gathering Places

Rittenhouse Farmers Market

The Rittenhouse Farmers Market is held Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 18th and Walnut Streets on south sidewalk of Walnut Street and west sidewalk of 18th Street. In addition to produce, the market features cheeses, breads and wine. More information here on the featured farmers. 

Instagram this

Yes, the park makes for a beautiful gram…  

…but so do some of the incredible homes along the streets of the neighborhood.

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