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, entertainment options and their neighborhood legends — and the most Instagrammable spots. Love Fitler Square? Buy the stuff.
Between its residential restoration and its revitalized park, Fitler Square is much more than Rittenhouse’s western little brother. The neighborhood has seen growth in the last several years, and residents are proud of its a rich history of fighting urban blight in the name of becoming a housing destination.
But most recently, Fitler Square has become an expensive but liveable neighborhood that’s attractive to families because of its schools. Median rents and home values have increased over the years as viable options for schools in other parts of the city have waned. Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School for students in kindergarten through eighth grade holds most of Fitler Square in its catchment, and boasts some of the highest test scores in the city, with 70 percent of its students proficient in math and reading.
Here’s what’s what in Fitler Square:
Population Age 20-34
Rent vs. Own
2,553 rent and 2,767 own, or 48 percent and 52 percent
Median Rents and Median Home Values
The median sale price for homes in Fitler Square is currently $495,000, according to Trulia, which represents an increase of 20.7 percent compared to the prior year, and is more than 250 percent of the median sale price in Philadelphia. Two-bedroom apartments rent on average at $2,414 per month.
Kim Delaney played Kathleen Maguire on ABC’s single-season Philly (2001); Maguire lived in Fitler Square, overlooking the park. In addition to that, Fitler Square is also apparently where children inspired a co-editor to help create M. Night Shyamalan’s famous film, The Sixth Sense.
Community Centers/Community Activities
Located at 23rd and Pine Streets, this year-round Saturday morning market in the park is a staple for community members.
The Fitler Square neighborhood is named after the park that it surrounds, which is located between 23rd and 24th Streets and Panama and Pine Streets. The public park was named after Edwin Henry Fitler, a former Philadelphia mayor who died in 1896.
In addition to Fitler Square, the former mayor also had an elementary school in Germantown, a street in Torresdale, and a gallery in the Penn Museum named after him. According to the neighborhood association, his descendants are still involved with maintaining and improving the square.
History of the Neighborhood
The neighborhood’s proximity to the Schuylkill River made it a hub for coal transportation in the mid-19th century, and during that time, Irish immigrants began to settle in the area because of jobs associated with the coal trade, according to the Fitler Square Neighborhood Association. Because jobs were scarce at the time, poverty was rampant throughout most of the 1800s and early 1900s. With bigger ships eschewing in the shallow Schuylkill in favor of the deeper Delaware, coal imports in the area became less and less common.
Though the neighborhood and the park began deteriorating in the early 1900s as the country was headed toward the Great Depression, it began to evolve from manufacturing to primarily a residential area — home to some of the city’s prominent citizens.
According to the book “Cities in a Race With Time,” the Fitler Square neighborhood was blighted and deteriorating prior to the 1950s, and the park was once described as a “mudhole inhabited by drunks and empty bottles.” Members of the Center City Residents’ Association were able to convince then-Mayor Joseph Clark to free up some money in order to build new homes and rehab the area.
Then, in the eighties, with the help of the Fitler Square Improvement Association, the park and its surrounding areas finally underwent revitalization that stuck. According to the association, brick walkways were added, new lighting was installed and the park was enclosed with a wrought-iron fence.
According to the Neighborhood Association, historical residences include:
- The home Edward Drinker Cope, a naturalist who discovered dozens of dinosaurs
- The home and then library and museum of the Rosenbach brothers, who were one time the preeminent dealers of rare books and manuscripts
- The home of the popular war journalist and novelist Richard Harding Davis
What Used to Be
The Anna Hallowell School was demolished in the 1920’s, but at one time sat at 23rd and Lombard Streets. The school was built in 1838 and was once called the Hamilton School — it was renamed in 1906 after the first woman elected to the Philadelphia Board of Education.
(Photo courtesy of The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin via Temple University Digital Archives)
Did you know city planners used to have a vision of building a “Crosstown Expressway” that would have connected I-76 and I-95 via a highway that cut through the city in between South and Lombard Streets? Yeah, city planners can now laugh at the 1940s idea and say that displacing thousands of residents in favor of a highway that cuts the city in half was probably not a good idea.
It was a huge controversy at the time and would have severely changed the Fitler Square neighborhood. Even the threat of its construction reduced property values in the area, but residents’ associations successfully lobbied the federal highway administration, and the idea was (finally) withdrawn in the 70s.
Thing to Check Out
There are foodies, and then there are, uh, home-ies? Anyway, if you’re the latter, check out Delancey Street in Fitler Square. Much like the street is in Society Hill, Delancey Street is ripe with beautiful, historic homes, many of which are listed on Philadelphia’s Register of Historic Places and were built in the mid-19th century.
The Victorian-era fountain in the center of Fitler Square (which is green because it recirculates water!)
Also animal statues in the park, bc animal statues.