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 Mayfair? Buy the stuff.
One hundred years ago, Mayfair was mainly farmland, a place featuring residents who rarely considered making a trip into Center City. After the postwar boom and the extension of the El, it became and remains a popular neighborhood for families. Today, Mayfair features one of Esquire’s favorite bars and arguably the city’s most famous diner, a place where presidents like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have stopped by to campaign.
Mayfair is bounded by Frankford Avenue, Roosevelt Boulevard, Pennypack Park and Cheltenham Avenue.
5,765 (23.6 percent)
Median home value
$127,800; median rent is $900
Rent vs. own
2,777 vs. 4,959
The origin for Mayfair is unclear. According to an early 1980s article from the Inquirer, it was named after a telephone exchange. Mayfair might also stem from a comment by community leader Thomas Donahue, who purportedly said the new neighborhood “may fare well” and thought it should be called Mayfair.
Twenty-four hours before Election Day 1992, and Bill Clinton was facing the incumbent George H.W. Bush. Where did he go in what sure to be a close race? The Mayfair Diner, of course. The day before he would win the presidency, Clinton showed up at Mayfair Diner for breakfast.
The Mayfair Diner is the neighborhood’s most popular restaurant and landmark and has been open since 1932. Other presidents and candidates have stopped by the Mayfair Diner over the years, including Barack Obama. He went there a month before the 2008 election.
In 1987, Jon Cryer of “Two and a Half Men” fame starred in the movie “Hiding Out.” He played a Wall Street broker who was being hunted down by the mob and posed undercover as a high school student. One of the song featured throughout the movie was “Catch Me I’m Falling” by Pretty Poison. Pretty Poison’s band members hailed from Mayfair. The song reached No. 8 on the U.S. charts.
Mayfair is much younger than most of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. Once primarily farmland, it has been around since the 1930s, sprouting up between Tacony and Holmesburg, and its growth accelerated after World War II and because of the extension of the Frankford El into the northeast. Residents then and now have been working class families, largely Irish, who often commuted into other areas of the city for work, making Mayfair an unofficial suburb.
In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, life in Mayfair reached an almost archetypal Americana status. Just check out this old video titled, “It Happened in Mayfair.” The film showcases the people, sights and businesses of Mayfair, including the Mayfair Theater, a Mayfair club baseball team, the Mayfair Sweet Shop and a pharmacy with a soda fountain and the works.
Mayfair remains a hub for families who would rather stay in the city than move to the suburbs. People who live in the neighborhood now often grew up there and have chosen to stay and raise children.
Sylvester Stallone: Stallone, long before he became Rocky, attended Lincoln High School in Mayfair.
Pete Ciarrocchi: The man who gave Philadelphia Chickie’s & Pete’s and those delicious crabfries grew up in Mayfair. The original Chickie’s & Pete’s restaurant, which opened in 1977, is located on Robbins Avenue near Frankford Avenue.
Bianca Ryan: She won the first ever “America’s Got Talent” in 2006. She was 11 at the time.
What used to be
The Forrest Home for Aged Actors. Philadelphia actor Edwin Forrest died in 1872 as one of the richest performers in the country. But most actors and actresses made little and retired in poverty. So he left behind in his will a fund to turn one of his properties, a mansion on 111 acres near Frankford and Cottman Avenues in Mayfair, into a retirement home for elderly actors and actresses.
The people who stayed there received room and board, and the luxurious residence place had cool traditions, too. Every April 23 meant a eulogy for and readings of Shakespeare, who was born on that day, and on the first Monday of June and October residents were to perform for the public.
The house was sold in 1926, and a new home for aged actors opened in Fairmount Park in 1928. That house closed in the 80s, unable to fill its rooms because actors and actresses were compensated much better than in the past.
Thing to check out
Frankford and Cottman Avenues
Anytime something good happens to Philadelphia, the Phillies’ 2008 World Series title, the Sixers making the 2001 NBA Finals, crowds will pour onto Frankford and Cottman to celebrate.
This area of Mayfair is basically considered the Main Street of the Northeast. It features chain stores, local businesses and several Irish bars.
Speaking of bars, the other thing to check out is the Grey Lodge Pub, at Frankford and Robbins. Esquire named this pub one of the best bars in America a few years ago. It features at least 25 beers on tap, with the types of beers changing constantly.
Last October, Councilman Bobby Henon proposed a zoning bill that would ban businesses like beauty parlors, fortune tellers and thrift stores in parts of Mayfair. They city’s Planning Commission disapproved of the bill, but its decision is not binding. As of last November, the bill had been held in Council.
Pennypack Park. While most of Mayfair is residential, Pennypack Park provides the opportunity to escape the blocks of houses and experience nature.