North Broad is beautiful: 17 landmarks to look for during Philly Free Streets

The car-free event takes over eight miles of roadway on Aug. 11.

The Blue Horizon, a world class boxing ring that used to host fights on North Broad Street.

The Blue Horizon, a world class boxing ring that used to host fights on North Broad Street.

Chris Luckhardt / Flickr Creative Commons
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Updated Aug. 2

Philly Free Streets is back this summer, and this time it’s taking over a huge stretch of North Broad.

The Vision Zero initiative works to close city streets to cars for an entire day — inviting people to walk, bike and play on roads that would normally be blocked by traffic. In 2016, the first iteration of the event went down on South Street. And in October of last year, the party came to seven miles from Fairhill to Old City.

For its third run, the car-free event is larger than ever. On Aug. 11, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. the street from City Hall to Erie Avenue will be closed to vehicular traffic. That means eight miles will be open for strolling and cycling and touring North Broad.

The city has announced some official programming for the day, including live jazz, scavenger hunts, sidewalk drawing and jump rope, but there’s already plenty to do. This stretch of roadway is home to countless beautiful landmarks — including murals, old factories, buildings and train stations all the way from the Gilded Age.

Here are 17 landmarks you shouldn’t miss during Philly Free Streets 2018.

Ford Motor Company

At Broad and Lehigh, there stands a 10-story, 500,000-square-foot building. In the early 1900s, it housed the Philadelphia Ford Motor Company — responsible for manufacturing about 150 cars every day.

It went up for sale in 1925, when Ford wanted to upgrade to a newer facility on the Chester waterfront. Back then, the asking price for the building was a rich $1,725,000.

North Broad Street Station

Designed in 1928, the train station at Lehigh boasts neoclassical architecture and huge, beautiful columns. It was once a stop on the Reading Railroad, and it sat across the street from the Baker Bowl, the Phillies’ old ballpark.

(Doesn’t seem like it was very good luck — the year the station was built, The Phillies finished eighth in the National League, 51 games behind first-place St. Louis Cardinals.)

Dropsie College

A school for the scientific study of ancient languages, Dropsie College was built in 1905 with limestone columns characteristic of the Gilded Age. The college closed in 1981 after arson nearly destroyed its library.

Uptown Theater

This 2,040-seat theater was first built in 1929, but it hit peak popularity during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, when it became one of the most well-known places on the East Coast to hear live soul and R&B music.

And from 10 a.m. to noon on Aug. 11, you can tour the inside of the space thanks to special Philly Free Streets access.

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Philadelphia Uptown Theater

Grover Washington Jr. mural

This Mural Arts project, first painted in 2001, pays tribute to the famous saxophonist who once called Philly home.

“If you look at it and shut your eyes, you can almost hear his music,” Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden told WRTI.

Temple Performing Arts Center

Once called the Grace Baptist Church, this 19th century building was the first to house Temple University. In 1882, Temple Founder Russel Conwell agreed to tutor a young man with no money at the church.

Conwell acquired more and more students, until he agreed to open a night school out of the church. It became a popular spot for important guests — Martin Luther King Jr. and President Franklin D. Roosevelt both spoke there.

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Kendall Whitehouse / Flickr Creative Commons

Cecil B. Moore Station

At this Broad Street Line stop, SEPTA unveiled beautiful mosaics honoring civil rights activist and North Philly resident Cecil B. Moore. In the 1960s, Moore was instrumental in the fight to desegregate Girard College.

The station was first dedicated to Moore in 1995, and renovated to include the mosaics in 2013.

Burk Mansion

Alfred Burk, the president of a leather manufacturing firm, bought a plot of land at Broad and Jefferson in 1906, and he commissioned a gigantic mansion in its place. Legend has it Burk told famous architect Edward Simon to spare no expense.

The mansion is currently owned by Temple.

Freedom Theatre

Founded in 1966, this is Pennsylvania’s oldest African American theater.

In the last few years, construction has begun on a 17-story apartment building right next door to the Freedom Theatre, and rumors have circulated that the theater was set to close in favor of new development.

But so far, the theatre still stands, ready to be appreciated at Broad and Master.

The Blue Horizon

Back in 1865, this facility was originally meant to be a fancy, residential property — until it became the best place to watch a fight in the country.

The property was converted into a boxing ring in the 1960s, and The Ring magazine voted it the best one in the United States. The owner had to sell the property in 2010 due to mounting property taxes, at which point the ring closed permanently.

The Blue Horizon, a world class boxing ring that used to host fights on North Broad Street.
Chris Luckhardt / Flickr Creative Commons

Cecil B. Moore mural

That same civil rights activist from the subway station? There’s a mural at Broad and Girard honoring him too — and the Cecil B. Moore community that has been named after him.

Metropolitan Opera House

After Oscar Hammerstein built several theaters in New York — including The Metropolitan Opera of New York City — he did what all sensible NYC residents do. He moved to Philly.

There, he built the Metropolitan Opera House of Philadelphia, which is now being redeveloped into a LiveNation venue.

Divine Lorraine Hotel

The Divine Lorraine Hotel — now a set of condos on Broad and Ridge — was at one time a luxury hotel in North Philly. Built in the 1890s, it was the first of its kind in the United States. to be racially integrated.

Divine Lorraine
Facebook / Divine Lorraine Apartments

Congregation Rodeph Shalom

This temple sits at the corner of Broad and Mount Vernon, featuring a massive structure and beautiful, stained glass windows. It was built in 1871, nearly 80 years after the congregation was first founded.

Common Threads mural

Among the more contemporary of these sites, this mural at Broad and Spring Garden was completed in May of 2016.

Painted by artist Meg Saligman, Common Threads depicts a young African American woman named Tameka Jones — then a student at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts — standing among people dressed as historical figures.

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J.P.B / Flickr Creative Commons

Inquirer Building

For 92 years, the Philadelphia Inquirer was headquartered in a building at Broad and Callowhill — that’s clear by the Inquirer sign that still hangs in front of the 400 N. Broad St. property.

Soon, that might change. The city announced last year its plans to renovate the building and move in Philadelphia Police Department headquarters.

Masonic Temple

Built in 1873, this temple has been called one of the great “wonders” of the Masonic world. Within the building, there’s a library and a museum, which maintain thousands of texts and artifacts on the history of the oldeset fraternal organization in the world, Freemasonry.