Washington Square West, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Washington Square West, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Washington Square West (or Wash West) is a neighborhood in downtown, or Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The neighborhood roughly corresponds to the area between 7th and Broad Streets and between Walnut and South Streets, bordering on the neighborhoods of Chinatown to the north, Society Hill to the East, Bella Vista and Hawthorne to the south, and the Avenue of the Arts and Rittenhouse Square to the west. The neighborhood takes its name from Washington Square, the urban park on its eastern boundary.

Washington Square West's physical make up consists of three to four story rowhouses interspersed with larger elevator apartments and offices with ground-floor retail. The neighborhood follows William Penn's original grid layout for the city, with many one-lane and pedestrian side streets added later as the population became more dense. In addition to the block sized Washington Square Park to the East, the neighborhood contains the smaller Kahn Park, named after the Philadelphia Architect Louis Kahn.


The name 'Washington Square West' came into official use in the late 1950s and early 1960s as part of Edmund Bacon's comprehensive plan for Center City. [Lowe, Jeanne R., "Cities in a Race With Time: Progress and Poverty in America's Renewing Cities", (5th page of photographic plates in center),Random House NY, 1967.] In this plan, the south-east quadrant of center city was split into Washington Square East (more commonly known as Society Hill) and Washington Square West. Both neighborhoods were scheduled for urban renewal by Philadelphia's City Planning Commission and Redevelopment Authority. After a period of decline in the early 20th century, city officials hoped that redevelopment would clean up the neighborhood and clear blighted areas.

After large scale renewal of Washington Square East/Society Hill in the early 60s, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority turned to Washington Square West. In the late 1960s, the Redevelopment Authority bought and demolished buildings and, by the mid 1970s, owned one fifth of the neighborhood [Kromer, John, "Neighborhood Recovery: Reinvestment Policy for the New Hometown", p24, Rutgers University Press NJ, 2000. ISBN 0-8135-2716-3] . By this time, however, federal money available for urban renewal had declined and the city was no longer able to fund the renewal of Washington Square West. Buildings razed by the city in the 1960s and 1970s were left as empty lots and the neighborhood was left in a state of decline.

Through the late 1970s and 1980 began a slow recovery without the aid of the large scale redevelopment that had occurred in Society Hill. The 1990s saw a shift in the neighborhood as Mayor Ed Rendell encouraged investment in Center City and gentrification began to take hold. By the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, the neighborhood had transformed into an economically vital community.

The Gayborhood

Washington Square West contains the area bounded by Chestnut, Pine, Broad, and 12th streets known as The Gayborhood by locals. It is so-named because of its large concentration of gay and lesbian oriented bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, clubs and gay bars. It was also the center of Philadelphia's gay bathhouse culture in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Gayborhood takes up the majority of the west side of Wash West, and is the location of Philadelphia's annual . On 18 April2007, the city of Philadelphia officially recognized the area by adding 36 gay pride rainbow flag symbols to street signs bordering the Gayborhood area.

Its success as a city neighborhood has led to several attempts at large scale private development in the Gayborhood in the 2000s. In 2002 the developer Tony Goldman attempted to change 13th street and its surroundings into the "Blocks Below Broad" or "B3", with the launch of several new retail establishments. The attempt failed, but was repeated in 2006 by a merchants association organized by James McManaman. The organization has attempted to re-brand the neighborhood as "Midtown Village". The association has been successful in launching several new retail establishments along 13th streets, but the name "Midtown Village" has been met with ambivalence by locals. [Creed, Ryan, " [http://www.citypaper.net/articles/2007/09/27/a-tale-of-two-hoods A Tale of Two 'Hoods] "; "Philadelphia Citypaper", 27 September2007]

Art and Culture

Wash West contains many sights of cultural or historical importance. In the heart of the Gayborhood area lies Camac Street, officially dubbed the Avenue of the Artists by the city. Camac Street is the home of some of the nations oldest artists clubs. The Philadelphia Sketch Club, founded 1860 is the oldest continually existing artists club in America, while the nearby Philadelphia Plastic Club has been operating since 1897. Both clubs continue to operate today and have frequent exhibitions open to the public.

There are many murals in Washington Square West started by the Mural Arts Program. One of the better known ones is "Philadelphia Muses" (1999) by muralist Meg Saligman, located at 13th and Locust Streets. This mural portrays the cultural and artistic flair of both Wash West and Avenue of the Arts. The area is also home to the city's Antique Row and several hospitals, including the nation's oldest, Pennsylvania Hospital, and that of Thomas Jefferson University.

Notable Residents

* Michael K. Brown, musician
* Louis Kahn (1901-1974), architect
* M. Night Shyamalan (b. 1970), director
* William Still (1819-1902), abolitionist


External links

* [http://www.washwestcivic.org/ Washington Square West Civic Association]
* [http://www.phillypride.org/ Philly Pride, a gay pride organization based in the Gayborhood]
* [http://www.sketchclub.org/ The Philadelphia Sketch Club homepage]
* [http://www.plasticc.libertynet.org/ The Philadelphia Plastic Club homepage]

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