Not Just Hewitt Took a Bullitt in Philly at 131-145 S. Fourth
Not Just Hewitt Took a Bullitt in Philly at 131-145 South Fourth
The Bullitt Building, 131-145 South Fourth Street, Philadelphia
John Christian’s bill wasn’t the only the only thing in Philadelphia to bear the name Bullitt. In 1882, G.W. and W.D. Hewitt designed the house to the far left of the above photograph for Thomas Cochran in the 100 block of South 22nd Street, but when things went sour, it was purchased by none other than John Christian Bullitt, who had been living a few blocks away in a large double fronted house of the mid-19th century. Author of the Bullitt Bill and a man of note to the point that a statue would eventually be erected in Center Square, outside City Hall, the old lawyer gone politician gone financier was sitting heavy in his Furness-designed Paoli home by the end of the century. But first he occupied the dwelling above designed by the Hewitt brothers, an eminent architectural firm in 19th century Philadelphia. This dwelling, as is true in the entire block, represents high style specimen of the Romanesque Revival greatly influenced by the architectural works of Henry Hobson Richardson. No doubt these Richardsonian Revival “mansions” were of the highest order in their day, as Rittenhouse Square and Philadelphia, itself, was the staunchest in the line of our American cities. The hauteur and hierarchy of Philadelphia society, first determined by family and thence by money, came to fore in this period and would reign the upper crust the social hierarchy of eastern Pennsylvania until the mid 20th century. And while the old widower, John Christian Bullitt, was no doubt proud of his uptown house in one of the most fashionable blocks of South 22nd Street and Rittenhouse Square, his inclinations towards pride were pobably far greater roughly 18 block below where the Hewitts had employed Richardsonian Romanesque to a much higher level:
Formerly of Furness & Hewitt, George W. Hewitt consumed his brother, William D. Hewitt, to establish the architectural firm of G.W.&H.W. Hewitt of Philadelphia. Taking many of their principles from Frank Furness, the eminent and eclectic Philadelphia Architect, the Hewitt brothers also employed the Richardsonian principals in their use of the Romanesque Revival style. This was certainly true in John Christian Bullitt’s colossal townhouse, and later in the Philadelphia Bourse, but distinctly period and indicative of the style, with its rusticated stone facade and pointed roof line, it was the Bullitt Building at 131-145 Fourth Street, in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood, that became “Philadelphia’s First Office Building.” That being…among others. Designed by the Hewitt brothers in 1886, it is fair to say that it was one of the first large office buildings of its class in the city. The entire first floor and the trimmings of the upper levels were treated in rusticated Pennsylvania Brownstone, probably quarried not far from Philadelphia. It housed many different firms aside from those related to Bullitt and would operate as office and retail commercial space throughout its entire history. But alas…progressive is our age…
Despite the building’s importance, the unrest and quest for what we recently referred to as progress led to the Bullitt Building’s eventual doom and accordingly the pile was demolished at some point in the 20th century. And while we laugh when seeing that “fire hazard” was cited as the excuse for demolition, everyone should know that it wasn’t just Hewitt that took a BULLITT in the removal of this great building of South Fourth in our half-demolished, but historic city of Philadelphia. We have even heard rumors that such ransacking remains rampant without the slightest consideration to the spirit and history of what we like to think of as architectural, butt brotherly love. If we didn’t know better, we might be worried that more than the formerly fabulous interior would be a loss beyond buidlings-Hewitt in reference to that good old edifice–the Philadelphia Bourse.