Rittenhouse Square

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Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square - autumn - IMG 6570.JPG
(Autumn, 2010)
Rittenhouse Square is located in Philadelphia
Rittenhouse Square
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 39°56′57.34″N 75°10′19.91″W / 39.9492611°N 75.1721972°W / 39.9492611; -75.1721972Coordinates: 39°56′57.34″N 75°10′19.91″W / 39.9492611°N 75.1721972°W / 39.9492611; -75.1721972
Built 1683
Architect Thomas Holme; Paul Cret
MPS Four Public Squares of Philadelphia TR
NRHP Reference # 81000557[1]
Added to NRHP September 14, 1981

Rittenhouse Square is one of the five original open-space parks planned by William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme during the late 17th century in central Philadelphia. The park is widely considered one of the finest urban public spaces in the United States.

The square cuts off 19th Street at Walnut Street and also at a half block above Manning Street. Its boundaries are 18th Street to the East, Walnut St. to the north, Rittenhouse Square West (a north-south boundary street), and Rittenhouse Square South (an east-west boundary street), making the park approximately two short blocks on each side.

Originally called Southwest Square, Rittenhouse Square was renamed in 1825 after David Rittenhouse, a descendant of the first paper-maker in Philadelphia, the German immigrant William Rittenhouse.[2] William Rittenhouse's original paper-mill site is known as Rittenhousetown, located in the rural setting of Fairmount Park along Paper Mill Run. David Rittenhouse was a clockmaker and friend of the American Revolution, as well as a noted astronomer; a lunar crater is named after him.

In the early nineteenth century, as the city grew steadily from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River, it became obvious that Rittenhouse Square would become a highly desirable address. James Harper, a merchant and brick manufacturer who had recently retired from the United States Congress, was the first person to build on the square, buying most of the north frontage, erecting a stately townhouse for himself at 1811 Walnut Street (c. 1840). Having thus set the patrician residential tone that would subsequently define the Square, he divided the rest of the land into generously proportioned building lots and sold them. Sold after the congressman's death, the Harper house became the home of the exclusive Rittenhouse Club, which added the present facade in c. 1901.

Today, the tree-filled park is surrounded by high rise residences, luxury apartments, an office tower, a few popular restaurants, a Barnes & Noble bookstore, a Barneys Co-Op, and two hotels, including a five-star. Its green grasses and dozens of benches are popular lunch-time destinations for residents and workers in Philadelphia's Center City neighborhood, while its lion and goat statues are popular gathering spots for small children and their parents. The park is a popular dog walking destination for area residents, as was shown in the fictional film In Her Shoes. The Square was discussed in a favorable light by Jane Jacobs in her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

The beauty of the Park is due largely to the efforts of Friends of Rittenhouse Square, a public-private partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Landscaping, lighting, restoration of fountains and fencing—even the installation and stocking of doggie-bag dispensers—are all projects of the Friends of Rittenhouse Square. During 2013, the 100th anniversary of architect Paul Cret's redesign of the Square, the Friends of Rittenhouse Square are working to raise record funds for a lighting and preservation initiative. New security cameras have cut down on vandalism, park rangers have helped calm behavior in the Square, and damaged balustrades and stonework are undergoing extensive restoration.

Arts and culture[edit]

The Rittenhouse Square neighborhood is also home to many cultural institutions, including the Curtis Institute of Music, the Ethical Society, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Plays & Players, the Wine School of Philadelphia and the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum.

The Square is home to many works of public art. Among them is a bas-relief bust of J. William White done by R. Tait McKenzie.

French Quarter designation[edit]

French Quarter designation in Rittenhouse Square

The U.S. city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has an "... area between 17th and 19th Streets" designated as the French Quarter.[3] The official area designation area is between 17th and 18th Streets and Walnut and Sansom Streets.[4] According to the City Paper, the Philadelphia French Quarter "... is one of the few places outside France that supports a thriving French culture."[5] The area is closely tied to the culture of Rittenhouse Square.[3]


In the year 1999, "... the Quarter was officially recognized by the city ... with the addition of subtle orange signs that read, simply, 'French Quarter,' tastefully affixed below the traditional green streets signs at the area’s intersections."[5] The area is a tribute to the French culture that has shaped the city of Philadelphia. The notable first establishments of the French Quarter started with La Colombe at 19th and Walnut and Le Bus, on 18th between Walnut and Sansom, and La Cigale, which is close to Le Bus.[5]


Another view of the French Quarter

The city of Philadelphia is historically rich with artifacts that are reminders of the French culture. "French Philadelphia" as the author puts it, is all around the city from the museums and Rittenhouse Square, which has a "... sculpture Lion Crushing a Serpent by French sculptor Antoine-Louis Bayre"[3] Ben Franklin Parkway was itself "... designed in the early 20th century by Frenchmen Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber, who drew their inspiration from the Champs-Elysées"[3] So are Logan Square and the Philadelphia Museum of Art were also inspired by architecture found in Paris's Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.[3]



Residents are in the Albert M. Greenfield School catchment area[6] for grades kindergarten through eighth and South Philadelphia High School for high school.[7]

The University of the Arts and Peirce College are both in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.

The Free Library of Philadelphia operates the Philadelphia City Institute on the first floor and lower level of an apartment complex at 1905 Locust Street; the apartment building is known as 220 West Rittenhouse Square .[8]


Rittenhouse Square is accessible via several forms of public transportation.

All SEPTA Regional Rail lines stop at Suburban Station, about six blocks north and east of the Square.

The PATCO Speedline, a rapid transit system connecting Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey stops at 16th St. & Locust St., 2 blocks east of the Square.

The SEPTA 9, 12, 21, and 42 buses westbound run along Walnut Street. The 17 runs northbound along 20th Street and southbound along 19th Street and Rittenhouse Square West and the 2 runs northbound along 16th Street and southbound along 17th Street.

The SEPTA Subway-Surface Trolley Lines have a station at 19th and Market Streets, two blocks north of the Square. The Walnut-Locust station on the Broad Street Subway is four blocks east.

Two taxi stands are to be found on the west side of the Square, accessible 24 hours a day.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ http://www.friendsofrittenhouse.org/history.php
  3. ^ a b c d e Gary Lee Kraut. "A primer for exploring art and history in Franco-Philadelphia". 
  4. ^ Philadelphia Magazine, July 1998. "Dan Rottenberg". 
  5. ^ a b c Tom Javian. "Buddy, Can You Spare a Quarter?". 
  6. ^ "Albert M. Greenfield School." Center City Schools.
  7. ^ "Albert M. Greenfield School - Where the Graduates Go." Center City Schools.
  8. ^ "Philadelphia City Institute." Free Library of Philadelphia. Retrieved on January 20, 2009.

External links[edit]