Guest Post: Ryan Langton on Race, Gender, and Labor at 1500 N. Broad

[Check out “Help Wanted at 1500 N. Broad” and more from Ryan on his blog, found here.]

At this point in our project, a great amount of information has been unearthed regarding Alfred E. Burk’s business enterprises, political activity, and social involvement. While Burk never married, he did not inhabit the mansion at 1500 North Broad Street alone. While I was searching through early twentieth-century issues of the Philadelphia Inquirer, I found some help wanted adds that offer some interesting and frustrating glimpses into life and work at Burk Mansion.

Wanted – Man to help gardener

Beginning with work outside the mansion, an advertisement was posted for a groundskeeper in July of 1919. The advertisement, depicted above, called for a “man” of no particular race or ethnic background to “help gardener cut grass and weed lawn” at the mansion. While the blurb is not specific, we know that Burk already had a well-kept botanical garden in the building behind 1500 N. Broad so there is a serious possibility that this worker could have helped maintain that or at least handle the simpler jobs in order to free up the professional gardener to attend to these gardens. No other advertisement for a groundskeeper were posted, meaning that either the man who was eventually hired successfully held onto the job or the job was eventually discontinued.

COOK. German or Hungarian

Alfred Burk, a descendant of German immigrants, seemed to be a fan of central or eastern European fare. In two advertisements posted both in October of 1920, Burk called for someone of “German or Hungarian” descent with references to apply for the position of cook at the mansion. Whether this was due to feelings of ethnic kinship or personal taste, it highlights the ethnic mixing present at 1500 N Broad and presumably the surrounding neighborhood. The fact that these similar adds were posted in quick succession and then stopped implies that the position, though not immediately filled, was eventually occupied by the end of the month.

HOUSEMAN. colored.

Adding to this picture of ethnic mixing is the evidence found in an advertisement also posted in October of 1920 for a “HOUSEMAN.” Tasked with completing domestic tasks in Burk’s home, this man not only needed references but also needed to be “colored.” While we can only make educated guesses about why Burk wanted his servant to be African American, the fact that the houseman was a position with more visibility than a cook or chambermaid implies that men of high social standing such as Burk could use their servants to reinforce their social status.

CHAMBERMAID: Protestant, Hungarian, or Competent

The most interesting collection of advertisements were for the chambermaid. Posted in October of 1909, October of 1920, and then April of 1921, they offer glimpses into the domestic life of the mansion. The first advertisement called for a chambermaid that possessed good references and was “first-class: Protestant.” This add contains the only mention of religion in the collection I found and implies an anti-Catholic disdain or impartiality that mirrors the preferences for German or Hungarian workers over Italians or Irish. Whoever was hired seemed to do a good job because another wanted advertisement for a chambermaid was not posted for another eleven years. This time, rather than being “first-class” and “Protestant” they needed to be Hungarian, a pattern that mirrors the wanted adds for cooks posted at about the same time. Between the second and third advertisements six months passed. We cannot definitively know what happened but the April 1921 advertisement’s changes and specificity compared to the other six advertisements implies that the chambermaid hired in October did not meet Burk’s expectations. The April advertisement stated that the applicants “must be competent,” and instead of preferring Hungarians it now called for “German or Hungarian” applicants. Lastly, it explicitly stated that the worker had to “go to Atlantic City for summer,” an addition that seems to imply that the past chambermaid took issue with leaving the confines of Philadelphia to go to the Jersey Shore.

Taken together, these small fragments illuminate the ethnic and gendered division of labor within 1500 N Broad Street. While they can also be frustrating in what they do not tell us, they nonetheless offer glimpses into the day-to-day activities of the individuals who worked at 1500 N. Broad under Alfred Burk.


Citations in order of appearance:

“WANTED – Man to help gardener cut grass and weed lawn. 1500 N. Broad st.” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 21, 1919, p. 18.

“COOK. German or Hungarian preferred; references. Apply 1500 N. Broad st.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 9, 1920, p. 21.

“COOK. German or Hungarian preferred; ref. 1500 N. Broad st.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 14, 1920, p.25.

“HOUSEMAN. colored. reference. Apply 1500 N. Broad st.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 26, 1920, p. 20.

“CHAMBERMAID. first-class: Protestant: good reference. experienced. 1500 N. Broad st.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 17, 1909, p. 3.

“CHAMBERMAID to assist with washing, Hungarian preferred. 1500 N Broad st.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 7, 1920, p. 25.

“CHAMBERMAID. Must be competent. German or Hungarian, go to Atlantic City for summer. references. Apply 1500 N. Broad.” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 27, 1921, p.18.

Guest Post: Jessica Markey on Change, Continuity, and the Power of Maps

[Check out “Change and Continuity: Mapping Burk Mansion” and more from Jessica Markey on her blog, found here.]

If you read my previous post on Burk Mansion, located at 1500 N. Broad St. Philadelphia, you will recall my thoughts on the building’s relationship to its present day surroundings.  In order to gain a greater sense of where the property fits into the urban landscape, I decided to look at a number of historical maps.  These maps range from the 1750s to 2018 and represent over 268 years of change.  The present day location of Burk Mansion is indicated with a pin on each map.  All of the following images were captured from the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network which allows users to layer various historical maps on top of present day maps.

The first map, comes from the early 1750s created by Nicolas Scull and George Heap.  This particular map focuses on the areas outside of the city grid.  If you look closely, you can see the homes of individuals as well as street names and prominent geographical features.  Obviously Burk Mansion did not yet exist, and it appears as if the present day location was more rural surrounded by several roads, homes, and streams.

c. 1750 Philadelphia (N. Scull and G. Heap)

This map was produced in 1808 by surveyor John Hills.  As you can see, there are more city blocks, including proposals for future city planning.  At this point, there are few labeled properties near the present day location of Burk Mansion.

1808 Philadelphia v2 (John Hills)

An 1843 map of Philadelphia County demonstrates drastic changes that developed within 35 years.  At this point, city blocks have expanded outwards and North Broad Street is now defined. Several properties are identified by last names of owners.  The streams are still visible and there are no specific buildings or properties labeled at the present day location of Burk Mansion. Slightly north of the pinpoint, you can see there is now a cemetery.

1843 Philadelphia County (Charles Ellet, Jr.)

The R.L. Barnes map was published only 12 years after the previous one and was the first map published after the consolidation of the city of Philadelphia.  This act consolidated all townships, districts, and boroughs into Philadelphia County.  Though the map does not mark structures, we can tell the city was experiencing a period of rapid growth.  This map was published one year after Alfred Burk’s parents emigrated to Philadelphia from Germany.

1855 Philadelphia City (R.L. Barnes)

An 1862 Philadelphia Atlas shows the development of buildings along present day N. Broad St.  Notice the homes and churches being constructed.  It seems as if many of the city blocks are empty, waiting to be developed.

1862 Philadelphia Atlas (Samuel L. Smedley)

This map from 1875 shows the development of numbered plots.  1500 N. Broad St. is marked under the ownership of Joseph Singerly, an architect and builder.  Alfred Burk eventually purchased Singerly’s property.

1875 Philadelphia Atlas (G.M. Hopkins)

This map from 1895 shows the outlines of buildings on the plots from the previous map.  The property of Joseph Singerly is shown with a mansion.  When Alfred Burk purchased the property, he demolished the Singerly mansion to construct his own mansion.  It is also interesting to note the presence of Temple College, an opera house, a market, a brewery, and a few social clubs.  If you look further south, there are also a number of other mansions belonging to prominent Philadelphians including P.A.B. Widener and William L. Elkins.

1895 Philadelphia Atlas (G.W. Bromley)

This map from 1910 shows that the property is now owned by Alfred Burk.  This map also shows that the structure on the property changed and also shows the conservatory in the back of the property on Carlisle Street.  Broad Street is still filled with social clubs, hotels, and entertainment.

1910 Philadelphia Atlas (G.W. Bromley)

The next map is a 1942 land use map and was published after the death of Alfred Burk in 1921.  As you can see, the property is unlabeled.  At this point, the property was inherited by relatives.  In 1943, the property was listed for sale for $100,000.   There are still a number of social clubs, entertainment centers, and hotels along Broad Street.

1942 Land Use Maps (Works Progress Administration)

This 1962 map shows new use and ownership of the property.  1500 N. Broad is now labeled as Union Headquarters.  According to our class research, we know the mansion housed the Upholsterers International Union of North America, an AFL affiliated union of  upholsters and textile workers, among others.

1962 Land Use Maps (Works Progress Administration)

The final image was pulled from Google maps.  Google provides a fairly detailed sketch of the mansion, but it is not labeled.  It is also interesting to note that it is not labeled under Temple University, despite current ownership.

Google Maps Retrieved October 1, 2018

Looking at changes of place over time is helpful for understanding the history and significance of 1500 North Broad Street.  Throughout the 268 years represented in the 11 maps above, Burk is only explicitly mentioned once.  For the purpose of this project, these maps tell much more than the story of Alfred Burk.  Rather, they tell a story of change and continuity over time which gives us insight into larger patterns of Philadelphia’s urban history.  When we look at the current status of Burk Mansion and its uncertain future, it is important to remember that its community has been changing and evolving for the past 200 years.

Further Questions:

  1. What kind of changes in the community have been observed in the past 5-10 years?  How are these changes similar and/or different from the changes demonstrated from these maps?
  2. What makes change in a community good or bad?  Who makes that judgement?  Is it possible to have change that is beneficial to the community as a whole?
  3. Imagine yourself 50 years in the future.  What does this section of North Broad look like on a map given its current patterns of change?

Guest Post: Abby Austin on First Impressions

[Check out “Google Earth: Time Travel” and more from Abby Austin on her blog, found here.]

Walking up to Burk Mansion, the size overwhelmed me. It is an imposing building, close to the street, three stories high and solid, with a high fence surrounding it. It isn’t friendly or welcoming. I felt overwhelmed by its size, not able to get a full visualization of the building. I wanted to get some distance so I walked across the street to see it from further way. This still wasn’t enough. I zoomed further out by using Google Earth. Here, I realized that not only can I see the multiple angles of the building at a distance, I can see these angles at intermittent intervals over the course of ten years.

Google Earth keeps an online archive of all of their street surveys. For Burk Mansion there are photos of the front since 2007, and a side view from 2009. Not only does this tool let us play with scale and time, pieced together these snapshots over the last decade paint an eerie picture of the half baked efforts at preservation and cosmetic changes to an otherwise abandoned building.

July 2007

In 2007, the property is lush, overrun. Two small trees stand on either side of the front walkway, mirrored by two large trees on the sidewalk, a skinny, tall tree hugs the side of the building. The backyard is crowded with bushes. By 2012, the tall tree is gone. By 2014, the landscape has been hacked away, left completely barren. Every bush, tree and flower is gone except the two still shading the front door. By 2015, the remaining trees are gone. The barren landscape is replaced with a new, manicured and modest landscape of bushes and small trees.

Sometime between 2009 and 2011, all of the building windows are boarded up. The building looks grim and blank. By 2015, the building gets a facelift. The windows at the front are now all open and clean.

Solely viewing the building from the front, these changes appear to happen by ghostly encounters. But viewed from the side, we see glimpses of actual interaction.

Most every snapshot shows people walking by the property. A kid riding a bike, two girls strolling by, a mom and her baby waiting for the bus. In three of the years, we see workers interacting with the building. In 2009, workers weed whack the backyard. In 2011, it appears that those workmen in 2009 visited several times. Most of the greenery is now gone. Two aerial work platforms are in the back and the windows are boarded up. Perhaps they just finished the job. In September 2014, the property is active with people, but looks completely barren. A Temple work truck is parked outside and three people are surveying the newly cleaned up property, most likely planning the landscaping we still see today.

September 2014

Even though these glimpses are few and far between, they help us to imagine what it might have been like to live in this community and see the transformations of the space over time.