1500 North Broad Street Statement of Significance

Building Description:


The property at 1500 North Broad Street stands on the northwest corner of North Broad and West Jefferson Streets and ends at North Carlisle Street at the back of the property. The original parts of the property include the mansion and matching conservatory designed in a late Victorian Italian Renaissance style by Edward P. Simon and David B. Bassett, two architects responsible for other well-known Philadelphia buildings such as the Fidelity Building and the Strawbridge & Clothier Building. Commissioned by Alfred E Burk in 1907, the mansion and conservatory were built by the contracting firm John Gill and Company and completed in 1909. The main structure is a three story ornate stone facade structure on a raised basement. The home itself has twenty-seven rooms and seven bathrooms. The basement has more square footage than the above floors and includes a concealed entrance and two narrow passageways that extend under Jefferson Street and terminate in two storage rooms. There was a three story steel framed addition built onto the mansion in 1953-54 by the architect Louis A. Manfredi to expand the space for offices by the Upholsterers’ International Union. When Temple University purchased the building in 1971 they refrained from making any drastic changes to the interior, leaving several original features intact including stain glass windows and doors, fluted columns, and extensive intricate woodwork and tilework. It is unknown how much of the interior has survived due to the building sitting empty for twenty-three years.



The properties at 1500 North Broad Street, formerly the Alfred E. Burk House, stands as a striking physical edifice whose shape and current condition trace the dynamic physical, political, demographic, and industrial shifts in North Philadelphia over the past century. As one of the last major mansions built during the post-Civil War boom, 1500 North Broad sits at a border in time between North Philadelphia’s elite past and its eventual transition into an area with a poverty rate exceeding 60%. Massive university expansion and new construction in the region over the past few decades threatens another shift in the history of North Broad, yet amidst it all the Burk Mansion remains.Through the mansion, annex, and conservatory at 1500 North Broad Street, historians can tell a variety of different stories about how businesses, labor, and Temple University’s relationships to one another and the neighborhood transformed over time.

The oldest structures still standing on the 1500 North Broad plot, the Burk Mansion and its matching conservatory hearken back to the social and political affluence of the early-twentieth century industrialists of North Philadelphia. The mansion, considered a fine example of late-Victorian Italian Renaissance style, was designed by prolific Philadelphia-based architects David B. Bassett and Edward P. Simon and erected by John Gill and Company for Alfred E. Burk in 1907. The mansion housed rooms for Burk and the staff, along with Burk’s personal offices. The conservatory was used originally by Burk as a carriage house (for both horse and automobiles) and was later converted into a public garden. Burk, the president and director of the Burk Brothers glazed leather manufacturers, was an economically and politically powerful man well connected among North Philadelphia’s elite. He served as the president of the Pier Realty Holding Company, vice-president of the Atlantic City Steel Pier Company, a representative for Pennsylvania at the 1920 Republican National Convention, the director of the Market Street National Bank, the Continental Equitable Title and Trust Company, and the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company, and he was offered the chance but ultimately turned down the opportunity of serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives.

The mansion and its matching conservatory, with their limestone facades and Corinthian frontispieces, structurally communicated Burk’s importance and influence he held in the surrounding community. Despite what the building’s size may suggest, Burk never married and had no children. This fact has inspired North Philadelphia folklore that Burk was spurred to build the mansion as a display of masculine extravagance after being rejected by the woman he loved. Burk lived in the mansion from 1909 until his death in 1921, and although he ever married, Burk shared his mansion space with a staff of African-American, Hungarian, and German descent that maintained the gardens in and around the conservatory and oversaw the cooking and housekeeping. Both labor and capital inhabited the space at 1500 North Broad, collectively claiming ownership of and shaping the space. Following his death, Alfred Burk’s surviving siblings took ownership of the mansion for the next two decades, until selling it to the Upholsterers’ International Union.

The building became the headquarters for the Upholsterers International Union (UIU) in 1945. The former dining room became the office for the president of the union, Sal B. Hoffman who had run the union since 1937. Hoffman, a firm anti-communist and a strongman leader, successfully ran a lively union of thousands of members from the base of 1500 North Broad. Hoffman actively included the union in anti-Communist politics by organizing a Council Against Communist Aggression (CACA) at 1500 North Broad and organizing educational programs through the Committee of Political Education (COPE). The Upholsterers International Union was an American Federation of Labor (AFL) affiliated union originally comprised of mostly Jewish and Italian men. In the 1950s, the UIU participated in a merger with the  Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) that offered opportunities for more African Americans to join the union. The changing demographics of the UIU also attest to the changes to the neighborhood of North Philadelphia.

The UIU created many social services for their members. A women’s auxiliary program allowed women to support themselves and their relatives within the UIU. Other services services also included an expansion of the union’s welfare system, which expanded membership pension plans and led to the construction of a retirement “village” in southern Florida. These changing demographics and growth to the union led to the construction of a concrete and steel utilitarian-style annex built and designed from 1953 to 1954 by Louis A. Manfredi.  The conservatory continued to be used for horticultural purposes but it was partially modified by the UIU to include a rock garden and a built-in-waterfall. Like Alfred E. Burk, the Upholsterers’ International Union inhabited 1500 North Broad Street and changed its shape in order to best maximize their political and economic clout in a changing socio-political environment. The presence of the UIU, with its racially and ethnically diverse membership, reflects the changing demographics of North Broad Street in the mid-twentieth century.

In 1971, the Upholsterers’ International Union moved their offices to a larger space in Philadelphia and sold the buildings to Temple University for $400,000 to be used as the School of Social Administration. The same year, Temple moved their on-campus daycare into the building’s annex.  Under the auspices of Temple’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development, the daycare featured training programs for welfare recipients looking for employment opportunities. The daycare would be housed here, serving children of both Temple students and community members, until its closure in 1995 – two years after an air conditioner explosion in the main building injured four maintenance workers and caused significant fire damage to the building. Citing cost-prohibitive repairs, they daycare was closed in July of 1995 amidst a severe round of budget cuts and university-wide layoffs.

More than 100 children and 85 staff members were displaced by the daycare’s sudden closure, resulting in four students taking legal action against the university. Arguing that use of Temple’s daycare facility was used as a lure for enrollment, the students’ attorney claimed the university had misled students and breached contract in closing the daycare. An injunction was brought against the school in an attempt to keep the daycare open, but was denied by the Common Pleas Court. After the daycare’s official closure, 1500 North Broad was shuttered by Temple University, though remnants of the daycare – children’s art, brightly colored murals – still remain inside both the main building and conservatory. There has been no new child care services available for students or community members on Temple’s campus since.

The history of 1500 North Broad from 1909 to 1995 is one of reaching across borders and forging connections with wide-reaching impacts on North Philadelphia, the city at-large, and even the country. Temple’s ownership and abandonment of  1500 North Broad, however, tells the story of a border closing. 1500 North Broad Street’s contradictory current state as dignified yet decrepit highlights the counterbalancing narratives enshrined in its structure. Upper-class industrialists, high-powered union bosses, and university administrators shared spaces with lower and middle class day laborers, office workers, teachers, and students of varying ethnic backgrounds. As the building changed and grew, opportunities for work, advancement, or education were constant at 1500 North Broad.  In a crucial moment when Temple University – originally founded to educate working-class Philadelphians – must reckon with its past and ask important questions about its future, the steadfastness of the white marble building at North Broad and Jefferson inspires reflection on the ever-changing landscape that surrounds it. The building and its location at the edge of Temple’s campus offers an excellent opportunity for the university to reach across borders once more.

Help Wanted at 1500 N. Broad

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.  

History of Relationships and Maps: Burk Mansion, Temple University, and North Philadelphia

While the last blog post offered a reflection on how Burk Mansion, Temple University, and North Philadelphia related to one another through the experiences of walking up North Broad Street and visually experiencing the juxtaposition of the stone mansion with the ever-expanding sleek buildings of Temple, this blog post is going to focus on a different visual experience: maps. Maps offer historians glimpses into the organization and structure of past landscapes and neighborhoods. A David Kyvig and Marty Moran argue in Nearby History, “maps visually indicate influential landscape elements and the spatial relationships of natural and artificial features” thereby “record[ing] growth patterns and other historical developments” (78). By looking at two different maps, separated by nearly a century and created by different organizations for different purposes, we can glean changes in how this neighborhood looked and extrapolate from these changes the different roles Temple and Burk have received during these periods.

The first map is the Atlas of Philadelphia, a comprehensive property survey of Philadelphia completed by George W. and Walter S. Bromley in 1922. Looking at plates fifteen, sixteen, twenty-four, and twenty-five, readers can see the different sizes and uses for the buildings standing around Broad Street (Temple SCRC G1264 P5 B754x1922; Accessed Online, see links below). The Mansion, labeled as “Alfred E. Burke,” stands on the largest property allotment on the block. Across the street a similarly sized plot and mansion also stands owned by Amanda D. Carpenter. While the other buildings that run along Broad are not as large as either of these homes, they are clearly larger than the smaller row homes squeezed next to one another along 15th Street, N. Carlisle Street, or 13th Street, implying that industrialists like Burk and Carpenter were part of a more opulent and prosperous community that lived and socialized along Broad Street. The Liberty Theatre and Grand Opera House are only two blocks north of Burk Mansion, and the multiple garages placed around the area further highlights the luxuries and amenities accessible to elites like Burk. Further up Broad Street the social clubs are replaced with smaller buildings that appear to be row homes. Temple College sits at the corner of Broad and W. Montgomery Street. While it is limited to only one block, the college owns almost the entire block save for the Grace Baptist Church. In these maps, the world of North Broad Street appears to be world where men such as Alfred Burk are very much the center of the industrial activity that characterizes it. While Temple is more on the periphery of this world, its relatively large size compared to other single property holders in the area implies that Temple has hopes of growth and development that links it more with people like Burk than we would initially think. As early as the 1920s, Temple is beginning to command a major chunk of the real estate on Broad Street.

The second map is the current Temple University Main Campus Map available online at their website, https://www.temple.edu/maps-and-directions. This map, created by Temple not only for the purpose of guiding students but also to delineate what is owned by them and what is not, outlines the different buildings to which Temple lays claim. The campus now includes over twenty blocks and while trying to parse through everything that is there would take a lot of time, I think the more interesting part is what is not there. The blocks that Temple does not own are simply empty grey blocks, surrounding Temple in a sea of undeveloped area. At the corner of Jefferson and Broad, which is pictured, stands nothing. The Burk Mansion, and probably a few other unused buildings owned by the university, is left out of this map. While maps are obviously made for different reasons and serve varying purposes, the stark contrasts between the maps highlights a switch in the geography of the core and periphery relationship around this neighborhood. From the standpoint of the Temple Campus map, Temple is now the hub of development for the neighborhood and the periphery a seemingly endless possibility for growth.






The Landscape of the Burk Mansion: Expansion and the Significance of Ghost Landscapes

Upon examining the Burk Mansion, it is easy to see why it was chosen as the central project for the Managing History: Introduction to Public History course. The Alfred E. Burk House (more often referred to as the Burk Mansion) stands at the intersection of Jefferson and North Broad Street, one of the few remaining examples of Victorian classical architecture conspicuously jutting out amid the other buildings on the street. While the building’s imposing limestone edifice may have attracted the attention of first Temple University and then the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, it is the building’s surroundings – its landscaping, adjacent buildings, and location within North Broad Street and North Philadelphia – that grabbed my attention and influenced my understanding of the building’s meaning and purpose.

I am actually lucky enough that I get to walk by the building everyday on my way to campus. Walking from my apartment just south of Gerard Street, the Burk Mansion marks the halfway point between home and the History Department. It could serve as a midpoint between where I live and campus, but the fact that the Burk Mansion is owned by Temple conveys the confusion about what is exactly Temple’s campus. Walking up North Broad Street, Burk Mansion seems well removed from the towers of Morgan or Gladfelter Halls, but one of the more recent maps created of Temple’s campus showed buildings used by Temple that extended even further south than Jefferson Street. This tension between the perceived and actual boundaries of Temple’s campus highlights how the Burk Mansion holds meaning as a trophy in Temple’s campaign for expansion and development. Removed from Temple’s nucleus, the Burk Mansion nonetheless serves as an outpost of the University, a sign of its expanding reach and ownership. Looking at its landscape on a smaller scale shows how the Burk Mansion, and the local community, is negligibly treated in this rush for unplanned expansion.

Comparing the Mansion and its surroundings with the polished glass tower of Morgan Hall is like night and day. Neighbored by an abandoned church with what appears to be serious fire damage, the Burk Mansion is surrounded by a jumble of green and black padlocked metal fencing. Behind the fence, construction materials are strewn about behind the building and only half of the lawns and flower beds surrounding the building are cared for, implying that whoever looks after the building understands the responsibility for upkeep but doesn’t go beyond what is absolutely necessary. Learning Historical Research’s article on reading landscapes describes ghost landscapes as “clues left behind from the past that show what a previous landscape may have looked like,” and the Burk Mansion strikes me as a variation on this concept. Despite its lack of use or thorough care, the building itself attracts onlookers’ attention and its size and style communicates its importance. While the building serves as a clue for its past grandeur, the current state teaches us more so about how present motivations influence how we treat our past. The disrepair gives us insight into how historical sites like the Burk Mansion are misused in the service of development and expansion, rather than used as sites of historical significance and potential interpretation or even as spaces of true community outreach and empowerment.