A lunchtime tourist in her own city: Jeweler’s Row

February 13, 2011 – It’s time for another lunchtime tourist experience.

Last week I shared photos of the historic landmarks in Old City Philadelphia captured on my first lunchtime getaway. Here are photos from my second one-hour vacation, which I took the following day, and I hardly had to leave the building where I work to take all in. The day wasn’t as bright and sunny as last week, but it was still relatively warm for winter, and worth the trip.

The Curtis Center – I work on the 11th floor – is located at 6th and Walnut Streets in the heart of Old City. Many tourists visiting the area often make a stop inside the building, which is historic in its own right. The building used to be home to Curtis Publishing, where my mother worked as a young woman, and was also once home to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell used to arrive at this very spot with his paintings, meeting the deadlines for the covers of the “Saturday Evening Post”, which was printed here.

The museum has since closed, but the lobby still houses the famous “Dream Garden”, a 15 x 50 foot glass mosaic mural executed by Tiffany Studios in 1916, the same year Rockwell sold his first painting to the “Saturday Evening Post”. The mural is constructed from 100,000 pieces of glass laced with gold leaf and is said to be the finest Tiffany mural in the world. It’s been designated a historical object by the Philadelphia Historical Commission and tourists probably snap as many pictures here in the lobby as they do across the street at Independence Hall.

Around the corner from the mural, on the other side of the building, the 12-story atrium opens to an elegant marble hall complete with a bubbling fountain and a domed skylight. The atrium is a popular venue for weddings and other catered affairs. There have been a few Friday nights when I had to make my way through an event to reach the exit, and each time I was tempted to stay as a guest and enjoy the party.

On the 7th Street side of the building, a few steps brings you to the intersection of 7th and Sansom Streets, home to Philadelphia’s famous Jeweler’s Row. The area is composed of nearly 300 retailers and wholesalers, and is the oldest diamond district in the United States, established in 1851. Most of the stores that line the row between 7th and 8th Streets have been owned by the same families for five generations.

On the Walnut Street side of the building, between 6th and 7th Streets sits Washington Square, one of Philadelphia’s five original squares laid out by William Penn in 1682. The park’s original name was Southeast Square, as Penn, who was a Quaker, didn’t believe in naming places after people. I suppose the people who named the state of Pennsylvania, it’s University and many other landmarks didn’t care about the tradition. The park originally served as a potter’s field, or a burial ground for strangers in the city. During the Revolutionary War, the British kept a jail/prisoner of war camp on the grounds. Today it’s a popular spot for the city’s workforce to eat lunch on nice days.

Across the street, at 701 Walnut Street, sits the Pennsylvania Bible Society. Dating back to 1808, the house and the society are the oldest of its kind in the country and have distributed Bibles in 73 different languages.

So that’s a tour of the building where I work and its immediate surroundings. Next up I plan to explore Chinatown.

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8 thoughts on “A lunchtime tourist in her own city: Jeweler’s Row

  1. I love your tour. I thought I was there with you. I also worked in the Curtis Building in 1971-1972. I worked at ARA Serviices ( Coffee Systems). Would you let me know if it is still there.

    • I didn’t know you worked at ARA. They moved a few years back to a bigger building further uptown. I think they’re called Aramark or something like that now.

      I’ve had several friends work at ARA through the years, including my ex-husband and his sister. Small world.

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