The news, when you first hear it, feels distinctly retrograde, like something that would have happened in Philly in the 1970s or 1980s, when no one was looking: There are plans on the table for Toll Brothers to level six conjoined properties on Jewelers’ Row, then raise a 16-story condo on the site. Jewelers’ Row, where many a Philadelphian's dad bought many a Philadelphia mom’s engagement ring, where their parents did the same, going back 1799. 1799! A/B that with Toll Brothers, who brought you the McMansion and the walled-off mini-suburbia in Point Breeze. That’s a big piece of it, of course — just the sheer untrustability/unlikelihood of Toll Brothers when it comes to building anything beautiful — but the other piece is this: Jewelers’ Row doesn't just stand apart as America’s oldest diamond district and among America’s oldest still-thriving commercial districts period, it is also built into the way the whole of this city was constructed. Consider this:
"Sansom bought (at sheriff's sale) the property and unfinished house of Robert Morris, on Walnut St. between 7th and 8th Sts. Sansom bi-sected the land with a new east-west eponymous street. Carstairs purchased the south side of Sansom St. and erected 22 look-alike dwellings. Prior to this time houses had been built not in rows, but individually. It can be contrasted with Elfreth's Alley where all the house are of varying heights and widths, with different street lines, doorways and brickwork.”
So of course the demo shouldn’t happen. Of course, we should be doing not just stuff to preserve Jewelers’ Row (in amber, as it were), but also paying more attention to the businesses that are there (pro tip: one of the best hoagies in town is hiding there, in plain sight). But of course, also, this is Philadelphia, and there’s a Toll Brothers exec on the board of the General Builders & Contractors Association, to whom this petition is addressed. So, if you like your present day Philadelphia, like we do, where we’ve stopped knocking important shit down to replace it with brutalist blocks, please give it gander, and perhaps show them something older and even more grand than Jewelers’ Row: That old, wonderful Philadelphia piss and vinegar.