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Philadelphia’s Society Hill is one of the most popular and picturesque residential neighborhoods in the city, and really, fans of Philadelphia will tell you, on the entire East Coast. Blocks of restored historic brick town houses and cobblestone streets take visitors back to earliest days of the United States. The neighborhood’s walkable proximity to both Old City and Center City and its overall gentility make it one of the most expensive residential areas in Philadelphia.
Although historic structures dominate Society Hill (thanks to a very strong preservation movement during the 1950s and 1960s), there are also some mid-20th-century buildings that are considered innovative, most notably I.M. Pei’s Society Hill Towers, a group of three, 32-story towers completed in 1963. There are also some infill homes built since the 1950s that fit the existing neighborhood quite well. But its sweet spot lies in the old and lovingly cared for brick row homes: Society Hill has the largest concentration of 18th- and 19th-century structures, so it’s easy to walk around taking in block after block of outstanding architecture and streetscape details. But walkers beware: those cobblestone streets can be hard on ladies in heels.
Situated between Front and 8th streets to the east and west, and Walnut and Lombard from the north and south, Society Hill is named after the 18th century Society of Free Traders and is close to civic buildings such as Independence Hall. Delancey St, Spruce Street, Pine Street and a few key alleyways like St. Joseph’s Way are at the heart and soul of historic Philadelphia. When Philadelphia began to flourish and businesses moved westward, the area saw a decline in attention. Thanks to state and federal initiatives set into motion in the 1950s, Society Hill would begin to update and rebuild its Colonial heritage while adding a layer of contemporary flare.
Developer-architect Webb and Knapp was tasked with the redevelopment project while architect I. M. Pei constructed Society Hill Towers — three 31-story apartment buildings with an extensive list of amenities — and multiple low-rise buildings. A third influential architect in the redevelopment of Society Hill was architect Louis Sauer who designed dozens of row homes, as well as Waverly Court and Penn’s Landing Square — two condominium buildings with contemporary rental units.
Residences in Society Hill range from multi-million dollar townhomes that boast contemporary open-concept interiors, layouts with original detailing, and historic brick facades to grand manses in the Federal style adorned with intricate details and historic relevance.
Condominium buildings offering doormen and elevator amenities can also be found within Society Hill — The Willings is a good example. This historic luxury condominium building is the former headquarters for the Reading Railroad and today lists condo units from $585,000 to $1.8 million. Units in this building include two- to four-bedroom floor plans.
Because Society Hill is so convenient to several other neighborhoods, there are plenty of well-regarded restaurants, a good number of theaters for stage performances and movie theaters, all very walkable. The Society Hill Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places.