So You’re Thinking of Living In…
First off, you can’t live in Rittenhouse Square, but it seems that just about everyone who lives around it does. Surrounded by some of the most expensive and desirable real estate in Philadelphia, William Penn’s southwest public square is Center City’s living room – a hangout in good weather, a site for fairs and outdoor concerts, a respite from urban bustle and a popular spot for people-watching.
While the heart of the neighborhood is the territory bounded by 15th, 22nd, Chestnut and Pine streets, the term “Rittenhouse Square” at its most expansive is used to refer to the whole southwest quadrant of Center City – everything south of Market Street, west of Broad Street, east of the Schuylkill River and north of South Street. But as that area includes several other distinct enclaves, including the Graduate Hospital area and Fitler Square, this article will focus on the core neighborhood surrounding the square.
The square itself is named for one of America’s earliest scientists, clockmaker and astronomer David Rittenhouse. The area dates to the mid-19th century, when population growth and new modes of transportation allowed Philadelphia to expand westward from its original urban footprint close to the Delaware.
From its beginnings, Rittenhouse Square has been Philadelphia’s most fashionable address, attracting prominent families who moved out of the old city in search of more room and larger quarters. The district is home to the city’s most exclusive shops and its fanciest restaurants, but at the same time offers something for just about everyone.
Attractions and Amenities
The square from which the neighborhood takes its name is by far its greatest and most popular amenity, but that’s not all it offers.
As noted above, Rittenhouse Square boasts the city’s toniest shopping district, centered on Walnut Street from Broad to 20th. Rittenhouse Row, as it is now called, is home to both trendy boutiques and big national chains, as well as a host of restaurants crowned by Le Bec-Fin, long the standard for haute cuisine in the city.
The city’s performing arts district, the Avenue of the Arts along South Broad Street, forms its eastern border. The beloved Academy of Music, built in 1857, houses the Pennsylvania Ballet, the Opera Company of Philadelphia and touring stage productions, while the Kimmel Center two blocks south is home to the Philadelphia Orchestra and a host of arts and cultural events. Rounding out the zone are the Wilma Theater and the Merriam Theater of the University of the Arts.
The office canyon of West Market Street, to Rittenhouse Square’s immediate north, brings hordes of office workers into the area during the day. A slew of eateries and food courts cater to their hunger, but there are also many fine restaurants and bars that encourage them to linger and mix with the locals after work. This short list of some of the better ones just scratches the surface:
The local public school, Albert M. Greenfield, lies at the neighborhood’s far northwest corner. A campus of Independence Charter School is just south of it at 15th and Lombard. The City Institute branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, on the square itself, is both a useful information resource and a quiet getaway.
Neighborhood shopping is scattered throughout the district. Center City’s only 24-hour drugstore is the CVS at 19th and Chestnut. There is one supermarket within the neighborhood, at 18th and Spruce, just off the square, but many locals shop at the South Square supermarket at 22nd and South or the two supermarkets in Wash West. The discount fancy grocer Trader Joe’s also has a store at 21st and Market streets.
Rittenhouse Square’s most prominent church is the Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) right on the square, but other faiths are also represented, including St. Patrick’s Church (Roman Catholic), First Unitarian Church, the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, First Presbyterian Church and Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Rittenhouse Square Real Estate
Rittenhouse Square is home to the bulk of Philly’s urban cliff dwellers, who occupy the high-rise apartment and condominium buildings that ring the square itself. Back of these are blocks of substantial mid- to late-19th-century brownstones lining the main streets, with more modest brick townhouses that once housed the servants on many of the back streets. A notable exception to this pattern is Delancey Street, by location a back street but in fact the neighborhood’s best address. From 17th to 21st streets, Delancey is lined with fabulous million-dollar-plus townhomes and mansions.
All this deluxe Philly real estate gives Rittenhouse Square some of the highest home values in the city: in September 2011, the median selling price of homes in zip code 19103, which includes Rittenhouse Square, was $600,000. Those smaller homes on the back streets, however, often contain attractive values for house hunters of more modest means.