I lost about an hour this afternoon, looking through old pictures of Philadelphia on phillyhistory.org. They’ve scanned, tagged and archived many of the images of the city’s past on that site and all the pictures are searchable by address or keyword, which makes for hours of fun. In the past, when I’ve dug through the pictures, I’ve found that the city of old is nearly unrecognizable to me. I think about my deep longing to get an opportunity to visit the past and then wonder if I wouldn’t be completely disoriented to find myself in an unfamiliar version of the place where I live. I imagine walking up Chestnut Street and finding two four-story buildings where the entrance to my apartment building is now. I fantasize about walking down to the Russian Inn 1233 Locust Street to find my Aunt Sue, to have her look at me blankly and shoo me away from the family table.
However, today I found a picture that makes me think that it wouldn’t all be unknown to me. The image you see above is taken from the north side of Chestnut Street, in the middle of the block between 20th and 21st Streets. Looking towards 20th Street and towards my block, the buildings are known to me. That one on the corner, I’ve walked in there hundreds of times, first as a Wawa and now as Old Nelson’s. The funny little building with the shuttered electronics repair shop is there too. And of course, the apartment building on the other corner (then a hotel).
It’s nice to know I wouldn’t be totally lost in the Philadelphia from 1931. Just for kicks, here’s another one. It’s Locust Street in 1956, looking west. If you examine it closely, you can see the sign for the Inn in the distance.