We are highlighting neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, the people and places that make our city unique and strong. By the close of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia was recognized as both the "Workshop of the World" and a "City of Neighborhoods." Since that time, waves of economic and social change have continually re-shaped the city into the metropolis we know today. We look forward to sharing the backstory of several of our city's neighborhoods in the weeks ahead.
Girard Avenue to Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Broad Street to North 11th Street.
The neighborhood now known as Yorktown was densely developed by 1875 with tight blocks of row houses interspersed with occasional churches, parks, and small scale factories. The eastern edge of the neighborhood abutted the Philadelphia & Reading rail line, serving a cluster of coal and lumber yards, as well as iron, wagon, and saddle works. J.M. Brewer’s 1934 appraisal map, a precursor to similar maps later developed by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), show the community to be a primarily Black population and suggest early practices of redlining in North Philadelphia. 

Philadelphia’s still nascent Planning Commission, in their efforts to implement vast urban renewal plans under the direction of Edmund Bacon, sought to redevelop the neighborhood utilizing modern planning principles. At the time, the Planning Commission considered these dense blocks as “blighted.” This plan required the city to take 153-acres by eminent domain. Several thousands of people and many businesses were forced to relocate. 
1960 – Present
The redeveloped neighborhood was largely constructed in 1960 by the Denny Development Corporation. 

Norman Denny began his development career as a vice president of Levitt & Sons, developers of the famous Bucks County Levittown. In the mid-1950s, Denny completed the Robindale subdivision, in Northeast Philadelphia, following the City Planning Commission’s emerging concepts for preferred development.
In Yorktown (aka the Southwest Temple Plan), the Denny Development Corporation produced homes that were marketed and eventually sold to middle income, blue collar and professional African American homebuyers. The blueprints for the creation of a totally new community featured multiple clusters of homes with garages on small blocks, cul-de-sacs, off-street and visitor parking, lush lawns and back yards, tree-lined streets, neighborhood-oriented parks and public spaces.

The original plan called for modern and attractive 3- and 4-bedroom homes intended for African-American homebuyers. Some were young first-time buyers, others were previous home owners with school-aged children. These urban pioneers moved in with a spirit of neighborliness and many became investors in the development of the Rev. Leon Sullivan’s Progress Plaza, the first African American owned-and-developed shopping center in the United States. Through these early visionaries Yorktown became a community.
Yorktown served as a model in urban redevelopment and set a precedent for home ownership by African American families in Philadelphia. It was the only community where the first owners were African American, helping to demonstrate the economic power and home-buying potential of African Americans and other minorities in other areas of the city.

Yorktown has approximately 635 private homes and an “age in place” apartment with 93 units. The Yorktown development features four distinct housing types. The smaller types are two stories with three or four bedrooms, car pads and private porches. The three-story types have three and four bedrooms, ground level garages and the inclusion of common stairs and front porches leading to the entry doors. Each row of housing features a mix of two-story types or a mix of three-story types.
Yorktown also has distinct land use and streetscape characteristics, including cul-de-sacs, shared courtyards, and “green” strips throughout the neighborhood.

The community is in its 60th year and has maintained its character and viability through the pride and vigilance of its residents. Many are second or third generation Yorktown homeowners. In 2011-12, the Preservation Alliance, Preservation Design Partnership, and ARCH Preservation Consulting worked collaboratively to nominate the neighborhood for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 
These neighborhood descriptions are not meant to represent the comprehensive story of these neighborhoods and places. They are more so vignettes, intended to highlight and recognize the varied places across Philadelphia that contribute to our shared built environment. The places which have been intentionally or unintentionally preserved in the past and which deserve further preservation today.

Watch from the safety and
comfort of your own home! 
Tuesday, July 7th, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
What Just Happened? Twenty Years of Transformation in Philadelphia
Presented by Inga Saffron, Architecture Critic, Philadelphia Inquirer and author of  Becoming Philadelphia: How an Old American City Made Itself New Again . Rutgers University Press, 2020. 

Inga will discuss the policies and physical changes that have shaped Philadelphia over the past two decades.
Inga's lecture is included in the Building Philadelphia full speaker series pass. Email jrobinson@preservationalliance.com if you aren't sure if you need to purchase a ticket for this or not.