Every city has a history. Whether it’s distinct landmarks or notable members of society who lived and worked in an area, every city has a story rich with memories.
For Philadelphia, the city’s history is quite diverse and unique. Founded by William Penn in the English Crown Province of Pennsylvania between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers in 1682, Philadelphia has grown to be a city full of vibrancy in cultural and financial sectors but most notably in the arts. With many theaters, historic and music institutions, Philadelphia has been one of the key go-to areas for actors, musicians and artists to grow in their craft and share their artistic skills with others.
Located on the Ben Franklin Parkway since 1876, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is one of the nation’s leading natural history museums, with its sole mission to helping society understand the natural world, and as a result taking action to preserve it.
“My museum is the oldest natural history institution in the Americas as well as the only natural history institution in this specific zip code,” said Carolyn Belardo, Director of Public Relations for The Academy of Natural Sciences.
The Academy of Natural Sciences has strived to capture the history between useful learning and helping to explain the relationship between the American people and the natural world in a more comprehensive way. According to the academy’s archives, the Academy was founded when the United States hugged the Atlantic coastline and Philadelphia was the cultural, commercial and scientific center of the new nation. Classic expeditions to explore the western wilderness, such as those led by Stephen Long and Ferdinand Hayden, were organized at the Academy. Some of these explorers’ findings are now compiled in the Academy’s scientific collections, collecting more than 18 million specimens.
While The Academy of Natural Science’s current mission is helping to obtain more information on environmental themes, its goal is a historic one. Since the late 1940s, before climate change and water pollution were huge global concerns, the Academy established the Environmental Research Division. This established a research need in the Academy for aquatic ecosystem and traditional systematics research, two areas of discovery that are still vital in the Academy’s findings in recent years.
Aside from a history rich in natural exploration and discovery, Philadelphia’s 19103 zip code is home to many significant happenings in the history of music, more specifically in the classical genre.
Establishing a major position in American classical composition and performance in the early nineteenth century, the Curtis Institute of Music has been paramount in jumpstarting the careers of famous orchestra principals, vocalists and pianists of the time. From English conductor Leopold Stokowski to cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, The Curtis Institute of Music has been home to Curtis Pulitzer Prize winners, Guggenheim Fellowship honorees and Avery Fisher Award recipients among other noteworthy distinctions.
Founded by Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the only child of Philadelphia-based Louisa Knapp and Cyrus H. K. Curtis, whose Curtis Publishing Company produced two of the most popular magazines in America: the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies’ Home Journal, The Curtis Institute of Music strived to incorporate every individual, regardless of their socioeconomic status, who were gifted enough for professional careers to learn and hone their skills.
“Mary Louise Curtis was always a generous and kind woman,” said Barbara Benedett, Digital Archivist at the Rock Resource Center for the Curtis Institute of Music. “Many alums referred to her as ‘Aunt Mary’ because of her motherly instincts and true dedication to her students and their professional careers.”
Located in Rittenhouse Square which was a high-society and wealthy mansion district of Philadelphia, The Curtis Institute had a unique asset it brought to the community.
“Despite being founded by a woman which is remarkable for that time period and is still notable in current times, the institute had a rare tuition -free policy which provided merit-based scholarships to all Curtis students,” said Kristina Wilson, Archivist at The Curtis Institute of Music. That tuition-free education is still provided today.
“American conductor Leonard Bernstein put it into great words when he described the historical significance of The Curtis Institute at its 50th anniversary,” Wilson said. “He said the institute is a ‘virtuoso factory’ thriving in providing a musical oasis to performers and vocalists and helping to preserve the need and love for classical music.”
When people think of Philadelphia, they often refer to its rich history in theater and the performing arts. Known as the “Little Theater of Philadelphia”, Plays and Players Theatre on Delancey Place began in 1911 as a social club devoted to expanding and developing new theater experiences for and by its membership. The first President, Maud Durbin Skinner, was the wife of the famed American actor Otis Skinner.
“Our little theater as the community calls it has been home to many actors and actresses who have become household names,” said Arte Verbrugghe, Development Director for Plays and Players. “Actors like Philly native Kevin Bacon as well as John Barrymore have taken the stage here and have then gone on to star in some of Hollywood’s biggest films.”
The Plays and Players Theatre’s architectural design also plays a historic significance to the area. With mercer tiles from Doylestown, Pennsylvania and ornate decorations with beautiful murals by American painter Edith Emerson, the approximately 300-seat theater has made several debut performances over the years ranging in classic to new plays and revues and various genres.
“The theater is well known for being the pioneers of children’s theater,” Verbrugghe said. “This still stands true today in our performing and fundraising efforts.”
Being in existence for more than a century, Plays and Players Theatre is known as one of the oldest theaters in continuous use in the United States.
“Our mission is to provide diverse and intelligent performances to theatergoers of all ages,” Verbrugghe said. “We want to engage with audiences for many more years to come and continue our historical legacy in the community.”
Through academic institutions, music and theater, the Philadelphia zip code of 19103 has been instrumental in providing culturally rich origins for the area. Through its illustrious residents and sense of community, the history of this small section of the “City of Brotherly Love” can still be sensed in the air, heard through its sounds and seen on its stages.