It’s hard to imagine the state of Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood in the 1950s. By this time, what was once a vibrant area had fallen into a slump of neglect, which wasn't a rare occurrence nationwide post-WWII. Instead of allowing Society Hill to deteriorate beyond repair, the city of Philadelphia took an approach to urban renewal that was considered revolutionary for the period. Important and not-so-notable houses from the 18th and 19th century would be restored, with select areas replaced by modern townhomes and apartments, allowing a wonderful mix of old and new. Today, the greatest evidence of this effort is the Society Hill Towers; as the tallest structures in the district, they’re kind of hard to miss.
Before being cleared away for renewal purposes, the land on which the Towers sit on was home to Philadelphia’s main fruit and produce wholesale district, the Dock Street Market. With the market moved to South Philly, the five acres were reconfigured into a landscaped plot onto which three identical towers were placed, then as today possessing great views of the Delaware River and Center City Philadelphia. Construction was completed in 1963, and the architect was none other than I.M. Pei. If you’re familiar with the glass pyramids at the Louvre, or the John F. Kennedy Library, or the National Gallery’s East Building, you know Pei. Those who own a Society Hill Towers condo are living in the work of one of America’s most noted modernist architects.
Although the towers were built as apartments, the complex underwent conversion to condos in 1979. All units are flats; in other words, don’t expect to see lofts or multi-story floorplans. Studios and one and two bedroom configurations are the most common, but the combination of some units has resulted in a few three bedrooms. Each of the three buildings rises to thirty-two stories of poured-in concrete, for a total of 624 units. Amenities of the buildings include bike storage, a fitness center, community room, and a hospitality suite. Also, a pool and picnic area are included on the grounds. Unlike many newer buildings, many of the amenities aren’t included and come at an extra fee. Residents enjoy easy access to I-95 and the Delaware River waterfront, not to mention the pleasure of living in one of Center City’s most picturesque neighborhoods, which is known for being a little quieter and greener than most. The Society Hill Towers were added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1999, proving that the “new kids on the block” have become just as much landmarks as the neighborhood they were meant to revitalize.