Bingham House Hotel: A Great Transformation — The Life of the Bingham House Hotel
The Market East section of Center City Philadelphia is one of the city’s most traveled areas. With shops, eateries and transportation depots, this section of Philadelphia is rarely a ghost town. Taking a trip back to the early 1800s, the southeast corner of 11th and Market Streets was not as we see it today. In fact, it was on the western edge of the city’s limits and not heavily traveled. Despite this, Philadelphia’s very first hotel was built here, which later became known as the Bingham House Hotel.
Built as the New Mansion House Hotel in 1812 by architect Thomas Leiper, it is known as the first building built for the purpose of being a hotel. Before this time, people often lodged above taverns and in homes turned into hotels or boarding houses. The building represented a transition from the Georgian architecture that existed in Philadelphia at the time to something fitting a growing modern city. The brick building was of the Federal, or neo-classical, style and offered a total of 42 rooms for I guests.
William Renshaw, the previous manager of the Mansion House within Senator William Bingham’s mansion on 3rd Street, managed the New Mansion House Hotel. Renshaw operated the hotel for a short period of time before leaving in 1814. The hotel officially closed in 1816, and its less traveled location might have been a factor. The property remained unoccupied until 1823 when the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and Dumb moved into the building temporarily. In 1825 the school moved into its new home, and the building acted as a boarding house throughout most of the 1830s. The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad purchased the building in 1839. In 1841 the building was expanded by famous architect Thomas Ustick, and transformed into a railroad depot. The depot offered rooms for travelers to lodge in, and a station that President Abraham Lincoln traveled through in 1848. Throughout the Civil War the building survived, allegedly, as the United States Hotel.
In 1867 the property became the Bingham House Hotel under the management of a man named Curlis Davis. The hotel was named, not after Senator Bingham, but after a Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad express and freight employee, John Bingham. As the Bingham House Hotel, the building’s design was updated to one stylish in the late 1800s with a mansard roof.
The Bingham House Hotel was known for its upper class status and hospitality, but it also received attention as being the location of the country’s first violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In January of 1876 African American reverend Fields Cook asked for a room and was denied on the basis of his skin color. Following his denial, Cook watched numerous white guests receive accommodations that same evening. Cook brought the case to court and won, as the hotel clerk violated the Act. Despite this case, the hotel’s business continued, but stood as the location for a historic legal decision.
The hotel was purchased by land owner William Weightman in 1881. Although the hotel saw decorative renovations in the 1880s, the building underwent a major structural transformation starting in 1889 by architect Willis G. Hale. The building was of a late Victorian style with various heights, balconies, archways, and small towers to compliment the mansard roof. Also, the addition of an elegant roof garden restaurant was something the hotel owners took pride in offering their customers. The hotel, under the management of David B. Provan, was renamed the New Bingham Hotel in the early 1900s. In 1919, the Stanley Company of America purchased the hotel to build a motion picture house, and the hotel officially closed its doors in June of 1920. After surviving 110 years, the building was demolished two years later to make way for the future Earle Theater.
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11th and Market