Because the DRPA has issued a contract for a feasibility study to reopen the PATCO Franklin Square station, one of the first stations on the old PRT/PTC Bridge Line which opened in 1936, which the above token got you a ride on at one time. The Philadelphia Business Journal reported yesterday that the 750,000 annual visitors to Historic Philadelphia Inc.’s revamped Franklin Square had something to do with the decision. Closed in 1979, the station (which you can tour with WHYY’s Peter Crimmins here) has enjoyed intermittent popularity since it was opened in 1936 as one of the four stations of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company’s Bridge Line.
As expected, the fortune of the Franklin Square Station was inextricably linked to the conditions of a declining vice district adjacent to the park. When Christopher Morley sauntered through the park in search of bohemian anonymity in 1920 he coyly observed the residents of the “theatrical boarding houses”:
…Ladies with very short skirts and silk stockings” showing off their “fuzzy white dogs that just match the soiled white steps.”
The neighborhood, by all accounts, was mixed–bars, brothels, residences, even old German churches and small manufactories lined the park. Yet no one use prevailed over other and the diversity gave the neighborhood and park a vibrancy that’s evident in Morley’s “The Recluse of Franklin Square”.
At some point, however, the area became uniformly disreputable. The arrival of the Delaware River Bridge in 1926, which placed its Paul Cret-designed western approach just to the east of the park presaged the complete strangulation of the park by the Vine Street Expressway in the late 1980s. After World War II, the Philadelphia Transportation Company shuttered the station as the neighborhood to the east of Franklin Square took on the moniker “Skid Row”.
In the recently released Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data and GIS are Changing Historical Scholarship, Penn student Benjamin Berman used an 1952 Health and Welfare Council report map of this area to frame the issue of urban renewal and highway construction in the 1950s and 1960s. While clearly there was much to do in the neighborhood, apparently people weren’t talking the subway to get there: a year after the Health and Welfare Report, the Franklin Square station reopened but closed quickly thereafter due to lack of ridership.
Whether the threat of a limited access multi-lane highway was enough to depopulate the area or the Callowhill East Industrial Redevelopment zoned out residents or simply that no one wanted to live in a red light district, by the time the Vine Street Expressway cinched itself around Franklin Square there wasn’t much of a neighborhood left. Of course the transformation of the square is well known: from derelict park and graveyard to homeless encampment to miniature golf and Stephen Starr. The question, of course, is will enough of those 750,000 visitors to Franklin Square use PATCO? Will tourists use PATCO for short trips to and from hotels? Has the neighborhood developed sufficient commercially and residentially to warrant a 24 hour station? Will commuters use it? Does PATCO see the reopening of this station in concert with its Ben Franklin Bridge traffic reduction efforts? A thriving vice district couldn’t keep the station open, can a seemingly thriving heritage tourism district?
[As an aside, these tokens are the same dimensions as present-day SEPTA tokens. I think they’re currently in circulation. This explains why I inadvertantly kicked this token while walking at the corner of 12th and Filbert St. near a stop for the 23 bus.]