Reliving a moment at Philly’s Broad & Locust – TR’s road to the White House

An inconspicuous corner that played a key role in Teddy Roosevelt’s winding road to the White House – Broad & Locust, blocks south of Philadelphia’s City Hall, itself still a year away from final completion when the 1900 Republican National Convention was held in town.

Teddy was governor of New York at the time, caught between boss politics and corporate interests. His one lifeline was a passionate relationship with the progressive press (a relationship detailed beautifully in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit), and it was that national popularity – and local uncertainty – that swept him into position as the party’s chief prospect for Vice President.

Broad & Locust at the time was home to the Hotel Walton, detailed in this postcard posted by Johnny Good Times (yes, he of Quizzo fame).

Kearns Goodwin details the scene in her book:

The moment Roosevelt arrived in Philadelphia, the stampede for his nomination began—just as Lodge and Judge Parker had predicted. Entering the crowded lobby of the Hotel Walton around 6 p.m., he was met by “vociferous applause” and thunderous cries of “Teddy, Teddy, Teddy.” When the raucous crowd launched into a chorus of “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” journalists noted, “Roosevelt blushed, doffed his hat and bowed his acknowledgments as he recognized the tune played after his charge up San Juan Hill.”

He had scarcely finished breakfast the following morning, the New York Tribune reported, when “he had reason to suspect that something of importance affecting his political fortunes had happened in the course of the night”: one state delegation after another “invaded” his room, announcing that he was their unanimous choice for vice president.

I was able to find this image of the convention, showing TR amid state signs.

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These activities took place near Penn’s campus at Exposition Auditorium, later known as the Commercial Museum, which had been built 1897-99 for the National Export Exposition (1899) and ultimately demolished in 2006. (The razing of that whole Civic Center complex turned up quite a bounty of artifacts.)

So what happened to the Hotel Walton? That lobby in Center City where Teddy realized that this was his next step, and where he began summoning his magnificent energies to tackle that next great fight – always striving for the same greatness he felt on San Juan hill.

OCF Realty’s blog picks up the story of Broad & Locust from there. The hotel at that time was operating as the Hotel Bartram, but it failed in the 1960’s and was replaced with a lovely Philadelphia style vacant lot, probably not a nice place in the era of Police Commissioner Rizzo.

In 1980 the Hershey Trust – read my colleague’s book The Chocolate Trust for the back story here on this immense wealth and power center based in central PA – through its entertainment division in Hershey Food Company purchased the plot and began construction on the accordion style building which would be the Philadelphia Hershey Hotel.

Many hopes were pinned on the hotel for revitalizing the corner of Broad & Locust and Washington Square West. A Philadelphia Inquirer article from 1982 reported,

Police officer Daniel Faulkner was killed at 13th and Locust a little over a year ago, a crime that reinforced the local perception of the corner as a high crime area. Hookers, pimps and drug dealers have worked the area and, more recently, streetwalkers have clashed with members of the city’s homosexual community, which has been expanding in the Washington Square West area.

“It’s like a salad out there,” says Police Inspector John DiBenedetto. ”You have a little bit of everything. . . . But the bars themselves aren’t the problem. It’s the people who go there.”

Architects Alesker and Dunner feature the construction on their website to this day.

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OCF’s David Tomar takes the story from there:

Hilton partnered with Hershey in 1991 before selling out to DoubleTree two years later. To maximize confusion, Hilton purchased the DoubleTree company in 1999 and changed the name of the hotel to DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Philadelphia Center City.

You can read the Daily News’ story on the Hilton-Hershey deal here.

And I hope next time you pass by Broad & Locust, you take a moment to remember TR’s arrival there in the early summer of 1900 on the precipice of his greatest strike of fate yet.

Sep. 25 2016, 10:07 am