The Perfect Square

A History of Rittenhouse Square

Nancy M. Heinzen
Book Cover

PB: $
EAN: 978-1-59213-989-7

HC: $36.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-988-0

Ebook: $36.50
EAN: 978-1-59213-990-3

224 pages
8 x 8
48 halftones, 3 maps

A history of America’s best-used public space

Read the Prologue (pdf).


Great cities and neighborhoods rise and fall, yet for two centuries Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia has seized the imagination and envy of social climbers, urban planners, and novelists alike. In The Perfect Square, Nancy Heinzen—a resident of Rittenhouse Square for over 40 years and an activist committed to its preservation—provides the first full-length social history of this public urban space. One of the five squares that William Penn established when he founded the city, the southwest-situated Rittenhouse Square has transformed from a marshy plot surrounded by brickyards and workers' shanties into the epicenter of Philadelphia high society. A post–Civil War keystone of Center City Philadelphia, it was once home to great dynasties, elegant mansions, and grand dames of the Victorian era. Today it is lined with sleek, modern, high-rise condominiums and graceful buildings of another era, where entrepreneurs and descendants of immigrants live side by side. Heinzen lovingly chronicles the development and growth of this urban space, illustrating that not only is Rittenhouse Square unique but so too is the combination of human events and relationships that have created and sustained it. Painstakingly researched and generously illustrated with black-and-white photos from public archives, The Perfect Square will appeal to lay readers interested in history, to professional historians and urban planners, and to the thousands of residents who have settled on or near Rittenhouse Square.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Prologue: Urban Oasis (2000) 1. Governor’s Woods (1681–1825) 2. The Early Years (1825–1844) 3. Bricks and Mortar (1844–1863) 4. The Family Years (1863–1884) 5. The Encroaching City (1884–1913) 6. Turning Point (1913–1915) 7. Skyline (1915–1945) 8.Things We Should Fight For (1945–1968) 9. The Millennium (1968–2009) Notes Bibliography Index

About the Author(s)

Nancy M. Heinzen, a resident of Rittenhouse Square, taught and served as a counselor in the Philadelphia School District. She has long been involved as a volunteer and board member in organizations dedicated to the preservation of the Square, including Friends of Rittenhouse Square, Center City Residents Association, Rittenhouse Flower Market, and Friends of Curtis Institute.