The Hidden History of a historic South Philadelphia townhouse

“You don’t really have to know what you want,” says the owner of a rare and exquisite, $5 million three-storey home in Forest Hill, one of four houses with walls made of Brazilian mahogany and Brazilian walnut that sit in North Philadelphia’s Castleton Hill Historic District. She purchased the first house in the row, dating back to the 1700s, as a carpenter in his late thirties. “I used to cut and hammer the beams,” he says. While he is not the one who built this last home (“I was a colonial in a half-timbered country townhouse”), the owner insists that the custom design is her job and a reflection of her taste. “When I talk about renovations, I really talk about the love for architecture and a love for the rustic,” she tells Curbed.

The massive main house, which sits on the first level with five bedrooms, six baths, and a fireplace, owes its size and grandeur to the design of architect Jim Gagnon. This house was built on a third-floor loft converted into a double. The home is also just two blocks from Roosevelt Boulevard, a back street originally established as a tavern by slaves in 1734, and is home to the well-known Castleton Gourmet Deli, opened in 1948 by Bessie Kamert, who later turned the space into a restaurant. “There are family history and history of true Philadelphians,” she explains. “I’m interested in black Americans.”

Photos by Kevin Sullivan for Curbed. View more photos in the slide show.

This article appears in the April 2018 issue of New York Magazine.

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