In 1907, a North Broad Street address meant wealth and position.
Costly private mansions stood side by side with churches and flourishing businesses.
At the time, many mansions along Broad Street were being torn down or converted for other uses, but one of the street’s last mansions was being erected at 1500 North Broad.
In December 1906, Alfred E. Burk, President of Burk Brothers, the most extensive manufacturing firm of glazed kid leather in the world at the time, purchased the 100 by 200 foot lot at the northwest corner of Broad and Jefferson Streets for $65,000.
Burk had the stately four-story brownstone that stood on the lot torn down and contracted the architectural firm Simon and Bassett to design his new residence.
Edward Simon was recognized as one of Philadelphia’s most important architects of the time.
Other buildings in the city that bear his name include the Fidelity Building at Broad and Walnut and Strawbridge & Clothier Building at Eighth and Market Streets.
Burk told Simon to spare no expense because he wanted his home to last a thousand years.
The house cost $256,000 to erect in 1907, which is equivalent to $5.1 million today.
The three-story mansion has a Green River limestone exterior and was designed to bear resemblance to an Italian villa of the late urban Italian Renaissance.
The home itself has 27 rooms, seven bathrooms, a carriage house and garage and a conservatory with a suite for the gardener.
Historians note that one of the home’s most interesting features is the concealed entrance to the basement, which covers more land area than the house does.
There are two narrow passageways that extend from the main basement to Jefferson Street where there are two special storage rooms.
One held the winter’s supply of coal and the other was the refrigerator room since there were no freezers at the time.
According to a 1971 university press release, the legend behind the home is that Burk was jilted by his sweetheart and built the mansion to show her what her home would have been like if she had married him.
Truth or legend, the 56-year old Burk was a bachelor when he died in 1921.
The home was left to his sisters, Louise and Minnie, who lived there until 1942.
The home was left vacant after 1942 until it was sold to the Upholsterer’s International Union in July 1945 for $50,000.
The union renovated the home for office use and added a three-story addition to the northern side of the property.
“With the exception of the elevator and air conditioning systems installed by the union, this house stands as an almost complete record of a mansion of that decade,” said Margaret Tinkcom, a historian with the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
Temple University acquired the Burk residence in September 1970 for $375,000.
The university upgraded the property for educational and office use and used the rear conservatory area and addition as a daycare facility.
The School of Social Administration and the Center for Social Policy and Community Development were housed at the mansion until the mid 1990s when a fire forced the abandonment of the property.
Temple officials had the property certified as a historic site with the Philadelphia Historic Commission in January 1971 and with the Historic American Buildings Survey of The Library of Congress in July 1973.
Chris Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org