Unlisted: Horn & Hardart

Unlisted: Horn & Hardart

Written and drawn by Ben Leech

Unlisted is a series of portraits highlighting Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.  To learn how to protect a building by nominating it to the Register, click here.

Address: 6828 Market Street, Upper Darby

Architect: Ralph Bencker

Built: c.1930

Standing just beyond the Philly city limits in Upper Darby, this Horn & Hardart Automat-cum-Crown Fried Chicken is of course not listed on the Philadelphia Register.  If it were a only few blocks east, it would be.

Philadelphia once had dozens of these Horn and Hardart Automats, coin-operated cafeterias and bastions of pure uncut class that catered to the pocket change of prince and pauper alike for most of the early twentieth century.  Imagine for a moment that every Dunkin Donuts and Crown Chicken in the city today was instead a gleaming art deco jewel box that dispensed steaming hot food from nickel-fed boxes in the wall, with linen on all the tables and stained glass in all the windows.  I generally take exception to the nostalgist’s lament that “things were better way back when,” but in the case of the Automat, the nostalgist is right.

Most were the work of Ralph Bencker, a minor master of over-the-top art deco facades. One former Horn and Hardart Automat is listed on the Philadelphia Register (818 Chestnut Street), and at least one or two more survive unlisted and in various degrees of mutilation.  But the vast majority have disappeared without a trace, and judging from the few historic photos I’ve been able to track down, the loss is painful. See for yourself below.

217 South Broad Street

1400 Arch Street

1429 Arch Street

Somewhere on 18th Street (photo via the Athenaeum of Philadelphia)

16th and Chestnut (photo via the Athenaeum of Philadelphia)

16th and Chestnut (photo via the Philadelphia Historical Commission)