The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia nominated the Hotel Powelton/Powelton Café at 20-24 N. 40th Street, a large Queen Anne style corner building with a fascinating social history. The hotel was built by Thomas C. Sloan in 1893 when a population boost led to increased commercial activity in the once-suburban area. In the early 20th century, the hotel’s northern half was partially converted into a chemical laboratory by the A.C. Barnes Companyowned by Albert C. Barnes, famed art collector and founder of the Barnes Foundation. The company manufactured Argyrol and other pharmaceuticals at the location, expanding operations into the entire building in 1919. Barnes’ factory was known for hiring a predominately African American workforce and providing progressive benefits to its employees, including a six-hour work day that was, according to the nomination, “organized around a voluntary, two-hour paid midday seminar,” a lending library open to company workers, and a gallery displaying “rarely less than one hundred pictures on view at all times.” About a decade later, the first floor of the former hotel became the Powelton Café, a leading venue and jazz club that hosted prominent African American performers including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and many more, into the 1960s.
The former Hotel Powelton/Powelton Cafe/A.C. Barnes Company laboratory at 20-24 N. 40th Street in 2013. | Photo: Bradley Maule