Friday, May 13, 2016

Greek Philadelphia. Stephano Residence

If you have ever seen a pack of Camel cigarettes, you would have undoubtedly noticed the Egyptian iconography. Egyptian tobacco was considered most elite and coveted as superior to Virginia tobacco. Few appreciate that Egyptian cigarettes were actually manufactured by the Greeks of Egypt who brought the product to the United States. Stephano Brothers was one of the best known manufacturers of Egyptian cigarettes and major players in the Greek community of Philadelphia. The company's Rameses II cigarette brand was so successful that they built a grand Beaux Arts factory on 1014-16 Walnut Street, designed by Ballinger. The photo below shows Stephano Bros (demolished in the 1960s), courtesy of Temple University Urban Archives. More photos of the building can be found at the Athenaeum in the Ballinger Archives (see here).

The Stephano family is one of the subjects of this summer's Hackman research that I am conducting with two undergraduate students. We will be studying the materialities of ethnic communities, particularly through buildings, spaces, and objects. Preliminary archival research has lead me to Constantine Stephano's naturalization papers of 1904, ten years after his arrival from Greece. He lists 317 S 12th Street as his residence. 

According to oral tradition, the Stephano Brothers began their cigarette empire at the basement of their house. If this is correct, we have established a locus of domestic manufacturing. We have written to the owners of the property and hope to gain access inside. The house belongs to a development stretching from 309 to 323 S 12th and sandwiched between older townhouses. The block is best known by two 1970s landmarks of gay life, Giovanni's Room to the south and the Alexander Inn to the north. With some further research, we will establish the construction date of this house and add it to the architectural narrative of Greektown. Although this part of the research might not be possible, I would like to compare this post-immigration residence in Philadelphia with the pre-emigration residence in village Dikorfo, Epirus, where the Stephanos originated.

The Stephano Bros. introduced their most successful brand, Rameses II, in 1895. Its early packaging (see here) featured images of Ramses II and Amenhotep. In the 1910s, the company highlighted aristocracy; this 1918 print ad deploys Washington's Mount Vernon residence up on a hill. By connecting the architectural dots, we hope to articulate an important modality of trans-nationalism in the early 20th century mitigated by the Greek diaspora. There has been little scholarship on the Stephano Brothers cigarette empire. But I suspect that their source of tobacco might have been Thrace and Macedonia. In Kavala, for instance, the American Tobacco Company had established an outpost in 1901.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Kourelis,

Thank you very much for your research. My name is Andre Stephano, the great grandson of Constantine Stephano, the founder of Stephano Bros. and one of founding fathers of the Greek community in Philadelphia. I'd very much like to learn about your research. My parents and my own family live in center city. If you could email me at I'd be really enjoy the opportunity to speak w you.


Andre Stephano

Alex K. said...

Great research, Kosti. The Stephanos are a hugely important family in the C20th history of the Greek presence in Philadelphia. Some information about them is included in Babis Malafouris' book Οι Ελληνες στην Αμερική but otherwise, you are right, historians and researchers have overlooked their contributions to community life.

Alexander Kitroeff

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States