Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Greek Philadelphia Business Directories 1904 and 1911

While my students map Greek residences in Philadelphia from the 1920 US census, I tackle the business directories. Beginning in 1904, entrepreneurial Greeks in New York began publishing almanacs to direct new immigrants navigate the new land. In addition to general information, they included business directories of Greek establishments in cities throughout the U.S. The directories provide previously untapped spatial information about Greek communities. 

The best known almanac is the Greek American Guide published every year by Serapheim Canoutas from 1908 to 1914. See my translation here of a fascinating report on the living conditions of Greek laborers in the West in Canoutas's 2nd edition of 1909.

I have taken two Greek American Guides, the first one published in 1904 by newspaper Thermopylae and the second published in 1911 by Canoutas. I have mapped the Greek business addresses below.

1904 Philadelphia Greek American Business Directory

1911 Philadelphia Greek American Business Directory

What we can see from the maps is the development of the Greek business presence in the city as confectioneries, florists, groceries, and restaurants. Focused around the cluster of Greektown, the Greek establishments developed along the main commercial corridors and expanded to the north and west. The two maps allow us to compare continuity and change in real estate, as well as proprietors.  

We can then take the particular locations and investigate their architectural character. The great majority of addresses do not exist anymore; they have fallen victim to urban redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, which ultimately lead to the end of Greektown. This makes it difficult to reconstruct the materialities of experience in the city of a century ago. Having particular spatial information, however, we can examine other archival depositories to reconstruct the materialities of some establishments. Consider the case study of 904 Walnut Street. 

The 1904 Guide gives the following summary of the Greek community of Philadelphia.

The Greek community of Philadelphia does not include a large number of members like the community of New York, Chicago, Lowell or San Francisco. Greeks began to arrive to this city in 1882. In the beginning, they worked as elsewhere in selling fruits from baskets and handcarts in central streets, and later they excelled in the foundation of confectionaries, fruit stores, and floral shops. In this city, there exist today successful and well-respected Greek confectionaries where many work. There are about 400 Greeks from which 100 work in the cigarette factory of the Stephano Brothers. A Greek Orthodox church in this city was founded about a year ago, with a priest Nathanael Sideris. (p. 146)

By 1911, the industrial epicenter of the Greek community, the Stephano Brothers cigarette factory with its 100 employees, had built its own factory on 1014 Walnut St. In 1904, the manufacturer was located on 904 Walnut Street. An additional five businesses were located in this address, making it a Greek-American business hub. This entire block has been taken over by a modern building (see here), but a search through Philadelphia's photographic archives ( provides visual testimony of the block before the block was demolished, in a photo taken by the Historic Commission in 1971.

The building in question is the third on the right. From its architectural style, we can date it to the 1890s. It had decorative stone arches and a Mansard roof (already covered in 1971) and five floors. The first floor had a large shop window made possible by iron beams and columns. The entrance vestibule opened to the commercial establishment on the first floor and a second entrance to a staircase and the additional four stories above. 

With the physical structure in mind, we can start to repopulate the building with its six Greek tenants: Stephano Bros (cigarette factory), A. Demotsis (confectionary), Em. Stergiou, P. Voloumvasis, Papavasileiou Bros, and I. Asimakopoulos. The building to its west, which had already been torn down by 1971, also housed a Greek establishment. It's also interesting to note the lack of continuity in both real estate and people. 904 Walnut St did not remain in Greek hands in 1911. With the exception of the Stephano Bros., none of its occupants are listed in the 1911 directory, suggesting that they either left Philadelphia or switched to other professions that did not make it into the directories.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States