WHO WE ARE
This website is run by the Water Tower Advisory Council (WTAC).
If the phrase "Water Tower Advisory Council" sounds confusing, don't worry!
Here is a quick flowchart demonstrating how the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, our community and the Advisory Council, work in partnership with the same common goal.
The mission of the Water Tower Advisory Council is to guide the development and use of the Water Tower Recreation Center.
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation promotes the well being of the City, its citizens and visitors by offering beautiful natural landscapes and parks, historically significant resources, high quality recreation centers and athletic programs, along with enriching cultural and environmental programs.
Adapted from text researched and written by former PPR Recreation History Researcher Laura Proctor
Article originally posted as the third installment in PPR's Historic Structures Profile
To celebrate the rich history of Philadelphia’s parks and recreational facilities, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) is highlighting historic structures located at parks and recreation sites throughout the city. The third structure to be highlighted in this series is Water Tower Recreation Center, which was built on a former reservoir site in North Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood, which was then redeveloped as a public playground in 1910.
The Water Tower Recreation Center was built in memory of Henry M. Houston Woodward, the eldest son of Dr. George and Mrs. Gertrude Houston Woodward, who was killed in the line of duty during World War I. The facility’s name refers to a 125’-tall mortared stone standpipe built in 1859 that remains on the western end of the property, once part of the City-owned Chestnut Hill Water Company’s reservoir complex. The Woodwards ensured the plot’s future role as a recreation site through an earlier donation of property located at 22nd and Huntington Streets to the City as a public playground (now Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center). The bequest was contingent on the City’s agreement to redevelop the six-acre reservoir site as a public playground and to operate and maintain the site in perpetuity. In 1910, the City agreed to these conditions and the Woodwards financed the redevelopment of the site.
Within two years, a modest facility known as the Gravers Lane Playground provided the children of upper Chestnut Hill with a place to exercise and play. The property also included playing fields located on the filled-in site of the former reservoir. In 1919, the City transferred ownership of the property from the Department of Public Works to the Bureau of Recreation under the auspices of the Department of Public Welfare.
During the late nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century, Dr. Woodward was one of the most prolific land developers in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. He frequently employed architect Robert Rodes McGoodwin and his partner Samuel D. Hawley to design residential developments along Navajo Street and Willow Grove Avenue. After the dissolution of McGoodwin and Hawley’s partnership, McGoodwin continued working for Woodward, designing residences for the Woodward Estate in Chestnut Hill in 1912. When the time came for Dr. and Mrs. Woodward to commission the construction of the new recreation center, they hired McGoodwin.
The two-story, seven-bay stone building’s Neoclassical form was reminiscent of the design of Germantown’s Waterview Recreation Center. As they did at Waterview, visitors to Water Tower entered the building through a grand, full-height porch supported by four Doric columns and a doorway adorned with a large fanlight and a keystone lintel. However, Water Tower’s design diverged from the flat roof of Waterview’s porch with a triangular pediment that featured an oculus window and modillions. The Water Tower Recreation Center was completed in 1921 on the site of the reservoir’s former pumping station.
A $10,000 gift from the Woodwards in 1929 partially financed the $60,000 construction of two symmetrical, single-story, seven-bay wing additions to the recreation center. The southwestern wing provided an auditorium and civic meeting space while its northeastern counterpart housed a gymnasium. These improvements allowed the facility to reach “Class A" status. The City’s Class A centers included “playgrounds with playground equipment, large recreation buildings with gymnasiums, and auditorium.” In addition, the modifications to the facility meant that its design now corresponded closely to those of several other early twentieth century Philadelphia recreation centers, including Athletic (1913), Cecil B. Moore (1923), Vare (1924), and Kendrick (1925).
By the mid-twentieth century, the Water Tower Recreation Center site had expanded, with the addition of two parcels enclosed by East Hartwell Lane, Winston Road, and Ardleigh Street, totaling two acres. This section of the property now houses six tennis courts. The modern facility also includes a batting cage, a hockey rink, one general playing field, two ball fields, and three basketball courts.
David R. Contosta, A Philadelphia Family: The Houstons and Woodwards of Chestnut Hill. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1988, p. 88.
Joseph Minardi, Historic Architecture in Northwest Philadelphia, 1690-1930s. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 2012, p. 195.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ordinances of the City of Philadelphia from January 1, to December 31, 1910 and Opinions of the City Solicitor, 24 June 1910.
Contosta, A Philadelphia Family, p. 88.
“Play Body Visits Recreation Spots,” Philadelphia Inquirer. Volume 166, Issue 135, page 2. 14 May 1912.
Jane Mork Gibson, Workshop of the World. Philadelphia: Oliver Evans Press. 1990.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ordinances of the City of Philadelphia from January 1, to December 31, 1919 and Opinions of the City Solicitor, 8 July 1919, pp. 177-18.
Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss, Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co. 1985, pp. 515-17.
First Annual Message of J. Hampton Moore, Mayor of Philadelphia Containing the Reports of the Various Departments of the City of Philadelphia for the Year Ending December 31, 1920, “Bureau of Recreation,” 1 Feb 1921, p. 770.
Contosta, A Philadelphia Family. P. 109.
First Annual Message of J. Hampton Moore, Mayor of Philadelphia Containing the Reports of the Various Departments of the City of Philadelphia for the Year Ending December 31, 1932, “Bureau of Recreation,” 1933, p. 493.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ordinances of the City of Philadelphia from January 1, to December 31, 1954, 17 May 1954, pp. 289-91.
“Facility Details: Water Tower Recreation Center,” Philadelphia Parks & Recreation,http://www.phila.gov/parksandrecreation/findafacility/findrecreationarea.aspx.
(1958. Students from John Story Jenks School using the facilities of the Water Tower Recreation Center for their physical education period. Fairmount Park Historic Resources Archive.)
(1929. Water Tower Recreation Center. Temple University Digital Library.)