On the Market: Restored Brownstone for Rent in Rittenhouse Square

This grand mansion, which housed Navy seamen on shore leave for half a century, has been restored to the grandeur it had when Reading Railroad President Joseph Smith lived there.

restored rittenhouse square brownstone townhouse for rent front elevation

The doctor who purchased this Rittenhouse Square townhouse in 1990 turned it back into a spectacular single-family residence. Its current owners put a modern gloss on its Gilded Age soul. It’s located at 1718 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103 | Photos: Powelton Digital Media Group (PDMG) via Kristen Foote, Compass, unless otherwise noted

Those who served in the United States Navy in the years after World War II may recognize the facade above.

That’s because for about 50 years, this elegant Rittenhouse Square brownstone townhouse for rent served as what’s known as a “mother house” — a house owned by the Navy where sailors on shore leave could stay while in Philadelphia.

According to this house’s owner, psychotherapist Karen Ginsburg, at least one Navy veteran approached her and her husband Jeremy with fond recollections of this place as they were busy updating the house for use as their own residence. The Ginsburgs had bought it in 2010 from a physician who had bought it in 1990, turned it back into a single-family residence, then rented it out to a college president when the couple moved after they had kids.

The Ginsburgs also ended up moving elsewhere because of their child, but “we couldn’t bear to part with the house,” she says. ”It’s the only house on the block that’s a single-family residence.”

And the Ginsburgs would love to rent it to you.

This grand residence dates to 1870. Information about its original owner has faded into history, but Ginsburg does know that by 1900, it had become home to the Reading Company’s first president, Joseph Smith Harris, who J.P. Morgan recruited to reorganize the bankrupt Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and its coal-mining subsidiary in 1893.

restored rittenhouse square brownstone townhouse for rent library


Much of what you see here, especially the library, is Harris’ handiwork, part of an extension he built at the rear of the house.

In most cases, homeowners are advised to have empty rooms staged because buyers have a hard time envisioning them furnished. The agent who is marketing this house even had two rooms virtually staged. But this is one of those rare gems whose rooms are so rich in detail, so beautifully restored and updated, so damned gorgeous that to fill them with fake furniture takes away from their appeal, and both the owner and the agent agree.

Don’t believe me? Just look. I’ll let the pictures do the explaining from here.

restored rittenhouse square brownstone townhouse for rent view of main living area from stairs

Living room, front parlor and foyer, viewed from staircase

restored rittenhouse square brownstone townhouse for rent living room

Living room

restored rittenhouse square brownstone townhouse for rent

Front parlor

restored rittenhouse square brownstone townhouse for rent dining room

Dining room

kitchen and breakfast room

Kitchen and breakfast room

As you can see, the Ginsburgs did add some modern elements and features to this house when they updated it. Of course, for a house like this, a top-drawer kitchen is a must.

master bathroom

Master bathroom

But in updating the house, they paid attention to its classical style and original architectural detail, some of which you see in these photos. They chose lighting, tilework and fixtures that either complimented or channeled the spirit of the originals.

detail of inlaid floor and library carving

Left: Detail of inlays in living-room hardwood floor; right: lion’s head carving, one of two bracketing the banquette at the rear of the library | Photos: Kristen Foote

The listing agent, Kristen Foote of Compass, sent some photos of her favorite detail. And the wood inlays in the living room and the rich carvings in the ornate library definitely rank up there.

living-room oculus and vestibule transom

Left: Oculus in ceiling of living-room antechamber; right: stained-glass transom over vestibule door

But so does the glasswork, from the oculus in the antechamber between the living and dining rooms to the stained and leaded glass over the vestibule and foyer doors.

This updated Rittenhouse brownstone townhouse for rent is ideally configured for either a large family or an owner who enjoys hosting overnight guests. In addition to the two-room second-floor master suite, two of the four bedrooms on the upper two floors have en-suite bathrooms and plenty of closet space. The two fourth-floor bedrooms share a bath, and a bonus room on the fourth floor has plenty of built-in bookshelves and can serve as a studio or home office.

rear courtyard

Rear courtyard

This house also has a very large, very green courtyard in back of the wing Harris added. Pro tip for the Ginsbergs: this patio would look even nicer with permeable paving, and the city may be willing to reimburse you for the effort.

If you’ve dreamed of living like a Gilded Age baron, you now have the chance to do so without the cares of homeownership. But do take good care of the Ginsburgs’ baby. After all, they’ve showered it with so much love.



BATHS: 4 full, 2 half



1718 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19107 [Kristen Foote | Compass]

Updated May 14th, 11:02 a.m., to correct the photographer credit.