Official Unlimited: A Building with a History

If you haven’t been on North Broad Street lately then you might not know about Official Unlimited. Boasting a full line of brand name urban street wear, the boutique style store is a must-see for anyone looking to get decked out in a hip new wardrobe. Yet that’s not all you’ll find alluring about Official Unlimited. The building itself is worth checking out if you have never seen it.

Those familiar with North Broad Street know that it has its share of majestic buildings, albeit some weathered ones. According to some observers, “The farther north you go, the more beat-up its gilded relics seem to get.” However, the building on the corner of York Street is a different story. The massive neoclassical structure is a sight to behold for anyone interested in architecture or city history. Driving by, you can see the two limestone pavilions standing tall in their placement. These were built in 1905 for the purpose of serving Dropsie College for Hebrew and cognate Learning, a private university for those interested in studying ancient languages and Jewish history.

The structure was funded by a man named Moses Aaron Dropsie. He came into wealth through a series of Philadelphia streetcar investments. Dropsie was part of the German-Jewish community that settled in South Philadelphia during the 19th century. North Broad Street became the new locale for many of the community members. North Broad Street was the ideal spot for showcasing their success, and they continued to build a series of other structures.

Abraham Levy was Dropsie’s architect. He created the rare book room at Dropsie which illustrated the same classical design that the campus structures were known for. The Mikveh Israel Synagogue was built in 1909, and is highlighted by its large, arched doors and ornate, scrolled columns. Historians estimate that the classical architectural style was intended to prove that Jewish values were compatible with American values. While many other Jewish universities were opting for Venetian and Moorish designs for their architecture, Dropsie still decided to go with the classical style that represented democratic ideals.

In the 1950’s Dropsie suffered a decline and was shut down after arson in 1981. Dropsie was later reopened as the Center for Judaic Studies which is part of the University of Pennsylvania. More recently it served as a shelter for homeless veterans. The building was eventually sold, and is now home to the one and only Official unlimited. The next time you’re in the area, come check out a unique urban shop with roots in a unique piece of Philadelphia history.

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