Andorra: A Gem in Northwest Philadelphia

Andorra is a unique and distinctive neighborhood nestled in the Northwest corner of Philadelphia. Its rich history, cultural identity, and suburban-like characteristics make it a point of interest for both locals and visitors.

Situated within the borders of the initial Roxborough Township, Andorra shares the same zip code (19128). It sits at one of the highest elevations in Philadelphia, on bluffs that overlook the Schuylkill River. Interestingly, it was named ‘Andorra’ due to its perceived resemblance to the tiny nation straddling the Pyrenees between France and Spain.

This neighborhood is peculiar as it lies within Philadelphia city limits but has more in common with suburban Montgomery County in terms of aesthetics and vibe. This is largely due to its establishment and development in 1950, which brought about typically suburban features like a strip mall, single or double-family dwellings with ample space, and apartment buildings with plenty of off-street parking.


Early Beginnings

Andorra’s history traces back to two large estates bought by Henry H. Houston in the 1880s. Houston, together with Alexander Cassatt, President of Pennsylvania Railroad, proposed a railroad connection between Chestnut Hill and the Main Line suburbs. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t materialize.

The Twentieth Century

In the early 1900s, Houston’s son, Sam Houston, made several attempts to sell the estates to institutions. Despite his unsuccessful attempts to use the land to host the Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1921, he collaborated with the Roxborough government to create an east-west roadway and two bridges. The plan was approved in 1927 but was never built.

The Cathedral Hills Plan

In the 1940s, Houston tried to sell additional estate land to the Veterans Administration, Temple University, and a proposed site for the United Nations Headquarters. In 1948, the Houston Estate and Planning Commission recruited architect Eero Saarinen to design the master plan for a proposed suburban development called “Cathedral Hills”. Renamed “Andorra”, the development included plans for over 5,000 single-family homes, duplexes, and apartments designed by Robert Rodes McGoodwin. Though only 400 were ever built, they laid the foundation for the Andorra we see today.


Public Libraries

The Free Library of Philadelphia operates the Andorra Branch at the Andorra Shopping Center at 705 East Cathedral Road at Henry Avenue.

Places of Worship

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is home to a non-religious retirement home, known as Cathedral Village. Furthermore, Andorra Baptist Church, headquarters of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, serving the Armenian community of Andorra, are also significant local religious institutions.


Ridge Avenue, along with Henry Avenue (which splits off from Ridge Avenue in Andorra), are the major thoroughfares in Andorra. Other significant streets are Bells Mill Road, a 2-lane link through Fairmount Park and over the Wissahickon Creek which is the quickest way for cars to reach Chestnut Hill from Andorra and Roxborough; Port Royal Avenue; and Cathedral Road.

Andorra is an interesting blend of urban and suburban, rich in history and culture. Its unique location, stunning views, and distinctive characteristics make it a must-visit neighborhood in Philadelphia.