Monday, April 21, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week: The Pearl

111 North 9th Street

So that's where I left my tissue box!
           Ugh-- that's all I can say about this shitbird building when I see it. Years of anticipation spent waiting for this barren deadzone to get a building on it and this is what we get. A fucking block-long gray and white rectangle that comes equipped with a gigantic surface parking lot in back (the side?). I don't care how successful the project was and how great it has been for the neighborhood... I accept that shit. I'm just pissed off by how fucking boring and mediocre this Lego Longhouse is. I've seen better looking parking garages.
          As implied above, the block that this property sits on was once a decades-strong surface lot that only got re-enforced by the long-ass construction of the Center City Commuter Connection Tunnel in the mid-80s. Even back then, Pan-Am Realty was interested in acquiring the lot and building some new residential and retail to add to the already short-of-available-housing Chinatown and boost development in the gigantic deadzone between there and Franklin Square. The problem was, they couldn't afford to buy the space off of the Re-Development Authority, who controlled it for years (before the CCCC tunnel's construction it was part of Independence Mall's property, which is weird).
        In 2003, they teamed up with Parkway Corp to develop just this one property, forming the ridiculously-named Nine Arch Associates (its at 9th and Arch, get it?). They commissioned the firm of Vollmer Associates to come up with a design for a new condominium, some of the first new construction to his this area since the CCCC tunnel tore through. By 2005 they were ready for an official proposal. The new condominium would have 90 units, 12 retail spaces, 6 floors, and 121 surface parking spaces.
         The design was, shall we say, ABSOLUTE TAINT!
One of the final renderings
          The proposal got rejected by zoning... not for being an ugly shoe-box-looking piece of ass mucus OR for having way more parking spaces that it would ever need, but for the simple fact that it was 76 feet tall, 16 feet higher than the area's idiotic height limit of 60 feet! In November of '05, Nine Arch appealed the refusal and were granted a variance. Construction went throughout 2006 and the project was complete by the end of 2007.
Under construction as seen from the sky. They couldn't wait to get the parking lot done. Images from Google.
           The new building was named "The Pearl", which is the name of about a million other residential buildings around the U.S. Even more confusing is that there is a local developer named Pearl Properties that has nothing to do with this (though the Granary Apartment building they developed seems almost like The Pearl's much better-looking sequel). The new condos featured tax abatements and free parking in the gigantic parking lot. The project was marketed to middle-income, first generation Chinese immigrants that were relegated to the burbs due to a lack of middle-class housing in Chinatown. It worked. The units sold like hotcakes and the retail spaces got filled in no time. Despite being ugly as fuck, the new building was incredibly successful.
            You'd think that a condo that sold out so quickly would spur more development in the deadzone to the north and east, but it still hasn't happened. The renovation of the PPA Eighth Street Parking Plaza is now underway and a new quasi-halfway house/old folks home will soon be built on the same block as that garage... but other than that, NIENTE! Maybe Parkway needs to get into another Marvel Team-Up with a local developer to get another project like this going. Please... don't make it so fucking ugly next time.

Cool dragons, shitty surface lot.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

99 Years Ago In Philadelphia- Third Week of April, 1915

 Every few weeks, I will let you know about Philadelphia's biggest news stories from 99 years ago. Check it out!

 Fuck President Taft, We're Sending the Liberty Bell to San Fran

"Fuck this guy" -City Council
             So San Fransisco was about to put on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and asked Philadelphia if they would lend the Liberty Bell for the event. Back then, that meant strapping the bell to a train car and letting it clackity-clack across the country, bouncing all over the place, possibly exposed to a shit-ton of different weather conditions. On top of that, there were bandits, Indians, rock-slides, easily-collapsible rail bridges, you name it. A whole lot of shit could have gone wrong.
            Ex-President Taft wrote City Council a letter, recommending that maybe they shouldn't send this national treasure over to San Fransisco until they assess all the risks. Council, after agreeing to the loan in a 12-person committee, included Mayor Blankenburg in on the final argument in the chamber. The Council and the mayor unanimously agreed to say a big "Fuck You" to the ex-President and send the bell over to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It went just fine.

"Fuck You, President Taft!"- Philadelphia and San Fransisco, in unison

Surprise, Surprise... Philadelphia Schools are Shit 

The Rudolph Walton School, one of the school buildings in use at the time.
                        The third week of April, 1915 was Schoolmen's Week at the University of Pennsylvania. Teachers from all over the city (and some from New Jersey) got together to discuss the state of Philadelphia Schools. The verdict: they SUCK. Why? They teach History. This, according to J. L Barnard of the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, was obsolete. H.W. Foght of the U.S. Bureau of Education backed him up, citing an example of how a group of students honored for being best at memorizing the U.S. Constitution (memorizing the WHOLE THING was required in Philly Schools at the time) ended up becoming criminals later in life (counterfeiters). They urged that Civics should be taught instead.
                The other big problem Philly schools had was teacher qualification. The delegation agreed that teachers in the city should have at least 3 years of high school and one year of Normal School. This kind of discussion would continue decade after decade until today, when the teachers at one of the worst performing school districts in America rock Master's Degrees and permanent state certifications. Go figure. At least they still teach History.

Better Late Than Never: Passyunk Avenue Bridge Dedicated, Five Years After Being Built

The bridge when it was first built, 5 years before it opened. Image from, a project of the Department of Records.
             18 Years of dirty dealings and political in-fighting finally came to fruition with the dedication of the Passyunk Avenue Bridge, a month after it opened to traffic and fully five years after it was built. The ceremony included a banquet at the Point Breeze office of the United Gas Improvement Company attended by Mayor Blankenburg, the city's U.S. Representatives, and a bunch of other important motherfuckers.
            The party then moved over to the bridge, where a bunch of schoolchildren sang some corny songs. The Mayor then declared the $800,000 double-leaf bascule bridge as city property, and announced hopes that the overcrowded western part of South Philadelphia would expand over the bridge into Southwest Philadelphia. We all know how that turned out (garbage dumps, gaslands, car dealerships). The new bridge would last until 1983, when the current bridge/shitty highway-style overpass was built.

More Deadly Than Tigers or Snakes!! Stop Calling Them "House Flies", Call them "Typhoid Flies!"

Actual comic from the April 20th, 1915 edition of the Evening Ledger
               Apparently the common House Fly was a horrible menace in 1915. When April of that year rolled around, the city's Bureau of Municipal Research started putting out warnings all over the place to warn people that the House Fly was going to fuck your shit up and give you Typhoid Fever!
             Typhoid is a pretty shitty sickness to get, especially in 1915. It starts off feeling like you have a mild flu but soon turns you into a delerious, high-fever-having, endless diarrhea machine with red spots all over your chest. Then, after a couple of weeks, it starts fucking up your gastrointestinal system to the point where your other internal organs get fucked. Then, after a month, it all goes away... if you didn't die.
           The Bureau of Municipal Research's best advice about Typhoid was to not only kill flies, but to literally clean your shit up. Shit in drinking water was the most common way that Typhoid spread back then. They recommended thoroughly covering your manure pile (because that was something you had to think about back then), putting the lid on your trash can, making sure all the sewage you produce gets more than 250 yards from your house, and not drinking water with shit in it, obviously.
           Today, no one gives a second thought to Typhoid or House Flies. Typhoid vaccines were already around in 1915, so nowadays, they're everywhere. Also, the chlorination of drinking water pretty much wiped it out in developed countries. Though there are still outbreaks every so often, only about 5 in a million cases are reported in America per year. If you go back in time, don't drink the water.

Pictured: KILLER!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fill this Front: Dinette

1025 Chestnut

               As far as chronically empty storefronts in Center City go, this dirty motherfucker really takes the cake. Whoever is responsible for getting this storefront filled has failed miserably, and that fail goes back at least 15 fucking years. What's worse is that the space isn't even available for lease, so even if you want it, YOU CAN'T FUCKING HAVE IT!! Want to add more insult to injury? Think about what used to stand in this location. What a sad fate this spot has become... what a bummer.
              I've told you about this location before back in the day when I trashed the old mid-century Mercantile Library, whose ugly fucking over-kissed ass just went up for sale AGAIN. This location was once home to the original campus of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later became home to a kick ass theater, and then a kick ass Opera House. Let me put it to you like this:


1930s or so
             OK? Now do you understand why a shitbag empty storefront under an ugly parking garage in this location pisses me off? To be fair, the first-ever tenant of this shitty retail space in the 1950s actually made it look pretty good. It was an 142-seat Horn & Hardart.

The storefront in 1959. Image from, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records
             As an H & H, the spot did very well, outlasting the vast majority of the other locations of the chain. This particular Horn & Hardart was among the last seven stores of the Philadelphia version of the company and closed in early 1982. In 1969, the space was split into two storefronts.
             After H & H was gone, Rite Aid #1310 moved in. They severely altered the space, moving the wall between the two storefronts so that the whole space could hold both a Rite Aid location and an optometrist/glasses store under their Sterling brand. Then they put up that shitty vertical brickwork, eliminating the giant glass wall that was once there. The Rite Aid stuck around until the early 1990s.

Yes, someone actually had to draw a rendering of the shitty new 1982-83 facade.
             I'm gonna need the help of some old heads on the rest of the history here, because after the Rite Aid, I've been hard-pressed to find any other tenant that's been in this space. I can't even find record of this "Dinette" place. Is it just one of those shitty placeholder signs? I'm told that there was a cheap furniture store in the smaller storefront on the right.
             Well, since at least 1999, this place has been empty as fuck. Until recently, you could see inside the windows and check out the barren 9,500 square feet of space for yourself. When going to photograph the place for y'all, I was surprised to find that the store's windows have finally been covered and the front door of the larger space sealed. This Google Streetview shot will show you what it used to look like:

               Before this, it didn't even have the metal gates on the left down. Here's a tiny picture of it from an old retail listing from the early days of the internet:

Like wearing someone else's glasses.
               Hmm-- it looks like there used to be more to that Dinette sign. Oh well, this ugly motherfucker has been empty for a long fucking time. The Philadelphia Parking Authority has owned this parking garage since it was built... they are the ones that control this mega-empty storefront. Since they've finally gotten into restoring shitty parking garages, maybe they'll be putting this one back up for lease some time soon (Actually, at the end of this Inga article, they say that this parking garage is next up for a makeover) Hopefully the papering-up of the windows is an indication that this space will fill back up again in the near future.
             Now, you should know that this retail space has some shit working against it that may stop a potential tenant. According to an L & I Violation issued this last February 20th, the party wall between it and the old Mercantile Library Building is fractured and deemed unsafe. The case is still open and being appealed by the owners of the Mercantile Library, so we'll see what happens with that.
           Either way, PPA, get working on this shit so we can FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Old-Ass Building: De La Salle In Towne

25 South Van Pelt Street

Photo by Brad Maule
                    You didn't know about this Center City building, did you? Well now you will. Check out my write-up about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

GroJLartitorial: 5 Ways To Help Save the Great Wall of Pennsylvania (PA Convention Center)

In a massive cosmic co-incidence, this is both officially the third anniversary of Philaphilia AND my 500th writing! To mark this occasion, I bring you the first GroJLartitorial, where every few weeks I will give you my own low-integrity, grossly un-informed opinions about shit going on in Philadelphia. Enjoy! 

               After reading Legendary Philaphile Brad Maule's recent article about the abject, butt-blastingly horrible failure of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Expansion, I was immediately thrown into a fit of rage. Why did it all have to happen this way? I was pretty fucking excited about the expansion when it was first announced. It was going to eliminate some embarrassing decades-old empty lots, bring new economic growth to the city, enliven a dead part of North Broad Street, and show a new face of the city to the rest of the world!
              What did we get? Disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. Trash. A giant empty wall of fuck that hasn't done shit since it was built. Thanks, Nutter. Thanks, Rendell. Thanks, everyone else responsible that could have done something to halt the steady string of failures and dumbassery that lead to this fucking brand new empty building that I paid for. Thanks for wasting my money. Again.
              I am aware that the Convention Center has plenty of difficult-to-control-shit working against it. They've got six (6) entrenched obsolete dirtbag unions that make it a terrible experience to hold an event there. There's multiple methadone clinics, halfways houses, drug rehab places, and mental facilities within a two block radius. They're next to PREIT's failure of a Gallery at Market East. I get it, there are problems. That doesn't mean the Convention Center can't be the solution!
              Well, your old pal GroJLart is here is save you, shitty convention center. I, with my singular average-IQ'd brain, have come up with 5 ideas that will help save it. I had 6 originally, but one, which was to privatize the fuck out of the place, is already being attempted. That idea is in motion now that private management firm SMG Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Venue Management has taken the helm as of December 1st, 2013. Perhaps they will have the nutsack capable of undoing the damage the Board of Directors (which mostly consists of a whole bunch of well-connected people with multiple full-time jobs that have almost nothing to do with running a convention center who have plenty of other shit on their minds besides a successful convention center) have done lo these many years. Sure, all the following ideas would cost millions of dollars, but you've already thrown $700 million of MY FUCKING MONEY in the goddamn toilet with the Expansion, might as well go for a few hundred million more.

1) Turn the Convention Center Expansion into a Casino

Just a shitty conceptual rendering hastily drawn over a photo from VITETTA
                Think about it.  The state is already forcing an unwanted second casino down our throats. How about instead of wasting time, energy, money, and a neighborhood on a second casino, we put it right here!?! A big empty building already paid for by the state on a block that doesn't have shit going on with it anyway, attached to the convention center and right off of 676! Its kinda between the Provence and Market 8 proposals, after all. The fucker is already built and just sitting there--thousands of square feet of perfectly good gambling floor doing nothing. Put it to good use!
              You can call it CasinoJLart. After all, there's a potential hotel space attached to the property! Speaking of which--

2) Buy 101 North Broad and Sell It To A Developer That Can Actually Finish Something

               A couple of years ago, Berwyn-based developer Realan Properties built that shitty Convention Center parking garage (that is incapable of filling its storefronts) and also purchased 101 North Broad Street, one of the only old buildings to escape the Convention Center Expansion's path of destruction. The whole justification for that ugly fucking garage was that it would support the new hotel they intended to install into 101 North Broad Street. They even got $2 million from Rendell's farewell cronyism gifting spree. A shitload of excitement was generated on what was to be an Aloft Hotel in a decades-vacant but beautiful building.
             Oh look-- its three years later and 101 North Broad is still an empty pile of shit. We shouldn't be surprised, of course. The same developer proposed the Philadelphia Gateway Center in 1988 and all they got done for that was the parking garage as well. They still have the balls to list it as an active proposal on their website!
            Getting 101 North Broad into use would add shitloads of density to a dead-ass block. Perhaps it would even convince the folks at the PA Convention Center to open one of its many Broad Street facing doors! Call it the GroJLart Hotel.

3) Turn the Expansion into an "Interactive Museum of Contemporary Art"

               Remember the mind-numbingly dumb idea to grossly misuse Eminent Domain to turn the mighty Divine Lorraine into an "Interactive Museum of Contemporary Art" that was proposed by a bunch of idiots that don't know shit about the Lorraine (or art)? That head-banging-against-the-wall, asinine-as-fuck idea would actually be a pretty good one when applied to the Convention Center Expansion. Lots and lots and lots of space available that can be divided up into galleries/classrooms/studio spaces/other bullshit required for such a venture. Instead of fucking with Willis G. Hale, who ain't nuthin' to fuck with, they could fuck with this, which simply ain't nuthin'!
              On top of that, its right across the street from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts! Finally, more arts will come to this stretch of Broad Street for the first time since 1876. They could even move Oldenburg's horrendous paint brush and poop pile in there, as part of the Monument to Dumbass Ideas that would have to be included into this project. 
             Call it the GroJLart Center for Contemporary Art.

4) Make that Big Fucking Roof into a Big Fucking Green Roof Attached to the Reading Viaduct Park

My crappy rendering of a Convention Center Green Roof is already superior to the existing roof. Aerial from Google.
              I'm not the only one that has thought of this (Brad Maule mentioned it from the beginning), but I may be the only one who has thought of connecting it to the future Reading Viaduct Park. This thing is by far the most costly of my ideas but it has the most potential for a big turnaround, in my grossly un-informed opinion. By my extremely rough calculations, you can fit about 13 or 14 acres of park on that big-ass roof. 
              How will this help the Convention Center? Because it will help everyone involved. It will be a new tourist attraction for the city. It will provide a cool gimmick for potential convention bookings. It will connect to a park that has already generated a lot of buzz despite being years away from completion.
             It would be like Independence Mall, but WAAAAY better. There won't be streets full of cars barreling through it. There will be a great view of the skyline. It could be used as event/concert space. It would almost replace the Convention Center as the main attraction of the neighborhood. Think of all the development it would spawn. 
            Call it GroJLart Park. 

The view from the top according to Google Earf. Tell me this wouldn't be the shit!!


              Why not? Our money is already wasted. Doesn't anyone remember the Chinese Wall? We got rid of that giant motherfucker because it was taking up absolutely perfect real estate while doing absolutely fucking nothing. It also separated whole parts of the city despite having pass-throughs at every street, just like the Convention Center does today. Just call it quits now before the PA Convention Center fully becomes the next Chinese Wall. Then, like what happened 60 years ago, all that valuable land could be sold bit by bit and a new Commercial Business District could be born.
              We could put this whole Convention Center thing behind us and maybe even get some of that wasted taxpayer money back. Conventions aren't even cool anymore and this particular convention center can't even book simple shit like Star Trek Conventions, the Philadelphia ones of which are done in Cherry Fucking Hill because the company that runs them won't touch the PA Convention Center with a 10-foot-pole. 

 6) All of the above

              Ok, I lied, I have 6 ideas. This one is to take all the suggestions I just wrote and do all of them at once. I'd be willing to bet that all 5 of my ideas put together would still cost less than the Convention Center Expansion. Do my ideas seems stupid to you? Too outlandish? Impossible? Well, I'm sure those arguments can be made. However-- at least I'm fucking trying. The goddamn Convention Center Expansion is a failure that cost all of us a lot of money. Let's get the ball rolling on salvaging some kind of use out of that unnecessary pile of shit.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fill This Front: The Murano

2101 Market Street

Taste the Rainbow... of shit!!!
             Is there something going on here that no one is aware of?  This barren bastard has been sitting here, looking exactly like this, for the last SEVEN YEARS. Back in the day when the Murano was first built, people gave this front a free pass. They saw how all the surrounding blocks were full of horsetrash so it was understandable that this 7,500 square foot storefront would stay empty.
             All that shit changed in 2012, when 2040 Market (less than a block away) had both of its storefronts filled on its opening day. Worse yet, Commerce Square next door renovated their plaza and were able to get most of their fronts filled. SO WHAT THE FUCK IS THEIR EXCUSE!?!?! If I was a rich motherfucker who bought one of those condos in the early days before the auction, I'd be pretty fucking pissed off that the storefront directly under my expensive-ass condo was sitting empty for 7 fucking years.
                So who's responsible? Well, at least currently, the space is managed by Metro Commercial Real Estate, who have failed miserably at getting this big-ass space next door to a supermarket located one block from a trolley stop and accessible by some bus lines. Also, foot traffic. Oh, the foot traffic. Again, WHAT FUCKING EXCUSE DO YOU HAVE? Is the location cursed? Ghosts? Rats? Roaches? Invasive vines growing through the floor!?!? What is it?
              Well, Metro Commercial-- I'm here to help you. Even though you'll never thank or pay me, I will now sell this storefront, no doubt getting a commission for whoever hasn't been doing their job getting this place filled. Here we go...

           This is the Murano Condominum singular retail space at 2101 Market, located at the northwest corner of 21st and Market in Center City, Philadelphia, PA, United States of America, North America, Earth, Sol System.

                This is a massive 7,500 square foot space that could hold anything from a high-end clothing store to a car dealership. The interior boasts super-high ceilings and, due to being encased entirely in glass, is brightened with sunlight throughout the day. There are 302 residential units directly above the space, filled with upper-middle class to dangerously upper class people with oodles of disposable income. There are also hundreds of residential units in the surrounding blocks, all filled with people that have plenty of dough burning a whole in their pocket, itching to get out!
                So its shaped a little weird. So is the whole building! Stop being such a wanker about it. The odd shape of the space could lead to your store being one of the most unique in the city! That's not all... directly next door is the most overcrowded Trader Joe's on this side of the Mississip. Sometimes the line just to get in the door wraps around the block! Take advantage of these customers with your own store that can serve a need that Trader Joe's doesn't!
                 Not only is this space visible by the loads of foot traffic that passes by, but about 21,000 cars, trucks, and buses pass this location each day. That's 21,000 customers you haven't reached yet! Also, five trolley lines stop one block away from this location, serving 120,000 people per day. Throw a little ad up in the 22nd Street stop and your customers will beat their way off the trolley and up the stairs just to come running into your store! Make sure to re-enforce the giant glass walls to make sure none of them come running straight through your windows-- because they'll want to!!!


               This is Metro Commercial's site for the space. After looking at it for a grand total of five seconds, I see why some out-of-towner who saw this listing wouldn't want it. The photos shown in the listing are renderings from before the building was even built. Outsiders wouldn't even be sure if the building got built or not. Maybe it would help if they actually put up a price point instead of just "negotiable", but what the fuck do I know?
               C'mon, MetroComm. Put in a little more effort into getting this and your many many many other vacant CC storefronts filled. You need me, some random shitbag architecture and development nerd, to sell these spaces for you pro bono on his own damn blog? Well, I will. I will because I care more about having a vibrant Center City Philadelphia than you guys do. Step it up.

Not pictured: Your store!!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Wanamaker House

2020 Walnut

                  I'm pretty sure this is what Lieutenant Commander Data's hydraulic penis looks like. Fucking ugly as shit. A big rectangular turd in one of the city's best neighborhoods. A mismatched piece of asstrash surrounded by beautiful architecture from many ages, almost making it seem worse through the juxtaposition. Then there's the name. Wanamaker House. 1) Its not a fucking house, its a building! and 2) That's not John Wanamaker's House!
            This building, if you can call it that, started because of a fire. In 1978, the Scott-Wanamaker House at 2032 Walnut Street, which had just been head-to-toe renovated five years earlier, went up in flames. Much of the interior was burned up but the facade was left intact. After three years, the hulking remains of the house still stood empty and was slated for demolition. Even after the house was completely prepped to come down and with machinery and shit on site, preservationists were able to save the old place.
            That same year (1981), WH Venture out of Chicago came along with plans to build a badass condominium building that would not only fill the huge empty lot next to the Scott-Wanamaker House, but make use of the old mansion as well. It would be named Wanamaker House after the mansion. Since it was the early 1980s, badass meant a cement and steel piece of shit that looks like Voltron's favorite dildo with goofy-looking townhouses on each street-facing side. The Walnut Street-facing houses look totally out-of-place, mostly because they are nowhere near as tall as the old row-mansions that fill the rest of the block. The shitty design came from Otto Spier and Hugh
The rendering. Someone actually PLANNED for it to look this bad!
          By the time the first units were on sale at the end of 1981, they didn't sell well. 300 out of the 333 units (basically everything that wasn't a townhouse or penthouse) was leased as apartments instead. In 1984, WH Venture defaulted on their loan on the asscastle and their bank foreclosed on it. Later that year, the bank failed and the FDIC took ownership. Sounds like this pile of Duplo dogshit is pretty bad luck. It went up for sale in 1988 and was sold for $36 million to Unity Capital Partners of Great Neck, NY. They converted the apartments back to condos and sold the fuck out of them. Condos were hot at the time and the only other new condo building in the same hood at the time (the Rittenhouse) was stuck in half-built construction limbo.

Robo-Cock. Rise!!
                All these years later, Wanamaker House has aged horribly for being a 33-year-old building. It looks dated enough to guess a construction date of the early 70s instead of the early 80s. As implied above, it sticks out like a sore taint above all that other great architecture that surrounds it. Where were the NIMBYs when this shit was built? Oh, and thanks for the three huge garage doors on the 2000 block of Walnut. Way to fit in, shitty building! Feh!

Again, thanks.