Thursday, August 21, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia-- End of August, 1915

The Great Mosquito Genocide

           The Summer of 1915 was an especially hot, humid, and rainy one. That particular summer, mosquitoes had become a huge problem and the citizenry blamed the city-owned marshlands and creeks that surrounded Philadelphia at the time. After an entire summer filling pools of standing water with oil and digging trenches to drain marshes, it was decided that in the third week of August, 1915, a mass Mosquito Genocide should take place with what was left of the paltry $3500 the city had set aside (actually increased from $2500 to $3500 in mid-June) in their annual budget for this cause. The target? The marshes around League Island, where it was said that the swarms of mosquitoes were so thick that they cast a shadow over the entire area.
          Fifty employees of the Bureau of Highways surrounded the mosquito epicenter, located just east of Broad Street at Government Avenue, now the exact location of GlaxoSmithKline's fancy new Center City-ditching U.S. headquarters in the Navy Yard. The workers came at the marshes with scythes and then sprayed a whole shitload of "Chinese Punk" incense, so much that people near City Hall were able to smell it. After that, the kerosene made its appearance.
         Though some appreciated this effort, it wasn't enough. The Bureau of Highways was out of money and there were other well-known mosquito transwarp hubs at Cobb's Creek and all along the long-lost Curtin Street Canal. Two days later, a whole mess of realtors got together to complain that home values in South, West, and Southwest Philadelphia were going down because of the mosquito presence and the city better fucking do something about it.
        As it ends up, they did. The budget for mosquito control was increased more than tenfold (thanks to help from Senator Vare) in 1916. The crew handling mosquito breeding grounds were given some extra weaponry (cyanide, specifically) and dirt being moved for new road construction was dumped in existing marshes. Also, eight inspectors were employed to go house to house and eliminate any mosquito-causing situations that might be present.

Fifteen Pall Bearers Needed at 500-pound Man's Funeral

             At the end of August, 1915, one Edward J. Griess of 1540 Butler Street, a century ahead of his time in the Third Wave of the Fat Acceptance Movement, died of a heart attack at age 51. In preparation for his funeral at the Willis G. Hale-designed St. Stephen's Catholic Church, a massive coffin made of solid mahogany was constructed to hold the 500-lb man at the Battersby Funeral Home at Broad and Westmoreland. Once complete, Griess' corpse was somehow placed inside, wrapped up in a shroud because they couldn't find any clothes big enough to fit his 64-inch waist.
            Then they had to find a hearse big enough to carry the 800-lb combined weight of body and casket. They used a carriage normally meant for moving large amounts of cargo for the trip. Fifteen men then pall-beared Griess up the stairs of the church for his service, then hauled the monstrous casket in that big-ass carriage to the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham where he was to be interred in an extra-large plot. 

Griess' house as it appears in Google Streetview. Its a grocery store now... how ironic.

What the Hell is Under City Hall?

           It was time. Due to an extensive transit plan (that included a bunch of subways and els that never got built) created in 1912 after the success of the just-born Market Street Elevated, digging would soon have to begin under City Hall for the first time since the gigantic building was constructed. At that point, the Market Street line jogged around the foundations of City Hall, its builders not wanting to deal with the logistics of going underneath (though they eventually did 1929-34 when they built the modern piece of the MFL that goes under). The Broad Street Line, however, WOULD have to travel under the giant building.
         Things started at the end of August, 1915. S.M. Swaab and the Keystone State Construction Company drilled 10 borings and dug 7 test pits from various points in City Hall's basements to determine what kind of shit was underneath. The result? A lot. Loam, sand, clay, gravel, and mica schist were found at all varying depths and thicknesses. The bedrock varied from 59 feet to 40 feet below ground. Much to the engineer's surprise, no bit of the extremely heavy City Hall's foundation touched bedrock. In fact, the thickness of City Halls' foundation varied between 14 and 32 feet below the surface. How the fuck was this thing even standing?
         The engineers determined that the new subway tunnel 46 feet under the surface would require the movement of 100,000 cubic yards of earth and the blasting of some of the bedrock that was in the way. Also, they would have to underpin City Hall, connecting it to the bedrock underneath.
         This work would take the next five years and City Hall Station did not open for business until 1928.

1915 plan for City Hall Station. Only three of the buildings seen in this drawing still stand. That's a shame.

Dude Gets His Ass Kicked By A Bunch of Chicks

                 Hugo Mulcrane doesn't like beef or pork, he likes chicken. After seeing a few random chickens walking around the city, Mulcrane had a bright idea: sprinkle some chicken feed around and he'll be able to catch one. After trying this out at the corner of Susquehanna and Girard for a few hours, the chickens didn't come. Mulcrane got frantic and started yelling "Chick! Chicken! Chick!" thinking that the chickens would hear him and come callin'.
                  Unfortunately for Mulcrane, some young ladies were walking by and misinterpreted his beckoning. One of them approached and clocked Mulcrane in the face with her parasol, stating "I ain't no chicken." You see, in Philadelphia of 1915, "chick" didn't just mean female, it meant under-aged female. These ladies were pissed off  1) for getting "mashed" on by this crazy bastard who was spreading chicken feed everywhere and 2) for being mistaken for under-aged girls. After the initial parasol attack, the rest ganged up around Mulcrane and proceeded to beat the shit out of him until his cries for help were heard by Sergeant John Hasslett. He rescued Mulcrane and brought him down to the East Girard Police Station.
               After explaining his story to the cops, they advised him to stick to roast beef. In regard to the young ladies, Mulcrane stated "I wouldn't of had any of 'em anyhow."

The scene in the incident as seen in Google Streetview

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fill This Front: 13th and Spruce

1300 Spruce Street

            Well, its about fucking time that this place became available to lease! Despite what people may tell you, this awesome location at the corner of 13th and Spruce has NEVER had a retail/restaurant space on its ground floor. Now that it finally has one (and a front door), let's get this crazy sucker filled.
            This space is the first floor of a building composed of some combined buildings that started construction in the early 19th Century. Additions were later built connecting 1300 Spruce to 300 South 13th by the 1890s, when Dr. William Hunt lived there. A little over 100 years ago, the Civic Club of Philadelphia (a club that advocated for women's rights and interests) and the College Club (a club for women that had just finished college that had a lot of the same members) pooled their resources to create a common clubhouse with this property, much improved over the couple of rooms in members' houses they had been using up to that point.
            Everyone started calling the building "the Civic Club" even though a whole bunch of other clubs started using the building as well. By the 1940s, the building was fully owned and utilized by the Locust Mid-City Club (later Locust Club), a mercantile club that people used to call the "Jewish Union League". They had been meeting at 1300 Spruce since 1921. In 1960, they put the place up for sale and in 1961 moved to the 1600 block of Locust, which must have been nice. After all, after 40 years of being called the "Locust Club", they finally got to be on Locust Street.
          After the move, the place came under the ownership of the International Institute, a non-profit that assisted immigrants and refugees. They changed their name to the Nationalities Resource Center in 1963 and then spent the next 4 decades located at 1300 Spruce.

           In 2006, probably taking advantage of the increase in property values in the neighborhood at the time, they put the place up for sale and moved out to the old Young, Smyth, and Field Building at 1216 Arch Street. In July 2007 Hartford Omega LLC, a Hartford, CT-based apartment operator, bought the place for $1.575 million and had Alesker and Dundon architects put together a plan to turn it into residential with retail on the first floor.
           For some reason or another, it never got done. They put the property back up for sale in 2009. In July 2011, Coneast Properties out of Great Neck, NY bought 1300 Spruce for $1.25 million and came up with their own residential-with-retail plan under the designs of Frank Kakos. A couple of years went by until the renovation started, but now seems to be complete. The biggest change to the building, of course, was the restoration of its front door, something it hasn't had in over 100 years. Now its time to get this thing filled.
Bluepring from the Michael Salove Company, who is managing the space
                This is the 4,000 square foot retail space (and basement) at 1300 Spruce Street, located in the Midtown Village/Gayborhood section of Washington Square West. It comes with an entrance on Spruce Street, an accessible entrance from 13th Street, an outdoor courtyard section, and parking spaces off of Cypress Street in back. Its location is awesome and can be the catalyst that brings the 13th Street shopping/restaurant district of Midtown Village further south, connecting it with both the retail area of 13th Street that is centered around 13th/Pine and the mini-restaurant row along the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Spruce.
               The space is also easily accessible by non-auto-based options: A block from the Broad Street Line concourse and close to several bus lines including the 23, the most heavily used in the system. Its also at the crossroads of two bike lanes! This is one of the most highly anticipated commercial spaces to come online in a long time. Throw your newest, coolest restaurant in here or think of any other use! The listing also shows a blueprint of how this place could be converted to medical offices!
             Ok, so the infamous Parker-Spruce is catercorner. Are you gonna let that stop you? The new cafe in the new building next to it is doing great!! The place is currently going for $25 per square foot per year, aka $100k/year. The place is fully sprinklered and just-renovated.
             Pick this place up while the gettin's good! Its time to FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Lacey & Phillips Building

30-32 South 7th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
              This lovely bitch-bastard has been empty for over 8 years-- I started this as a Fill This Front regarding the old skateboard shop on the first floor, only to find that this building's history is way more interesting. Check it out at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fill This Front: Kaufmann's Event Hall

1323-25 South Street

Owned by a doctor that works down the street
Is this shitty storefront, anything but neat
People say it was built Nineteen Eleven
But really its from Nineteen Thirty-Seven
That's back when Segal's Nickelodeon fell
And then this was built after it went to Hell 
I'm sure back then in its day it looked just fine
Designed by architect J. Ethan Feldstein
For the Kaufmann Family to make some bread
Event hall with apartments-- low overhead
 Over decades the Kaufmanns made a huge stack,
Also owned the Rodman Street house on the back

In the Mid-Twentieth, the hood went to shit
Huge projects built nearby did not help one bit
When Kauffman's event hall was left in the lurch
 Came Macedonia Congregation Church
The last use I think this building's ever had
And if I'm right about that, it's fucking sad

This shitbird is Forty-Five Hundred square feet
With a nice parking space off of Rodman Street
Access from the 40 Bus and Broad Street Line
 You'd think this would be able to fill just fine.

Although very few of their names are supplied,
A great many have failed, but many have tried
Theater troupe, tanning salon, Juniper Bar
Just a small few that tried but could not get far
Ev'ry time, things managed to get in their way,
Two even got approval from ZBA

So what the hell is wrong? How can this be?
After all these years and nearby building spree
That someone can't come along and save this spot
From all the shitty blight, plywood, trash and rot
Call that number on the sign and say it sucks
That the place is empty... then offer 5 bucks
Take a risk like it's a fucking baseball bunt
You can be the hero that will FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: The Stein Bellet Building

1624 Locust Street

                Holy fuck, what the hell went wrong here? There aren't a lot of Center City buildings from the 1940s... based on this building, we should be happy about that. This boxy piece of trash is made even more awful by the fact that its located on one of the most architecturally important blocks in the whole city.
            The origins of this building go all the way back to December 6th, 1910. In that year, the R.W. Downing Residence at 1624-26 Locust Street burned down, creating an empty lot that would become surface parking for the next 3 decades. In 1946, a fraternal organization called the Towne Club bought the lot and the house next door (1628 Locust), and started construction on what would become their new clubhouse. After putting up three stories of steel frame, the clubhouse plans fell through, creating a huge piece of blight on one of the city's most beautiful blocks.
            In 1947, the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company bought the half-constructed mess and commissioned the same architects, Thalheimer and Weitz, to design a six-story office building suited to the needs of their already-acquired tenant, the Remington Rand Corporation. That's right-- this robot-looking box of ass-trash was designed by the normally-badass firm of Thalheimer and Weitz.
            How could this be? These are the same guys who did the North City Trust Company I wrote about for Hidden City a few weeks ago! These guys were Philly natives from Strawberry Mansion who were both proteges of John Torrey Windrim, one of the most badass architects that ever lived! How did they fuck up so badly on this one? The only excuse I can think of for them executing this atrocity is that their tenant was going to be the Remington Rand Corporation, the guys who created UNIVAC and pretty much changed the world as we know it. They are still around and are based in Blue Bell, PA as UNISYS. Maybe they were trying to make the building look modernish to match the shit Remington Rand was doing at the time.
            The building was completed in 1948 and became known as the "Remington Rand Building", one of many with the same name they worked out of in almost every major city. The other ones in other cities from the same era were also very modernist, but were way better looking than the Philadelphia branch. Remington Rand/Sperry Rand stayed there into the 1960s.

As the Remington Rand Building in 1952
                    By 1970, mega-developer Strouse Greenberg and Company took over the place and made it their headquarters, renaming it the Stouse Greenberg Office Building. They renovated the building and altered the first floor to its current configuration, making separate entrances with separate addresses. Here's a photo of it from 1976. During this period, they rented out offices in the upper floors to all different kinds of occupants, including some architects! They had architects working in THIS building? That's a shame. Strouse Greenberg was a great developer that constructed all kinds of shit all through the region and restored a number of old Philadelphia buildings that were falling apart. They stuck around in this shitty building until 1995.
                  By 1996, the building's current headliner, the American Cancer Society Pennsylvania Division, was in there and doing the good works they do there to this day. The building was named Stein/Bellet Building around this time. The Stein/Bellet Foundation is a philanthropic organization that contributes heavily to the American Cancer Society. The Society was able to buy the building for $1.48 Million in 1998. I'm not sure exactly when, but that big-ass ostentatious sign bearing the building's current name was installed around that time.
                 How the hell did that sign get a permit? Its fucking gigantic and is not very original to the building's configuration. Did I mention that this building is historically registered with the city? Why the fuck does the sign say "THE Stein Bellet Building" on it? The "THE" is necessary?
               Anyway, fuck this building. I'm aware all this good shit has happened inside, but its ugliness tarnishes all that. This block has buildings by John Notman, Horace Trumbauer, and Cope-Stewardson-- architectural badasses that could design a building better-looking than this using pencils held in their dickholes. Even the newest building on the street, Lenfest Hall, designed by the same firm as the fucking Guild House, respected the street's architecture and saved a couple of old facades. Plerff!!!
The T's crooked.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Second Week of August, 1915

"Physical Freak" Kills Self To Avoid Dissection, Gets Dissected Anyway

                 William Gutmiller, a German immigrant boarding at 922 Nectarine Street (now the parking lot of Union Transfer) had a problem. He was born with a genetic disorder now called Situs Iversus, which in 1915 was just called "transposed organs" or "transposed heart". His internal organs were reversed. At the time, this condition generated great interest in the medical community, especially because doctors thought it was cool that his heart pumped rightward instead of leftward.
                Gutmiller was put on display to students at Jefferson Medical College for a little while and was offered a whole pile of dough to live in Jefferson Hospital under observation for the rest of his life. This freaked Gutmiller out. Those doctors and medical students must have given him some funny looks because Gutmiller became convinced that they were going to kill and dissect him to whet their crazy appetites.
                 In the second week of August, 1915, Gutmiller was found by his landlady, Mrs. Mary Earley, with a bottle of poison in his hand, gagging and choking. He later died at Hahnemann Hospital. Having no known relatives, the Coroner was ready to throw his dead ass into a potter's field when both doctors and Mrs. Earley started chomping at the bit to get that corpse. The doctors wanted it because of its medical curiosity, Mrs. Earley wanted it because Gutmiller owed rent. Mrs. Earley claimed that Gutmiller put his own body up for collateral, telling her that she could sell it when he died to pay off his debt.
             Coroner William R. Knight was disgusted by both parties and insisted on the potter's field. The State Anatomical Board overruled him, stating that Gutmiller's body would have to go to a medical institution unless someone pays for his burial. Mrs. Early said "fuck that" to the burial cost, so Gutmiller ended up on the dissection table at Hahnemann Hospital, the very thing he feared his entire life.
            Today, Situs Inversus is no big deal. It effects 1 in 10,000 people, a lot more common than people thought it was 99 years ago. NBA player Randy Foye and Home Alone's mom both have it.

Randy Foye, medical curiosity

Audenreid: "Women on the School Board!?!? Are You Out Of Your Fucking Minds!?!"

                 In the Summer of 1915, there came to be many openings on the School Board, due to both term limits and the death of the Superintendent. In the second week of August, 1915, the president of the Civic Club of Philadelphia, Gertrude Biddle, demanded that some of these positions be offered to women. The dude in charge of the crew that voted on these positions was Charles Y. Audenried, Secretary of the Board of Judges.
               At first, Audenried was receptive, citing that the Board had a woman on it once, but that since then the Board was made smaller and was to be staffed with "persons well-known to the entire population". He then stated "Woman's normal place is in the home and no woman has stood out prominently for that reason". This understandably pissed off the Civic Club, who came back to Audenried with a list of qualified women. Binders full, so to speak.
             Audenried dismissed one after the other. Many were leaders in the suffragist movement and others were leaders within the school district itself. Audenried stated that he was too busy to keep up with famous suffragettes so he had never heard of any of them. He denied the others based on their employment within the district, but he would accept their application only if they resigned.
            As it ended up, the vote on the new Board was on October 1st, 1915. All men were elected, though two female candidates were considered: Dr. Ruth Webster Lothrop, head of the Women's Medical College, and Mrs. Mary Van Meter Grice, President of the Home and School League. Charles Y. Audenried's legacy is the shitty high school named after him.

Urban Farm on a Green Roof

              Oh, so you thought Urban Farms and Green Rooves were a new thing, eh? Well, in Philadelphia of 1915, Harry Konollman of 1631 North Street was way ahead of his time. This dude was nuts.. he owned a combined double rowhouse where he ran an auto repair garage on the first floor and lived with his family on the second. On the third, Konollman installed chicken coops brought in 400 (FOUR HUNDRED) white Leghorn chickens.
             On the roof of the third floor, Konollman installed cartload after cartload of dirt, brought up there one bucket at a time. He grew corn, egg plants, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, beans, peas, and cabbage. In 1915 his tomato vines got so large that they hung down to the street. On the flat roof of the second floor, Konollman installed a free-range chicken run so his chickens could get out of the coops once in awhile. He later got plumbing installed to more easily bring fresh water up to the roof.
              Harry Konollman ended up being one of the best chicken dudes in the area and got even better at raising chickens, learning how to tend to their illnesses and selectively breed the best egg producers. He would eventually bring his chicken number down to 175 and add at least three more species to the list. The next year, Konollman covered his chicken run area with a few feet of dirt and started growing their feed in his bathtub. He eventually was selling 60 dozen eggs a week, a buttload of vegetables, and of course, more chicken meat than you could imagine. He was recognized for having one of the cleanest chicken operations in the region.

Now that's an Urban Farm
Hey West Philly, Would You Mind Not Bathing for A Few Days?

                 In the second week of August, 1915, the Belmont Pumping Station broke down, causing a water shortage in West Philadelphia. Every resident of West, for three days, would have to track and limit their water consumption to 120 gallons per day.
                West Philadelphians freaked out, complaining that they couldn't keep it that low with all the clothes washing, milk diluting, wine making, and general cleaning that needed to be done each day. Chief Carleton Davis of the water bureau had the perfect solution: the right amount of water could be saved if no one bathe for those three days and throw in a fourth if they can.
                 No one really knows how this all turned out, but it was never mentioned in the annals of history again so it can't have been that bad. A year later, a bigger water crisis would hit West Philly when the George's Hill reservoir sprang a leak and caused mud to come out of everyone's faucets for a whole month.

Belmont Pumping Station. The building still stands.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fill This Front: The Ashe Building West Side

1230 Chestnut

               Chestnut East sure has come a long way since I started this shitbag blog, but it isn't fixed yet. Though there has been an ASSLOAD of improvement along this stretch (with much more to come), some little pieces still manage to stay shitty. The Cunningham Piano Building and attached one-story retail structure are still vacant, the old Bread and Butter space is still the featureless rear of a fucking nightclub, the Hale Building is still empty, 1208 Chestnut looks even shittier than before, the Bailey Building is still in limbo, 1200 Chestnut is still covered in bum piss, and this, 1230 Chestnut, has had that fucking gate down for 6 years.
            1228 and 1230 Chestnut were once part of the same building, built in 1925. It was called the Ashe Building, named after the guy that paid for it, Benjamin Ashe. It was built as 4 stories and became store and offices of the Philadelphia location of a NYC-based shoe store chain called Wise. For reasons unknown, the whole building was reduced down to two stories in 1940 and the 1228 and 1230 storefronts were separated forever.
            1230 went through a buttload of different stores over the next 6 decades, mostly clothing store chains from NYC. From 1980 to 86, it was Sounds of Market II. In the late 1980s it was the KSS Cab Company. In 2001, Famous Brands Outlet came along, giving the front the last lit-up sign it would ever have. The sign was still visible on the front as recently as 2 years ago, reversed around so as to not be as readable. As late as 2007, the front held one of those shitty electronic junk stores with no name.
             On February 28, 2008, the owners of the Omnivision optical store/optometrist's office at 1103 Chestnut bought 1230 Chestnut for exactly $2 million. They had designs for a massive renovation of the place drawn up by Moto Design Shop. From the look of things, the place would become a gigantic version of Omnivision, with huge first and second floor spaces with some more stuff in the basement. Things seemed to have been delayed and the plans changed several times but by the start of 2012, everything about the project was approved by zoning, even a small third story addition on the back.

The drawing for the overhaul from late 2011
               I guess that's still the plan for the place, but very little seems to have changed here... though the facade has been cleaned, the graffiti that was on the gate is gone, and the old signage has been removed. So what's the hold-up? Are the owners still trying to get funding together? Is there something about the building that's holding construction back? The place has racked up a whole mess of L + I violations and is getting more and more noticeable as a vacant storefront while the rest of the block has (slowly) improved.
           I do seem to remember some rumors of a local restaurateur being interested in this space once, but I can find no confirmation of this. Moto Design Shop's website has an old restaurant rendering that resembles this space, but there are plenty of other storefronts in this city that have a similar configuration so its hard to tell. 
            Well if this place gets put back up for sale or goes up for lease, just think about this: this is two stories of 1800 square foot floors of storefront located in a high-foot traffic area near the Tony Goldmanized 13th Street in the Midtown Village/Gayborhood section of Washington Square West. Public Transit kicks ass over here, one block from both subways, 5 trolley lines, and the countless buses that run down Chestnut Street. The 23 bus, the most heavily used in the whole system, runs down 11th and 12th Streets nearby. Even more buses run on Market Street a block away, including a bunch of New Jersey Transit stuff. Therefore, if you put the right store in here, you will kill!!!
            Think about all the shit that's going on at East Chestnut right now-- the retail is waaay better than it used to be-- long empty storefronts are now filled and two are expanding. Three buildings that used to have vacant upper floors are now apartments. Brickstone Realty's development is set to change the East side of Broad forever. Now's the time to get this building back to life. FILL THIS FRONT!
June 2012 via the Google Streetview time machine, with squatter-types hanging out in front. Compare this to the current pic above to see how the facade has changed.