Monday, June 20, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- June 20th

U. S. Customs House

200 Chestnut Street

There's four whole sides like this!! Image by Bruce Andersen.
                    Holy Buttbang, take a look at this motherfucker. This is the kind of building you don't notice much from the ground but when you see it far away you jizz your pants a little. This is one of those cool-ass buildings that could never be built in today's shitty day and age because the materials cost would be astronomical. That's real bricks, real limestone, real granite, not that crappy plastic crap they put on buildings nowadays.The bottom is a stone pedestal that could almost be respected as a building upon itself. It then has a plus-sign shaped tower capped with a friggin lighthouse.
                  In 1913, the U.S. Customs House in Philadelphia was still located in Stickland's 1818 Second National Bank building. Officials that worked there were pissed. Why did they have to suffer in a nearly 100-year-old building (which meant something much different in 1913 than it does now) when other cities had these brand new high tech mega-facilities? They bitched and moaned to the federal government for 20 years until President Hoover told them to shut the fuck up and ordered a new building, knowing the plans couldn't possibly get finalized until after his term.
                  Then came FDR's New Deal. The Fed threw down 4.2 million dollars for the project. That's 60 million in today's dollars, the same price as the recent Royal Wedding. With all the extra bucks, they could go balls to the walls with this thing. The U. S. Customs House was going to be a landmark and they needed an architect that could pull it off. If you really wanted to make an impact in 1931, you called up Ritter and Shay.

Ritter and Shay wearing their American Instiute of Architects Award belts.
                Ritter and Shay, fresh from designing kick-ass buildings for Broad Street, took on the physical challenge. They wanted to take their time on it but Terry Heath, Secretary of the Treasury, was like "You dumbasses! Design that shit quick! I promised people jobs... and kickbacks!! Get on that shit, you dirty fucks!" With that, Ritter and Shay turned their eight storey box idea into a 17-storey Beaux-Arts Art Deco Lighthouse. They incorporated red brick to match the historical neighborhood they were in... a design decision that worked with this building but was copied over an over again in horrible ways throughout the city.
                This Castle of Cock-Crazy Commodores was finished in 1934, after 2 years of construction by 4,000 workers. The building was so big that the U.S. Customs offices didn't even fill the whole building. The Treasury Department threw their Coast Guard, Steamboat, and Lighthouse offices in there. The building was thought to be high-tech because it held the newfangled Radio Inspector arm of the federal government. They're still around now but they're called the FCC.
                 I don't usually talk about the interior details of buildings but this one is an exception. The lobbies and public spaces in this building are filled with beautiful murals and sculpture by local Philadelphia artisans of the time.
Aaaah it's moving aaaah
                 What a cool building. Because of the low-rise nature of Old City, this Tower of Tornado Monsters will continue to be prominent on the skyline despite it's relatively short stature. It shows the beauty that only a true brick-and-stone-cladded building can have. What would it look like if it was built in the 2000's? Today's crappy design would have made it out of plastic-looking fake stone and brick panels and a green roof would have been forced onto it. The windows would be much bigger, making it needlessly reflective. Hopefully no one will ever get the idea of doing something like that...

Gap Headquarters in San Fran. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
                    The Custom House just got added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 25th and  is covered in scaffolding while going through a nearly 24 million dollar restoration process and lighting plan. Hopefully that will bring it back to its original luster, as depicted in this postcard from the illustrious Age When Everything Was a Postcard.

The U.S. Custom house on a treeless peopleless carless signless lightless street. Image by Go buy one.
It even looks good covered in scaffolding!

1 comment:

  1. This is the building my mom insists that was in Ghostbusters, not the Drake.

    Still fucking wrong though.