Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- July 13th

Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company

316 Chestnut Street

Holy Fucking Furness! Pic by early Philaphile Frank Taylor.
                   Now this is a building, motherfucker. The Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company was the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Building's weird second cousin. Double kick-ass towers with a double-arched doorway with small details and patterns everywhere. They sure don't make 'em like they used to. Details continue on the sides and back of the building due to it being surrounded by alleys.
                  On May 24th, 1871 the Pennsylvania Legislature lost it's damn mind. It passed a whole bunch of special acts chartering new private companies and threw dough at them to get started. Of the many companies to begin that day, Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company, was the most ambitious. The goal was a bank that could not only handle conventional accounts but also handle stocks, bonds, securities, trusts, wills, commercial banking, and the assaying of valuable objects. They needed a building that would be a damn fortress. The culture of the time was fire-obsessed, so not one splinter of wood could be used in the construction.
                   If you want a big stone fortress, who ya gonna call? Third Level Grandmaster of the Incredible Frank Furness! There were many guidelines to work with. The structure needed impenetrable personal vaults in addition to the standard bank vault. It also needed to be well lit on the main banking floor while still being an woodless box of stone. Furness was like,"Motherfucker, that's easy. I'm gonna give it a kick-ass tower! Sheeiit, why have one tower when you can have two? Also, I could put cool-ass crap all over it!". And he did.

That's Carpenter's Hall/Demolition Bringer on the right.
                    Construction began in 1871 and was done 2 years and $700,000 later. When completed, it was a complete beginning to end financial institution held in one awesome looking building. Furness managed to place windows in such a way that the banking floor would be well-lit without the use of skylights. He arranged the vaults so that business customers would have their own private spaces to rent to do transactions with each other. Remember, he couldn't use wood... so the floors were brick held up with iron joists. Holy Fuck!
                    This is the kind of building that would last centuries just sitting there because it is a giant pile of metal, brick, and stone. That didn't stop it from being wiped off the goddamn face of the Earth and human memory in 1957. You see, historic Carpenter's Hall was behind it. Therefore, when the Independence National Grass Lot collection was being built, the Guarantee Trust Building (at this point occupied by Tradesmen's Bank which is now PNC) was destroyed after a year of bombardment with wrecking balls.

1957. The main vault was the last to go. Is it just me or does Carpenter's Hall seem to be smugly looking down at us?
                      There's two things about this Parthenon of Pressed Pitchforks that are mysterious to me. One is the clock on the left side of the facade in the picture at the top of this article. What's so weird about it? Check out this detail of that picture:

What the fuck?
                          Is it 10 minutes before north? This took me forever to figure out. The N,W,E, and S are the cardinal directions of North, West, East and South, but the East and West are backward. This is because the building faced north from the south side of Chestnut Street. The clock is a sort of compass to show which way the directions are. It should have arrows, not a clockface. The W and E are saying "This way's West" and "This Way's East". The hand on the clock shows the slight tilt of the street grid. It was a marker for calibrating your compass if you were lost in the city. Jesus fuck, that would be confusing.
                         The second mystery is how this building is presented in literature of the period. Baxter's Panoramic Business Directory from 1879 labels the building as the National Bank of the Republic.

                        I have no answer for this one. There is such a thing as the National Bank of the Republic and they occupied an awesome Furness-designed building that was built 3 years later, but I have no idea why it's shown as being located in the Guarantee Trust Space. At least the drawing shows all the details of the iron decorations and weather vane at the top.
                        Too bad that this building could not have been saved. The vision for the Independence National Historical Grass Lot Collection was one of a weird Colonial-looking Philadelphia with lots of grass between small buildings. Gigantic stone and metal kick-ass looking 19th Century buildings interspersed between them would have ruined the effect, therefore they were destroyed, no matter their beauty or historical significance. Fuck that shit.

Pic by early Philaphile Moses King. Check out the back of the Bullitt Building behind Carpenter's Hall.
1950. The surface lots are a result of the beginning of demolition for the Grass Lot Collection.


  1. Holy mother of fuck. I had no idea how many awesome buildings were sacrificed for the grass lot collection until I started following this blog. What a fucking waste.

  2. Can we hold a retroactive protest against the grass lot collection?

  3. "the Independence National Grass Lot collection". /// Its not even nice grass either. Now if it was all striped, patterned and shit like Citizens Bank Park, maybe I'd be cool with it, but it isn't. FAIL.

  4. Normally when a lost building is posted, it is indeed sad that it's gone. This one is different though. This thing looks like a mausoleum that was built for the apocalypse. It's just too heavy for that space. I think the Grass Lot Collection needs to be improved (mainly, I don't like being able to see a highway right there), but I think it's hard making a case for this building, especially with its proximity to Carpenter Hall.

    1. Nick, I wholeheartedly disagree. If you look at this picture ( ) from the Free Library Archives you can see that it was hardly "too heavy" for the location which included almost exclusively "heavy" banking buildings each designed to stick out more than the last. Now we have a faux-colonialism hearkening back to a pastoral past that never existed in Philadelphia.

  5. I think your "compass" non-clockface was actually connected to the huge wind-vane on top of that tower and showed the direction that the wind was blowing...

    1. "Dolobran" the house he built for Clement Griscom in Haverford has a similar wind-vane with the display able to be read inside the house rather than on an exterior wall.