Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- July 27th

Betz Building (a.k.a Liberty Building)

1 South Broad Street

Holy fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!!! Click to see supersized super-detailed version.
                    Now here's a motherfucker that never should have died. This beast is a study of how many awesome things you can stuff into one facade. Go ahead and click that motherfucker to see all the cool details. No architect alive today has the nutsack to put a sculpture of every president on their building, let alone all the gargoyles, patterns, different kinds of columns, and statues that this monster possesses. This Supertall Victorian Skyscraper/Megacastle has so many goddamn facade details that they were still being added on 5 years after the building's completion.
                    It all started with John F. Betz. He was born in Stuttgart, Germany and was brought to America as an infant. He then went back to Germany to learn brewery secrets, then came back and began the most badass brewery in New York. After a decade or so in NYC, Betz said "fuck this" and moved to Philadelphia in 1868, naming his product after himself. By 1888 he was a fucking millionaire. A dollar was 24 times more valuable back then, so it's fair to say that he was SUCCESSFUL AS FUCK.

Portrait of Betz... from the facade of his own fucking building!
                     When Betz became super-mega-wealthy, he got into real estate speculation. In the 1880's, the primary business district of the city was located entirely east of Broad Street. During this period, the area around Centre Square is where the super-rich hung out. This is why the Masonic Temple, Elks Club, Scottish Rite Temple, Union League, Philadelphia Club, and various other Rich Motherfucker clubs were located nearby. Once it was decided that the new City Hall would be in this Big Ballers neighborhood, shit got real. Real estate speculators wet themselves over the possibility of adding a commercial business district to this already kick-ass area.
                     It was also a time of transition in architecture. Badass stone Victorian fire-proof monuments were the style of the time (which kicked ass) and steel/iron-frame construction was brand new. This meant that they could build much taller badass stone castles. These new giants would be built along South Broad Street. John Betz took advantage of the situation and commissioned Badass Motherfucker-in-Chief William Decker to design him the tallest building on the street and the second tallest in the city (the only thing taller was the wooden steeple of the Tenth Presbyterian Church).
                    Decker was not shy about decking the motherfucker out... not only was it super-detailed, it was super-high-tech. It was built with an iron and steel framework that supported the weight of the building. Since the exterior walls were not load-bearing, they used hollow bricks. The building cost 1.5 million dollars, which back then was an immense amount of scrilla.

Under Construction.
                 Betz had his favorite bar/restaurant, Soula's Cafe, move from it's South 8th Street location to the basement of this badass. It was renamed Soula' Cafe and Rathskeller (an old timey word for underground restaurant) and became the premiere social spot for politicians, businessman, and old-money millionaires. Betz himself was known to get wasted there. You gotta wonder if he was like "This is my building, biotch!!!" the whole time.

Soula's Broad Street entrance.
                    In its' own time, the building received nation-wide acclaim. It's badassedness was known far and wide. By time the 20th Century was in full gear, this building became disgustingly out-of-style. People were no longer into Victorian kickassedness and were more into Art Deco super-badassedness. Also, the real estate that the Betz and it's awesome-looking neighbor sat on was far too valuable for a thirteen-storey building. After only thirty-five years of existence, the Betz Building was knocked the fuck down in 1926 and replaced by the Lincoln-Liberty/PNB Building, which is not too shabby a building either.
                    What a fucking treasure this thing was. There are not many buildings left from the short period of Victorian Skyscrapers and the ones that remain are severely fucked up (Divine Lorraine, anyone?). Too bad this motherfucker couldn't be saved. No current architect has the talent to design a building one third as cool.

The Betz Building asserting it's badassivity shortly after completion.


  1. PNB is awesome but Betz was even awesomer. Imagine what Perrier, Vetri, Garces, or Starr could do with that Rathskeller! *sigh*

  2. I would love to have seen interior shots of this building, I looked but couldn't find anything.

  3. The view of the Betz under construction is a revelation. Would you be willing to share the source? I teach at Drexel and sometimes show the Betz in class.

    1. Here it is: