Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- August 23rd

Nest (aka Signatures, aka the Cove Corporation, aka Crane Co. Exhibit Room aka a shitload of other names)

1301 Locust Street

Still hanging on, still ugly as fuck.
                     Alright, I know I've been pretty hard on the NIMBYs, so let me show you a situation where NIMBYs were useful in the end... though that end took way too many years. This is the story of the mysterious building that has haunted the corner of 13th and Locust for 85 years. Look at it. It's a fucking two storey box in the middle of Center City with barely any windows on the first floor. Don't let it's age be an excuse.. this thing has never looked good. If anything, it looks better now than it ever did, even with that pukey green. 
                  The northwest corner of Locust Street first got attention for two things before this piece of shit was built. One was the fact that the Pennsylvania Society of the Colonial Dames was founded in the mansion that once occupied this spot in 1891. The second is how a lone wild-growing pine tree at the corner managed to survive the city's growth around it. That little tree became the subject of scientific curiosity in the early 20th Century.

The tree in question. I guess it was a big deal at the time.
                     In the 1920's, massive amounts of change were hitting the city. The Sesquicentennial Celebration was coming up and the whole region became aflutter with construction projects in anticipation of the millions of visitors that would be arriving in 1926. In that year, the Crane Company, a manufacturing company that made pretty much everything relating to plumbing back then, decided that they needed a downtown showroom from which to exhibit the boilers, furnaces, pipe, valves, and plumbing tools it was so proud of producing up in Kenzo. They threw up this Box of Boring Buttsmacks at the 13th/Locust corner extremely quickly, fuglying up the block for generations to come.
                    Crane kept the showroom open and held some offices there through the 1930's. Skip ahead to 1943. That's when Frank Palumbo, Philaphile and nightclub promoter, came along and decided that this building would be a great addition to his entertainment empire. He opened a Jazz club inside called the Cove on March 20th. It's opening and subsequent headliners were covered in Billboard Magazine all through the 40's.

Original blurb from Billboard about the opening.
                    Eventually, Palumbo bought the building on December 7th, 1946 for $185,000. The Cove became so popular that Palumbo turned the Cove into the Cove Corporation, a group of four clubs/restaurants that would run acts simultaneously at the butt-fugly building. Famous jazz acts of the era would always stop at the Cove while in Philly.  The Palumbo Family owns the building to this day.
                    Over the years, the classiness of the neighborhood began to wain. The jazz clubs gave way to lunchtime eateries and supper clubs. The tenants changed with the times based the level of the neighborhood.

1959. The southern end of the building became the Cub Lounge.
                   By time the 1970's rolled around, the neighborhood had devolved into a seedy bar and strip club area. The ugly motherfucker was made even more ugly, with crappy wood molding patterns on the sides and a completely boarded-up second floor.

The side of the shitpile in 1972.

The ever-lasting All in the Family Lounge (great name) has the northern end in this pic from 1977. Club 13 opened (in a much different form) in 1948.
                   In the mid-1990's, the All in the Family and a bar called Nile were the only tenants left in the space. This is where the NIMBYs came in. Gentrification plans for the neighborhood had been in process since in early 80's and the tenants in the old Cove building were among the final vestiges of the area's sordid past.
                   The All in the Family Lounge was the biggest target... many objected to a strip club where the strippers would sometimes be visible from the street when working. In 1996, they tried to take down Frank Palumbo Jr., current owner, over the tenant's licenses. Luckily, Mr. Palumbo was the municipal court judge that was chairman of the Licenses and Inspections review board. All kinds of speculation swirled around for years over whether Palumbo or the owner of the All in the Family were corrupt or had mob ties, etc.
                 In 2000, the owner of the All in the Family Lounge retooled the place. He used his grandfathered-in strip club license to open a much larger strip club called Signatures in the same building. As long as the actual stripping only occured in the room in the back (the old All-in-the-Family space) he was golden. The exterior was redone with extremely cheesy-looking reflective black crap and fake-ass gold lanterns. I guess they were trying to class-up the joint.

Signatures as seen in Season 2 Episode 16 of Hack. Check out the episode... you can see the inside of the building when it was all stripclubbed-out.
                       In 2002, an attempt was made to expand Signatures into the rest of the space, which would have become a 12,000-square-foot titty palace called the Gold Club. The NIMBY's went apeshit and even got Councilman DiCicco on their side even though his son had been the attorney for the owners of the All in the Family Lounge in the past.
                      In 2005, Signatures' liquor license was denied and the place shut down... the NIMBY's scored a victory for their neighborhood. The butt-fugly Wall of Whining Neighbors sat vacant for 6 years while proposal after proposal came and went. A club called Evolve was pretty set on moving in 2007-2008. That all fell through like a motherfucker. A large entertainment complex appropriately named Thirteen01 came after that. Both Evolve and Thirteen01 planned to completely remake the building, which have made it slightly less ugly.

                       Finally, here in 2011, the good old Crane Company Exhibit Room/Cove Corporation/Signatures has an actual tenant intent on staying for the long haul. Nest, in their own words a "children's enrichment center and indoor playground", has altered the building (though it's still ugly as fuck) and will be offering all kinds of programs for kids including a restaurant space that will be located in the... you guessed it... former All in the Family Lounge space.
Hey, All in the Family Lounge would be an appropriate name for it!
                      Well, good luck to 'em. Some see this place and the recent closure of Q as the death nell for the Gayborhood. I think that's bullshit. When the Bike Stop, Voyeur, Danny's, Sansom Street Cinema, Woody's, Uncles, and iCandy (formerly 12th Air Command) close, THEN the Gayborhood will be over. That's not gonna happen any time soon.
                       For six years I cursed NIMBYs for causing this ugly piece of shit to sit empty for all that time, but it looks like in the end this will be extremely positive for the city as a whole. This place at least proves that the NIMBYs do have SOME usefulness. Whodathunkit?


  1. All has not been blight and despair on that block, though -- at least culturally speaking. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is directly across the street at 1300 Locust and its next door neighbor, The Library Company of Philadelphia (founded by Benjamin Franklin), holds incredible troves of rare books and graphics, even if the building is a bit of a head-scratcher and nowhere nearly as 19-century awesome as the Frank Furness building they used to own at Locust & Juniper.

    Visit them both on the web at:

    (There's also an awesome Furness townhouse at 1320 Locust and an inspiring Wilson Eyre building across the street.)

  2. They destroyed the Furness Library Co. building for a really stupid reason. I'll do that building one of these days.

    I admire the Library Co. and the PA historical society for hanging tough in the same spot for so long despite how the neighborhood changed until it changed back. The Library Co kind of cheated though, they moved out and moved back between the late 40's and mid 60's.

  3. Eh, I wouldn't go congratulating the NIMBYs just yet. It's still gonna be only two stories, which I imagine is because the zoning code (or the parking regs in the zoning code) make building it out impossible. In the third picture you can clearly see that it's the odd one out in the neighborhood, and that it needs at least two more stories to fit in.