Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- October 19th

Second Philadelphia Mint

NW Corner of Chestnut and Juniper

Strictly Stricklandious!
                       Here's another great structure from the age when Philly was known as the "Athens of America". People take Greek Revival buildings for granted but don't realize that in the early 1800's, this shit was like a 4,000 foot skyscraper.
                       In 1827, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia was facing a problem. They had been working out of this dinky little building just north of Seventh and Market, but the demand for coinage was at an unbelievably high level and they could not keep up no matter how many additions or pieces of new equipment they acquired. In December of 1828, the workers at the Mint begged the chairman of the House of Representatives Mint committee to build them a new place, much larger and more modern of any mint in existence.
                      Congress took the matter very seriously, feeling guilty that they allowed the country's monies to be manufactured in an oversized rowhouse for the last 30 years. On March 2nd, 1829, they passed a bill creating a new U.S. Mint, this time so big that it would fill the country's needs for generations. They purchased a huge plot of land at the northwest corner of Juniper and Chestnut, which was at that time a no-mans' land. Here is where the mega-mint would be built.
                       For such a monumental design, they needed a monumental architect. Enter William Strickland. This motherfucker didn't fuck around. He gave them a white marble Grecian Temple dedicated to the manufacture of Scrilla that had some of the biggest interior spaces you could find outside of a cathedral. On July 4th, 1829, the few Masons left in Philly (Freemasonry was in decline at the time) got their aprons on and laid the cornerstone for this monster. Construction took 4 years.

When it was new. It may not look like much now, but in 1833 this was a big fucking deal.
                          When the new mint first opened, they just carted over the shitty equipment they were using at the old building and the stuff they churned out looked like crap. The mint sent out a scout, Franklin Peale, to go check out (spy on) European coinage methods and steal their ideas. Two years later, Peale's return co-incided with a noticeable upgrade in coining technology at the mint.
                        Decades passed and the mint stayed in continuous use, as so it was designed. The city grew though and past it. Technological upgrades and additional mints in other cities (some designed by Strickland) kept the building useful up into the 1870's.
                         In 1881, the building was falling apart and started to become too small to meet the demands of the age. An addition was planned that was to be constructed in 1885. Congress authorized the design and threw some money at it, but it ended up becoming a classic Philadelphia Dead-Ass Proposal. Instead, Congress just said, "Fuck it, build a new one.", and they did in 1901.

The planned addition. I'll tell ya, it's not bad!
                        After the mint moved to their new digs, the building at Juniper and Chestnut was demolished and was replaced with the Mint Arcade until 1914, when the Widener Build was built. That building is pretty cool but it would have been nice if this thing was still around. Good job, Strickland.

The mint looking pretty haggard in 1895.


  1. ???
    If the Mint was on the northwest corner of Chestnut and Juniper, it wasn't sitting on the Wanamacy's footprint, which is on the northeast corner (Market to Chestnut, Juniper to 13th). Was it perhaps replaced by the building that until fairly recently held Caldwell's jewelery?

  2. ah shit, you're right. I'll fix it.

  3. GroJLart:
    The Mint was replaced by the Mint Arcade Building, a funky retail, office mix that lasted until 1913. In 1914 Horace Trumbauer's Widener building (still standing) was begun. Check out Mint Arcade on PAB.

  4. What's with me today? I totally knew about the Mint Arcade and completely forgot about it when writing this article. Thanks!!