Thursday, July 14, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- July 14th

Shitz Carlton Waldorf Awhoria Fail Lot

Bounded by Chestnut Street, 15th Street, The Residences at the Ritz and the Ritz Hotel.

What a pisser.
                     This lot never needed to happen. If only some rich motherfuckers got their shit in a pile and could make a deal worth any salt this lot would be filled. A location like this should not be empty for 10 years. This lot makes me crazy every time I see it. It was continuously occupied from at least the 1830's until 2001. Since then, it's been another damn sea of asphalt, scarring Center City with it's blatant emptiness.
                      This stretch of Chestnut Street was first covered in large rowhomes and then became a commercial strip by the beginning of the 20th Century.

The north side of Chestnut in 1917.
Corner of 15th and Chestnut. That's the Arcade Building on the left.
                      One of the many buildings named the Morris Building stood on this row, a 1910 skyscraper by none other than Frankie Furness.

Seen here in it's final decade.
                      So what happened to all this nice shit that was running this block? Well, this:

                      The One Meridian Plaza fire on February 23rd, 1991 fucked up everything. The fire was near the top of the skyscraper and debri fell onto the buildings facing Chestnut Street, damaging them irrevocably (though some call that into question). The Morris Building was already fucked up beyond recognition so it was the perfect excuse to tear that down. Once the Meridian Building was finally cleared, the Shitz Carlton Waldorf Awhoria Fail Lot was born, doubly as large as it is now. 
                     It lingered for years and years while proposals for the spot came and went. A proposal for a supertall skyscraper called the Center City Tower was nearly dead on arrival.

It probably would have been called the Comcast Center if built.
                 After taking forever to get started, the Residences at the Ritz managed to get built, cutting the lot in half. The remaining half has had two major proposals that have fallen to shit.

This one never got past being called 1441 Chestnut. Meh.
                          1441 Chestnut was proposed around the same time the Residences at the Ritz was, but after disagreements between developers and a whole lot of other drama, the shit never got built. Nothing was heard about it for awhile until a new design for 1441 Chestnut came along, but was now going to be a massive 670-foot Waldorf-Astoria hotel and condo. This thing actually got approved and seemed like it was on it's way. People got excited as shit.

I could fux with it.
                       Even after the economy collapsed the developer announced that it was still a go in February 2009. They even set up a sales storefront in the fancy Walnut Street shopping district. A little while later they started saying that only the parking garage would be built and the tower would definitely be built later. By May 2009 it was put "on hold" and the lot got auctioned off in October 2010, killing off the project completely. Even as it was being auctioned off, the developer of the project was quoted by Inquirer as saying "That property can't be just a surface parking lot..."
                      The only thing we have left is a 22,400 square foot Sea of Assquility. Brook Lenfest, son of the guy that a shitload of crap in this city is named after, now owns the lot. He was an 85% shareholder for the previous developer of this project, so maaaaaaybe the Waldorf could still happen. Other developments from before the recession that I thought were dead are starting to return, so maaaaaaybe there's something here. Don't get your fucking hopes up.

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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- July 12th

Municipal Services Building and Thomas Paine Plaza

1417 John F. Kennedy Boulevard

All the beauty of a cardboard box. Photo by Stoyan Zlatanov.
                       Everyone knows about this tarnished metal corrugated cardboard pile of shit. It looks like one of those foamcore models of a building, but it's unfortunately the real deal. This looks like one of those fake buildings you see in a 60's movie about the future. What a goddamn embarrassment. Lots of other butt-fugly buildings I've talked about often go ignored or unseen by out-of-towners and tourists... but this one is front and center.. everyone sees this Tower of Fucktocracy.
                      Then to add insult to injury, they surround the thing with the one of the ugliest public spaces in America. I've only ever heard people call it "Municipal Services Plaza" but it's really called Thomas Paine Plaza. I'd rather have a surface parking lot than this piece of unfortunate fuck.

What the fuck? Photo by Chris Oberlin
                         First you have that big sunken area that is part of the Suburban Station underground maze. They might as well call that Bum Halla. They put that hole next to the sidewalk on Broad Street just to make sure that the first block of North Broad would be dead as fuck. Then you have this plaza that's five feet off the ground in some spots, creating a stone and concrete wall at the sidewalk on all sides. Yeah, good fucking planning.
                       On top of all that stupidity, they fill it with giant game pieces and a big ass statue that looks like the artist sculpted a monument to the biggest shit he ever took. Throw in a 10-foot-tall statue of the most corrupt mayor in history and you have the ugliest fucking public building and space in the region.
                       The Municipal Services Building was conceived by Edmund Bacon as part of his Concrete Revolution of Center City. He imagined a utopian world where people would take mass transit into the city, walk through underground concourses from building to building, and sparingly traverse through low-maintenance public spaces above ground. Since the city government was still outgrowing both of their massive buildings, he added a new city government building into the mix. Little did he know that all his stone/concrete plazas and concourses would look like absolute fuck when they aged.
                       Reyburn Plaza was on the block that the MSB now resides. It was a surface parking lot/park/concert venue installed in 1909. A rail concourse ran underneath. It wasn't beautiful but at least it wasn't five feet off the ground. It had a big stage for concerts that infrequently occurred at the spot. People still refer to the plaza as Reyburn Plaza today even though it's now called Thomas Paine.

This piece of shit is still better than what's there now.
                      Construction of the MSB took FOREVER. It began in 1962 but wasn't done until 3 years later due to protests and union/city disagreements (a.k.a. Philadelphia business as usual). As soon as it was done, it looked like a piece of garbage. That didn't stop this Ballsack of Balzac from earning a shitload of architecture awards. Dumbasses.
Beginning confucktion  in 1962.
Looking like shit right after completion.
                     The horrific public art in the plaza was added during the Bicentennial Spruce-Up in the mid 70's. What trash. There is a silver lining to this black thundercloud, however. The city is opening up to the idea of nixing Thomas Paine Plaza and offering the space to developers for a building that would liven up that shitty first block of North Broad. Don't get your hopes up. Redesigns of Dilworth Plaza and LOVE Park are the priority right now so the space will continue to look shitty for at least 5 more years.
                      The Municipal Services Building will probably not be demolished in anyone's lifetime. Future generations will be reviled by it's ugliness for at least another century. Thanks, dicks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- July 11th

City Hall Annex (aka Courtyard Marriott)

21 North Juniper Street

Take notes, motherfuckers. This is how you do it!
                     Now this is how you do a building. It's just a box but it doesn't seem like one... it has differentiating sets of details and styles going all the way up... it's like five awesome-looking shorter buildings stacked on top of each other. Then you have an arcade that straddles the sidewalk, wrapping around the back corner of the building. Cover it all with Indiana Limestone and you have one can-kick-Godzilla's-ass building. It's LEED Fuck You Certified, asshole!
                     In the start of the 1920's, the horrendously corrupt city government was growing to such an immense size that it started to exceed the bounds of Philadelphia's City Hall. Just to put that into perspective, this city government was so swollen with corruption by 1920 that the largest municipal building in America with it's 695 rooms was too fucking small for it. They needed a brand new 15-storey building and they needed it now... they couldn't wait 30 years for it like the last time. 
                    They called up city architect/Ed Bacon of the 20's Phillip H. Johnson.

Phillip H. Johnson shortly after his 2nd Rite of Ascension.
                  Appointed by his corrupt state senator brother-in-law Israel Wilson Durham, he designed many of the civic structures found in the city in that era. We're lucky that Senator Durham's brother-in-law was a good-ass architect. Johnson didn't fuck around. He came up with a design that kicked ass but was also quickly buildable.
                  Work begun on it in 1926.

Under construction on October 21, 1926. Check out the Bulletin Building on the left.
                   The city government needed this thing done so quickly that it was built in two phases so they could open sooner. The Juniper Street side was done first, then they started the 13th Street side. The whole thing was done by the end of 1928.

Phase One nearly complete. Begin Phase Two!
                  The City Hall Annex held various city offices for decades. The city government expanded even more, building even more annexes to fit their fat asses. Even today the city rents offices in other buildings because the many buildings they have aren't enough.

The 13th Street side looking dirty as shit in 1965.

Central air conditioner being installed in 1966.
                    By the 1980's, this former Temple of Kung Fu Crotch Kicks was a piece of crud. A design flaw caused water to leak into the walls above each window, accelerating the aging process of the building. In 1987, the city peaced the fuck out of the barely standing structure and it was nearly marked for demolition. The beast sat rotting away while development deal after development deal fell through.
                  Finally in 1997 Marriott came along and was like "Hmm... great location, windows on all sides, new convention center nearby... SCOOOOOOORE!!!". They converted it to a hotel over a long 2 year boondoggle of construction. The design flaw in the windows was fixed and history geeks bothered the fuck out of them over every detail. The awning over the door became a source of massive controversy.  The hotel opened as the Courtyard Marriott Philadelphia in 1999 to great fanfare.

The new awning is not awesome.