Thursday, August 25, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- August 25th

Trump 35.5

Pier 35.5, 709 North Penn Street

What a travesty. Image from Google.
                    This is a pretty sad sack of a case. Though it appears to look just like all the other undeveloped old piers, this one is unique. This pier stands as a symbol of all of the broken dreams and unfinished plans that have come to this neighborhood.
                     Pier 35.5 began as the southern shore of the mouth of Cohocksink Creek, aka Stacey's Creek. That little creek was an important waterway for the early Swedish settlers of the Philadelphia area. During the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777, the British dammed the creek and set up artillery along it's south side, including the site of this empty lot. After the war, the area didn't see much development until Philadelphia County consolidated in 1854. At that point, the creek was organized into a canal and used by all the industrial needs in the area.

Pier 35.5 as seen in the 1875 G.M. Hopkins map.
                      The Cohocksink Creek Canal was covered over and still runs under Canal Street in that neighborhood. The only remaining outdoor section of Cohocksink Creek is the little piece between Pier 35.5 and Waterfront Square. For many decades, Pier 35.5 was used as an outdoor storage area for lumber and cement. A few ice houses dotted the lot. By the time the 20th Century was a little more than half over, the pier became the empty lot we know and love today, 94,616 square feet of fuck.

There it is on the left, being cleared on January 7, 1960. It was called Pier 36 back then.
                 Fast forward to 2006.  Inspired by improvements in the residential neighborhood nearby and by some new creative zoning, rich-ass developers became interested in Pier 35.5's neighborhood. It was a great time in Philadelphia when new construction and new building proposals were EVERYWHERE. A great multitude of tall building projects came to this 'hood and Philaphiles creamed themselves with excitement over the possibility of what could have become a whole 'nother downtown for the city.
               Then the market tanked and almost all of the projects never happened. The ones that did get through were built in a half-ass way. Here's a diagram from that crazy period, with updates:

Click to read all of the details.
                      Even after most of those projects died, the plan for Pier 35.5 was considered the most possible. The plan for this pier was Trump Tower Philadelphia, a $300 million dollar 45-storey residential skyscraper that would be the height of City Hall.

Alright, so it's not that exciting.
                      Not a fan of having the entire pier covered in a parking garage pedestal, not a fan of the design, but fuck it... this is better than the pile of dirt that's been sitting in that spot for all these centuries. When approvals actually came through and site prep was beginning, people thought this thing was actually going to happen! Even as late as March 2008, ads for the project were appearing in Philadelphia Style Magazine:
Giant Trump will rise out of the ground and shit on you if you don't buy. Originally posted by Swinefeld at Skyscraper Page.
                   All of the excitement went to shit in November 2008 when the project was declared "postponed". Even though that doesn't mean its totally dead, the likelihood of this thing happening  is next to nil. The only glimmer of hope we have for this sucker is based on two pieces of evidence:

           1) The same owner that purchased the lot for 10 million bones on April 4, 2006 still owns it and is paying the $61k property tax bill every year. Strangely, the address of the LP that owns the space is based in a residential home in Brooklyn.

           2) Pier 35.5 is one of the only piers that goes completely ignored by the Master Plan for the Central Delaware. This gigantic plan uses up almost all of the empty lots and piers along the river, yet Pier 35.5 stands alone and untouched.

There it is on the right. Suspicious, this is.
                   Could this be proof that Trump Tower Philadelphia might actually still be a go? Other so-called "postponed" proposals from the 00's building boom have started back up (State Office Building, 600 North Broad)... could this one be next? HIGHLY DOUBTFUL, but maybe, just maybe, a new development for this lot will spring forth. Here's a weird design I found by some architect named Dan Ionescu:

Don't know if it's old, new, fantasy, or an actual proposal.
                     Right now, it looks like this sad Pier of Penis Cheese is going to stay sad as fuck for a least another generation. Even if the area around it gets developed, this lot may stay waiting for Trump for the rest of our natural lives. Trump, are you reading this? Take the chance! Build! BUILD!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- August 24th

West End Trust Building

4 South Broad Street

Furness is best.
                   Look at this sexy motherfucker. Needless to say this was a unique building. This was the building that showed the transitional period for Furness, where he attempted to build a highrise using his techniques that he normally reserved for smaller buildings. This Tower of Titanic Testicle Meat is one of those buildings whose demolition really irks me. No one has been able to appreciate the array of bright colors found on the facade of this beast for 80 years.
                  One of the best things about this building is how it conveys a sense of height even though it's actually quite small by today's standards. Even in it's own time, it was about the same height or shorter than the buildings on the rest of Broad Street.

Some time in the 00's. 1900's, that is. This angle shows how petite this building actually was.
                  What a cool-ass pile of stone. The West End Trust and Safe Deposit Company was one of the many banks formed in Philadelphia in the 1890's. Instead of having a singular pioneer like Girard or Drexel running the show, this bank was formed by the common investment of a whole slurry of rich-ass millionaire businessmen. The bank was chartered February 4th, 1891 and worked out of a former Girard Trust bank branch at 2020 Chestnut Street.
                   Since the bank was run by a group of some of the most hardcore businessmen in the city, they knew where development was going to be moving in the future. They purchased a small plot of land at the corner of Broad Street and Penn Square in 1892 for $38,000, knowing that the location was going to be the city's new business center.
                   A. Lewis Smith was the bank's president due solely on seniority. This guy was like 70 years old at this point, which meant a lot more then than it does now. When he retired, he appointed his Vice-President, a young go-getter, to the helm on November 12, 1894.  Horace A. Doan took the bank and ran with it. He built the bank very quickly and soon they were outgrowing their offices.

Horace A. Doan
                      By the end of the 1890's, that little plot of land on Broad Street owned by the West End trust became extremely valuable. It would become the site of their new building. Doan went up to Furness and was like, "Look, you crazy bastard. I need a building kick-ass awesome enough to hold my bank, the fastest growing bank Philly's ever seen. Also, you need to fit it on a really tiny-ass lot. " Furness was like "Listen, you little shit. This is what I'll do... I'll take my style I reserve for my most badass shit and build a really tall version of it. You'll eat your own balls when you see it!".
                      Furness went all-ape on this one. He created a pattern that looks like the facade of one of his smaller bank buildings from earlier times and replicated over and over again so that the new building would look like 12 of his smaller buildings interlocked together.

Close up of the pic at the top. The facade was this awesome little building over and over again.
                He made the facade of Red Granite, Pompeian Brick, and Terra Cotta for a redandpinkstravaganza going up 12 storeys. Take notes, motherfuckers... this is how you do a red brick highrise. It's really too bad that their are no color photographs of this thing. It was like having a super-tall version of the PAFA building.
                Construction was completed and West End Trust officially moved in on August 14th, 1899. Business was huge and a small mention of the buildings' beauty was written whenever referring to the bank in the literature of the day. Architecture critics hated it; no surprise there. Their most common complaint was that Furness doesn't know how to design a highrise. Later highrises he designed would look more and more conventional as a result.

West End towards the end of its short life. The two other buildings show Furness' change in style to more conventional-looking shit.
                      The bank's success didn't last forever. By the 1920's, business had fallen immensely. West End merged with 2 other struggling banks in 1927 and gave up its name. The bank it became has gone through so many name changes, mergers, and sales that it would take all day to explain them. Long story short, West End Trust still lives on as a minute part of Fidelity National Financial of Jacksonville, Florida.
                      In 1930, the Girard Trust Bank became interested in expanding their Furness-designed palace next door. In that year, they knocked the 31-year-old West End Trust the fuck down and built their new cool-looking office tower that still stands today as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
                       I can't really complain too much about this building being lost... the spot it was in couldn't stay that small forever. Just remember as you look at these pictures... this thing was a brightly colored red, pink, and beige when it was new. It darkened toward the end but still retained its Furnessian regality. RIP, motherfucker, RIP.

Close-up of the cool-ass crown of the building.

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?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- August 22nd

John F. Kennedy Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center (aka Fidelity Mutual Insurance Association Building aka North Wing of the UGI Building)

112 North Broad Street

I didn't forget you, man!
                  This building represents a time when the amount of development on South Broad and North Broad was equal. This little building, which barely gets noticed, is one of the oldest highrises in the city and is probably the oldest surviving highrise on North Broad Street.
                   Take a good look at that thing. It's sporadically detailed with intricate patterns and has somehow managed to retain it's kick-ass cornice, a detail that most buildings still standing from it's era have long lost. This Tower of Tae Kwon Do Ball-scratches is probably one of the most under-appreciated pieces of architecture in the city.
                   It began with Levi Garner Fouse. Fouse attended college to be minister in a time when barely anyone went to college. Before finishing his second year, he said, "Fuck this, I need to make some scrilla!" and dropped the fuck out. He became an insurance agent in 1870 at age 20 in both Pittsburgh and Fredricksburg, PA. He became obsessed with actuarial tables and statistics and even wrote papers that invented insurance concepts that we still use today.

Photo from the cover of Fouse's biography, "Who Needs College With Guns Like These?"
                        After a brief foray in the Medicine Show business, he started his own insurance company in Philadelphia in 1879 called the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Association. He had immediate success based on the fact that he had literally written the book on how much risk was involved with giving a soldier life insurance during wartime. The company was so badass so quickly that by 1893 Fouse was ready to build a one million dollar skyscraper. Back then that was like opening a matchbox store and becoming successful enough in 3 weeks to build a Space Elevator.
                  At the time, it was generally understood that the business center of the city would soon be moving over to where the new City Hall was being built (they didn't know it would take thirty years to finish!). Any lot that was within view of City Hall became prized property. The Iron Hall Association (yet another 19th Century Trade Association/Gentleman's Club), owned a lot on North Broad that they were going to use for a new clubhouse. It never happened.
                They sold the spot to Fouse. Fouse went up to Massachusetts-known architect F.S. Newman was was like "Look motherfucker, I don't want some boring-ass highrise with no windows on the sides. I want windows all the way around. I got you this lot that has the short Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on one side and the smallest part of the First Baptist Church on the other. You can put a cool facade and windows on all four sides of this piece of shit!" And he did.

Fidelity Mutual when it was new and you would actually notice it.

Check out that doorway... it's like a goddamn cathedral!
                      This place had everything... steam heating, letter chutes, electric lights, and FOUR elevators! It was touted as fireproof and burglarproof. It made every other office building in the city look like a dead rat's ass. Everybody loved it.
                       A few years later, Fidelity Mutual was one of the only insurance agencies in the country that could offer life insurance to soldiers during the Spanish-American War, due to Fouse's advanced knowledge of military wartime risk. This made the company grow EXTREMELY fast. Soon they were operating in over 40 states and Fouse was getting praise from all over the world... not just because of his success, but also because his building kicked ass. It was called "one of the finest types of architecture in the East" by one newspaper.
                     In the late 1890's, Fidelity Mutual's success led others to believe that North Broad street was going to be the place to be in business. The United Gas Improvement Company was like, "Fuck your southern facade, Fouse! We're gonna build right next to you!", as they knocked down the First Baptist Church.
Southern facade of the building as seen for the last time.
Fidelity Mutual with the U.G.I building in the way. The Independent Order of Oddfellows building is saying "Fuck you!" on the right.
                       Fouse had bigger problems at the time (he became partially paralyzed) so he didn't get in the way. Once the U.G.I. Building was complete, it caused all those southern-facing windows of the Fidelity Mutual Building to face a brick wall. Rouse continued to run the company until his death in 1914.
                      When the 1920's rolled around, Fidelity Mutual was ready to move out. The Ben Franklin Parkway was being built and they thought they would be cool if they built their new office building there. The building they completed by 1927 is now called the Perelman Annex of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. U.G.I, around the same time, was looking to expand. They doubled the size of their building and connected it to the old Fidelity Mutual. This Fortress of Fist-Fucks became the northern wing of the U.G.I. building. The lower facade of both buildings was boringed-out four decades later.

Fidelity as we know it now, completely obscured by the expanded U.G.I. Building.
                        In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed Public Law 88-164, authorizing the use of federal funds for community mental health centers. The idea behind the law was to allow people requiring mental health services to be able to get treatment within their own community instead of going off to some crazy house in the middle of nowhere. The Fidelity Mutual Building became Philadelphia's answer to this law and became the John F. Kennedy Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center, which continues to function today.
                     Time passed and both buildings became all fucked up. A plan came along in 1986 to demolish both buildings and build a skyscraper that would be set back 20 feet from the UGI Building's detached facade. The building would have included an addition to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The architect chosen for the project was Carles Vallhonrat. Obviously, it never happened. It probably would have looked cool for like five minutes but I'd rather have this cool-ass old building.
                    If you're ever on the first blocks of North Broad, take note of this masterpiece. It's easy to miss, being that it's so close to PAFA, the Convention Center Expansion, the Masonic Temple, Arch Street Methodist Church, and that big fucking paintbrush. It will still impress you as it impressed the world 117 years ago. If it doesn't, fuck you.