Thursday, September 22, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- September 22nd

Franklin Town and RDA Fail Lot

Bounded by 18th Street, Vine Street, Wood Street, and 16th Street.

Fucking pathetic!
                       This is one of the saddest empty lots in town... and that's saying something. A two block long sea of asphalt with a noisy-ass submerged highway to the south and a busy-ass street to the east. This shit never had to happen. I mean really... NEVER. The lot doesn't exactly have a storied history or anything... its always been blocks of rowhomes and industrial buildings. Nothing to write home about.
                      You may recall a previous Empty Lot of the Week that was part of the failed-ass Franklin Town development project. A large piece of that project was Franklin Town Boulevard, the brainchild of architect Phillip Johnson. This was going to be a diagonal street that would be the focus of the gigantic amount of concrete ugly shit that they had planned to build.
                      Around 1981-82, 10 years after Franklin Town was first conceived, very little progress had been made. A few butt-fugly buildings and a whole shitload of empty lots was all it had amounted to. Developers who had listened to the dumbass architecture critics who thought this thing was going to be the greatest thing since peanut butter were pissed off and starting to sell off their shit. The city responded by fucking up 17th Street and laying down the useless-ass Franklin Town Boulevard. This also had the effect of creating the Franklin Town and RDA Fail Lot.
                        In 1987, developer Stephen Klein purchased the 1700 block of Vine in 1987 for 3.7 million dollars with an agreement with the Redevelopment Authority that he would develop the lot within 5 years. Economic problems and other issues prevented 6 separate projects from getting off the ground. Finally, in 2009, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had given up on the idea of building a temple on North Broad Street. They got into the groove of purchasing the west side of the Franklin Town and RDA Fail Lot.
                   That's when the RDA became one giant gigantic steaming-shit smelling NIMBY. They jumped on Klein and threatened to take over the land because he had not developed it fast enough. They would drop the suit if Klein handed over 25% of the Mormon sale price, a 1.9 million dollar bribe. And it is a bribe. The 70 million dollar Mormon Temple project was about to get fucked over just because these dumbasses wanted a payday. Crooks. Klein offered a $100,000 bribe instead and they took it, laughing their asses off the entire time. Just last week, the ground was broken on this kick-ass design for a Mormon Temple.

Shit, call me Elder GroJLart... this is awesome!
                  Pretty pathetic that this little temple has a superior design to 90% of the buildings built in this city in the last 80 years. Good job, Mormons. The 1600 block of Vine, the east side of the lot, has also been the subject of many failed developments over the years... most notably Grasso's mixed-use development, creatively named 1601 Vine. Like Klein, Grasso also did some scrumbling with the corrupt-ass RDA. That project is now dead as fuck.
                  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints purchased the east side of the Franklin Town and RDA Fail Lot and intends to develop it into some kind of retail/commercial thing. It'll probably be some kind of strip mall. Who cares? How often do I get to present and Empty Lot that will soon be finally gone? Welcome to Philafuckingdelphia, Mormon Temple. I'm glad your here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- September 21st

New Masonic Hall

721 Chestnut Street

Holy Shit!
                      This building was a gem. A diamond among diamonds. We'll never get another one like this again. If this was built today, it would be a plastic-looking pile of shit with asymmetrical uneven windows and colored boxes everywhere. This is from a time when architects knew what the fuck was up.
                      In the 1830's and 1840's, Freemasonry was in the shitter. Membership was at an all time low and even the bigwigs of the organization were starting to call it quits. The general public was down on them because of a few bad incidents and members were being arrested and interrogated in some cities to reveal the brotherhood's secrets. Philadelphia's Masonic Hall wasn't even being used. The building was serving as the Peale Museum of Natural History and the Masons were meeting in an old mansion at 3rd and Walnut. 
                     By the early 1850's, everyone forgot about that shit and Freemasonry was cool again. To make up for all the lost time, the Philadelphia Masons decided they should build a new Masonic Hall, this time the largest in the goddamn world. They held a huge design contest, taking offers from the six most badass Philadelphia architects of the period.  
                      The design that was chosen ending up being the one drawn up by the 78-Star Admiral of Masonic Kick-ass, Samuel Sloan. His design was a 112-foot-tall high gothic mixed-use mega-hall that would take up more square footage than any other. Just look at that picture. Gothic arches, facade details all over, little towers everywhere... you can't argue with this motherfucker.

Hell yeah!
                         The cornerstone was laid in a gigantic ceremony/full-dress mega parade on November 21st, 1853 and it was completed in 1855. It was a huge success... Masonic membership became the "in" thing again for the mega-elite super-rich of the city. It was so fucking successful, in fact, that the building started to become insufficient for the Masons' needs.
                       Only 17 years after it was built, the Masons moved the fuck out of the "New Masonic Hall" and moved into the super-awesome gigantic mega temple that's still kicking ass and taking names at 1 North Broad Street. Once the Masons moved, the building went through a shitload of different uses. The retail storefronts stayed in use pretty continuously but the upper floors were often vacant.
                        It became the Chestnut Street Dime Museum (for five weeks in 1884), then it became the Temple Theatre and Egyptian Museum (alterations by Willis G. Hale!) in 1886 until it burned the fuck down a few months later on December 27th, 1886. Unfortunately, no pics seem to exist of the altered facade that was designed to make it look more Egyptian. If you find one, let me know!
                       The burning of the building was the cause of controversy all over America since it was suspected that its new-fangled electrical lighting scheme might have been the culprit. Once it was gone, the site only remained an empty lot for 3 years until Willis Hale's awesome Three Banks building was built on the spot in 1889. Rumor has it that parts of the foundation from the New Masonic Hall are still extant in the remaining standing section of that building, which I'll talk about at some point. This thing was cool. And the Gang.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- September 20th

Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (aka Annenberg School Center for Communication Arts and Sciences)

3680 Walnut Street

Ah jeez. Image from Microsoft.
                     This piece of shit really boils my balls. This is a theatre? This is a center for arts? Then why does it look like a center for donkey taint? I know the picture above is really showing the back of it. Well, guess what? That's the side that anyone ever sees.... the blank wall that faces Walnut Street. The front entrance that faces toward the Penn campus ain't no picnic either. I'm sure nice shit goes on inside there, but fuck, that's an ugly building.
                     What happened to cool looking theatres? Really, what the fuck happened? The Academy of Music, the Musical Fund Hall, the Walnut Street Theatre, the three Chestnut Street Theatres, the Trocadero, the two Forrest Theatres, the Broad Street Theatre, the Victoria, the Boyd... these were built to be attractive and attract people. This motherfucker makes even the Kimmel Center look like the fucking Chrysler Building. It's not very inviting to have a giant blank wall and a diagonal wall of windows facing everyone.
                    In 1966, the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania needed a space for performances. Walter Annenberg, the mighty business tycoon-philanthropist, gave over the dough to build and run the place. This crazy motherfucker was so rich that he wiped his ass with more money than this thing cost. Seriously, this guy was so loaded that he could have funded a performing arts center 10,000 feet tall made of platinum.
                  The school, for some dumbass reason, decided to go with Vincent Kling for the architect. Vincent Kling is responsible for some of the ugliest piles of concrete lard in the city and he made no exception here. I would call him Vincent Klingon, but Klingons have way better architecture than this shit.

Model of the place before it was built.
                   Look at that picture above. You're telling me that whomever was in charge of this shit looked at that and approved it? Was the person blind? Drunk? A bribe? WHAT THE FUCK!?!?! Someone fucked up. By the grace of Lucifer, this piece of shit was built in 1971.

The main entrance when it was new. Told ya it was crap.
                       This building makes most my previous Butt-Fuglies look like masterpieces. Ass I say! Ass. I'm pretty sure the dump I took this morning is superior architecture. I'll call it the GroJLart Center for the Performing Bowel Movements. Take that, Kling.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- September 19th

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (aka Free Museum of Science and Art)

3260 South Street

This is the only way to see all of it. Picture by Microsoft.
                      This building is awesome, even with its shit-ass 1971/2002 additions. Its awesome even though its only 1/3rd built after 114 years. Its awesome even though its overshadowed by taller buildings and high traffic streets in all directions. Is awesome despite the fact that its had everything working against it since day one.
                      The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology was the brainchild of Dr. William Pepper. Dr. Pepper (I know, shut up) was the Provost at UPenn in the late 1800's. This motherfucker was trying to put Penn on the map (even more) and adding a shitload of departments and buildings to the University.
                     He conceived the idea of having a public collection of artifacts that the school already owned. In 1889, he set up a little area in College Hall to show off some shit. When Furness's new University Library was built, a whole section of it became the Museum. By 1892, a commission was formed to figure out how the fuck they would build a kick-ass building for all this cool shit.
                    Pepper and friends needed it to be cheap, in a good location, but still look awesome enough to respect what was inside. The location was the first to be decided. There was a plot of city-owned land at the corner of South Street and Vintage Avenue (34th Street) that used to be part of the Blockley Almshouse campus. Penn had already started building shit on other parts of the land so it seemed like the right spot, even though much of it was weirdly graded and composed of crappy landfill.
The land in question as it appeared in 1891.
                    Next to be decided was the design. Pepper wanted it to be low-cost but then turned around and got involved with not one but THREE architecture firms. Wilson Eyre, Cope/Stewardson, and Frank Miles Day. Eyre was the main designer of the building while the others did smaller shit.

Wilson Eyre.
                      Pepper went up to Eyre and was like, "Listen, meatface. We need a cool-ass building to show off all these kick-ass artifacts we have. We don't have a lot of money, so keep it simple!!!". Eyre was like, "Oh, I'll keep it simple for you, you cherry-cola drinking motherfucker." This is what he came up with:

Simple, right?
                       This thing was going to be fucking crazy! Three big-ass domes, 3 courtyards facing South Street, building wings everywhere, covered in sculptures and mosaics and shit going on for nine acres.  It was to be built in four phases as funding would allow. In 1898, construction began on Phase One, which would be the northernmost wing. Really it was Phase .75 because the dome was not included.
                       Dr. Pepper died in 1898, so he never even got to see the first phase of his dream, which was completed in 1899.

Penn Museum at Phase .75 in 1907.
                      Phase One sat there looking pretty pathetic until 1914, when construction of the Harrison Rotunda began. This thing was the engineering marvel of its time. It was the world's largest masonry floor dome. It's 90 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. Once built, this would be, then and now, the coolest-looking part of the museum.

Dome under confucktion...

... and when it was complete. Don't Turn, motherfucker.
                     In 1921, the commission met and decided that the original Eyre plan with the giant domes and shit just wasn't going to happen. They had recently acquired some giant Egyptian crap and wanted to build a new wing to put it in but couldn't afford to do the giant central dome. They built this wing, called the Coxe wing, alongside the Harrison Rotunda and it opened in 1926.

Coxe wing under confucktion.
                         In 1929, plans came along to finally build the central section of Eyre's original plan, even though they had scrapped it in 1921. Money was the problem. They wanted this to be the new grand entrance of the place but they didn't want to throw down too much dough. The new wing would be called the Sharpe Administrative Wing. Eyre, who was pretty old at this point, even designed a new version of the center section. Despite that, the museum was forced to cheap out and build a much less exciting version of it. It ended up becoming the school bus drop-off spot instead of the main entrance.

New Main Entrance plan with big-ass rotunda.
...and how it ended up. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

                        After that, the design stayed put for a looooooooooong fucking time. Then in the late 60's, plans for yet another addition came along. At this point, the idea of doing Eyre's kick-ass original design was a pipe dream... this was the time of ugly concrete garbage, not beautiful brick masterpieces.
                      They went up to the two Great Satans of Philadelphia architecture, Mitchell and Giurgola, and said, "Look, you assholes.... we need a huge five-storey addition that will connect all these old wings. Make sure to make it as ugly as humanly possible, like your other horrific Philadelphia buildings. Just make the exterior part sort-of match the rest so assholes from the future like GroJLart won't complain. Oh, and before you do that, build us a big ugly parking garage to the south so no one can see the museum from Center City.

Stupid parking garage under confucktion.
1971 addition from the front. Fuck you, Mitchell and Giurgola.
Exposed concrete on the new inner courtyards. Eyre is shitting himself in his grave.
                     Mitchell and Giurgola went bananas on this thing. They tacked on a bunch of their trademark exposed concrete duplo blocks in order to make this thing as butt-fugly as possible. Assholes. You think it looks like shit in those pictures? That's when it was new. Today, that addition looks like a bunch of browned-up organized turds with glass in between. Shouldn't have built it out of sidewalk.
                    In the late 1990's, yet another addition was tacked on. This one is a little bit closer to Eyre's original facade but still stands out like a sore thumb because it has that plasticky look that today's modern architecture tends to have. Compared to the 1971 addition, however, it looks like the fucking Taj Mahal. The Mainwaring Wing, by the firm of Atkins Olshin Lawson-Bell (get a better name, idiots) was completed in 2002.

At least the brick color matches.
                       ...And there you have it. This kick-ass building may have a shitload of additions but if you ever try to find a pic of this thing on the internet you'll only find a pic of Phase One, because that's the only one you need. In the 2000's, while the Mainwaring addition was being built, talks began about how the fuck this thing would be developed in the future. Renders for a new addition that would fill in the rear courtyards were floated around in 2005. This would be great (since it would kill the exposed concrete parts), but its probably a dead-ass proposal.

Eyre would not approve, but its already way better than anything Mitchell and Fuckface ever did.
                       Recent rumors have been swirling around about demolition of the museum parking garage and Penn Tower. Could this be for new museum wings, or are they Penn Hospital related? Oh well. I must say, even though this is probably the longest Philaphilia article ever, I didn't even scratch the surface of this building's history. Just the history of the courtyards alone would have made this article reach the Gamma Quadrant. Let me just leave you with this:

Eyre's original 9-acre complex.
How it ended up.