Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lost Building of the Week-- February 22nd

Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company

921 Chestnut Street

1899, when buildings were buildings. Pic from the PAB.
                         Now that's a cool office building. Its so fucking tough that it has a big-ass bell tower like its a cathedral. Its like they assumed that people would instantly start worshiping the structure, so it might as well have one. This is how you design a facade, modern motherfuckers.
                       It all began in June of 1888. At this point in time, Penn Mutual Life Insurance was kicking ass and taking names all over the place. They were smoking their many many competitors due to the fact that they provided equal life insurance coverage for women as men for the same price. A special committee was formed to plan a new headquarters building for the company.
                       Arguments went on for months over whether the new building should be exclusively for the company or be a larger building that could rent office space to other companies. Eventually, the latter plan was chosen and Supermegitect Theophilius P. Chandler was commissioned to design it. The building they were already occupying was in a great location for the time, so instead of buying a new plot of land, they would just demolished the fuck out of their old building and started constructing the new one. They moved out of the old building on February 22, 1889 and stayed in some temporary offices at 1008 Walnut Street.
                      A year and a half later, on Thanksgiving Day, 1890, the brand-new 10-story Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company building opened. It was such a kick-ass design that people barely noticed the awesome Willis G. Hale building next door. The 900 block of Chestnut became one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the whole city.
                     The building was considered high tech as fuck because it had a goddamn circuit breaker. It also claimed to have more electrical wiring than any other building in the city at the time. Penn Mutual rented out the offices that faced Chestnut Street and occupied a little five-story box in the back that faced Chant Street (now Ludlow).

The interior of the first floor. This Chandler guy didn't fuck around.
                    Other architects of the period didn't think this building was all that special. They thought the cool-ass tower was too thin and tall. They thought the upper floors of the facade didn't match the lower floors. They made a point of saying that the awesome marble facade did not look as good as the old building. What a bunch of jerks. Look at that fucking building! Its a booooomb!
                      Penn Mutual would only stay for 23 years until moving to a much larger building on Washington Square. From there on out, they wouldn't move again, just keep adding on to their 1913 structure until it was ultimately butt-fuglified in the 1970's. After Penn Mutual, Chandler's Kick-ass Cathedral of Roundhouse Taintpunches lived on with various tenants for another 19 years. Then, at only 42 years old, the building, along with the entire block of other kick-ass buildings, was unceremoniously demolished to make way for some nice-looking but unnecessary federal pork projects that still stand there today.

Kick-ass row of buildings, including the Penn Mutual, about to be demolished in 1932.
                   Demolishing this block was a fucking crime. Though the buildings that replaced it are neat, they pale in comparison to the shitfucktastic super-structures that once graced this stretch of Chestnut Street. We'll never get a bunch of nice buildings like these again. What a shame.


  1. Seeing pictures like these makes me want to cry. Seriously. One can only conclude that we're regressing as a civilization.

  2. hey looks like the victory bldg is visible in the distance. another great pic of chestnut street here:

  3. Seriously... What brainslugs leached onto these people craniums to want to demolish these asskicking buildings.

  4. It's a shame that the Awesomosity School of architecture is gone forever. I work in D.C.'s only Mies van der Rohe building and routinely see architecture students dropping by to ooh and ahhh over this black cube of boring. They would be better off checking out some of the great Cluss buildings this town has to offer.