Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lost Building of the Week-- March 21st

Fidelity Storage and Warehouse Company Fireproof Building

1811 Market Street

If you're gonna make a building thin, that's the facade you want!
                   Check that tall motherfucker out... the fun thing about it is that the building isn't really that tall! It was thin and surrounded by smaller structures, giving it a sense of being purely monolithic. Most people, however, would barely ever see it from the front. Almost everyone who has ever seen this building only knows it from the humongously wide brick wall on the Eastern side.
If you can't find it in this picture... get some better fucking glasses.
                    This is the kind of building that doesn't mind letting you know what its name is and takes it to the extreme. The huge wall was emblazoned with giant lettering that said "FIDELITY STORAGE" with and extra "STORAGE" thrown in vertically just in case. It was written on the other side as well, but not as big.
                     Back in the late 19th Century, Fidelity Storage was a nationwide company that would franchise storage locations like McDonald's restaurants. In the mid-1880's, they got some dude named A.C. Craig, Jr. to invest with some of his buddies into a Philadelphia Fidelity Storage location. The company was incorporated on April 12, 1887. They built a six story warehouse at 1817 Market and had another warehouse at 50 N. Delaware Avenue.
                   Business was very good... Fidelity Storage didn't just store your shit... they would pick it up, pack it, and deliver it to the building. When you wanted your shit back, they would deliver it and unpack it for you. It was more like a bank for furniture than a self-storage place. By the mid 1890's, they were ready to expand.. but the plot of land they owned only had thirty-four feet of Market Street frontage left on it. What's could they do? Go up!!
                  In 1895, plans were put together by architect Charles Balderston for a 12-story fire and burglar-proof fortress that would fit into the 34' x 180' foot space left on the Fidelity property. He would give it a kick-ass terra cotta facade filled with tiny details.

Like a disembodied dog head floats through the air with its toddler slaves in fruit-bearing shackles.
                      Once built, it became known as the Fidelity Storage Fireproof Building. It was billed as the tallest and only fireproof storage building in the city. Thirty years later, in 1922, a 17' x 180' addition was thrown on the Eastern side and the massive FIDELITY STORAGE lettering was completely redone on the new Eastern wall. The addition, though small, added 50% more storage space, or at least that's what they claimed. One year after the addition was completed, a fire took down the smaller Western portion of the building and the Fidelity Storage Fireproof Building lived on as the main Fidelity Storage building. It would carry the scars from the fire on its Western wall for the rest of its life.
                      After that, the building languished on for decades, at this point dirtied up from the Chinese Wall behind it... but strangely found a way to survive. When the Chinese Wall was taken down, many of the buildings next to it were as well. Somehow, Fidelity Storage managed to stay standing. Even as Penn Center was later built and kept creeping westward, Fidelity Storage lived on.

Still visible in this primordial view of Penn Center. That vertical writing makes sense now!
                         In fact, the Fidelity Storage and Warehouse Company Fireproof Building made it all the way up to 1976. That's pretty fucking astounding when you consider that pretty much every block around it had changed up to that point. After demolition, the site was an empty lot for five whole years until the extremely boring-looking 10 Penn Center was built.

Demolition in progress. The big-ass lettering faded and was overtaken by another painted-on sign at this point. That little building to the right shows that some buildings deserve to be lost.
                          What a shame. Such a thin building could have been incorporated or built around the tall skyscrapers that replaced it. It would be a cool thing to have around today, a crazy terra cotta facade in between glass-walled skyscrapers. At least a similarly-sized building as this still stands at the 1300 block of Chestnut (the Cunningham Piano Building/Scientology Tower) and at least there's plenty of old storage buildings left around town that have gigantic lettering on their sides, but they're not nearly as impressive as this beast. Donkey nuts.


  1. What's the story with the little building on the right? I know it was part of the greyhound terminal, but what was that little part in the picture? What was there?

  2. Here ya go:

  3. For a while there was a (20?) lane bowling alley in the ground floor of the bus terminal.