Monday, March 26, 2012

Mystery Building of the Week-- March 26th

HUP Offices

3930 Chestnut Street

The Church of St. Rambone!!!
                      I don't know whether to like or hate this piece of shit right here. Sometimes I look at it and think its cool, other times I look at it and hate its guts. The block this beast is on was briefly one of the hottest residential locales in the whole goddamn city, but this building shows how no one gives a shit. On top of that, its architect is unknown.
                        As stated above, the 3900 block of Chestnut was once one of the most badass addresses in town. Many a Gilded Age tycoonillionaire had their custom-built mega-mansions festooned upon this mighty street. Back then, this area was one of them many "Streetcar Suburbs" of the age, but stood out as one of the most extravagant.

In 1912, back when this was known as "Kick-ass Street"
                       Once automobiles became more popular, Chestnut became way too busy and noisy for these delicate supertycoons to deal with. They moved out to the Main Line and the mansions were left behind to rot. By the 1960's, the area was ass. The mansions were in shitty condition and it had been a looooong time since some rich motherfuckers lived here. Why am I telling you this? Because the building we're talking about was built in that time, 1966.
                     That's right, 1966. In a time when Penn's campus wasn't as close as it is today, in a time when detailless concrete boxes were all the rage downtown, in a time when this neighborhood was nowhere you would want to be, this building was constructed, looking impressively ahead of its time. It has way more style and looks way more interesting than its contemporaries of the era. The architect is a mystery, but a bigger mystery is WHY THE FUCK THEY PUT IT THERE! 
                      The building was constructed for the National Board of Medical Examiners, a non-profit organization that has existed since 1915, assessing and licensing health professionals. The NBME stayed in the building for 28 years until they moved the University City Science Center in 1994. After that, the building became home to some of HUP's offices and has stayed that way ever since.
                       Though its quite a bit tarnished, I think its actually not a bad looking building, especially for 1966. Its does the whole diagonal thing way better then the Sidney Hillman ever did. The top of the building sticks out like a church steeple on the street... the upper floors are clad with a different material than the rest. Maybe this was an addition? This building is truly mysterious, there isn't much out there about it so there's no way to know.
                   As for those great mansions, some still survive intact but most are either gone or mangled beyond recognition. This makes me hate the building, because with those old mansions, it looks silly, but anywhere else, it would probably look fine. The huge surface lot surrounding it doesn't help.Why would anyone want to drop a building like this on this block in 1966? Did Anyone give a fuck at the time? Where were the NIMBYs then? Probably nowhere.
                   West Philly, especially Chestnut Street, has a very odd mish-mash of buildings with different uses, ages, and architectural styles. Though that is true for many areas of the city, West Philly in the Market and Chestnut streets area along the 3900-4900 blocks has some odd-ass shit you'd never thought you'd see together. The 3900 block has historic mansions, an old aparment building, a new apartment building, a new-agey church, an office building, a big fucking smokestack, and a standlone Boston fucking Market. Worse yet, its not even the most unusual one!
                    I know I'm hard on NIMBYs around here but this kind of senseless Planning by Non-planning is the reason they NIMBYs exist. Many areas of Center City were also stuck in weird ruts like these West Philly blocks. Early NIMBY pioneers were the ones who kicked some ass so that certain neighborhoods could be revitalized. Those were the good NIMBY times. It wasn't until decades later, when the city started drastically changing once again, that NIMBYs started their evil missions to stop multi-hundred-million dollar skyscraper projects.
                     Getting back on topic: Anyone know the architect for 3930 Chestnut? Anyone know if that top part is an addition? Anyone know why there doesn't seem to be any old pictures of it? Also, what the fuck?

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the top 2 floors were definitely added in the mid-90s. The building was shorter and more boring without them. Still, they didn't help matters...