Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lost Mystery Building of the Week-- April 4th

Herkness Bazaar

129 South Ninth Street

9th and Sansom, 1848. Image from the PAB.
                     This is one of those buildings that stood for so long that when it was demolished, no one could remember when it was built. Even early Philaphiles were stymied as to the origin of this beast. It was the first ever Mystery Building.
                     Most records would have you believe that this funny circular building was put up in 1847. This is wrong. This round piece of ruckus was constructed in a completely unknown time. The first records about it indicate that it was a three-story Cyclorama of biblical Jerusalem. Cycloramas told stories in an artificially-built environments that would immerse the audience. Basically, it was a reverse theatre in the round where the audience would sit or stand in the middle and the stage was in every direction, made to look as much as possible like the real thing. If you want to see one in person, check out the recently restored Cyclorama at Gettysburg.
                     A circular building of equal size, the Fifth Baptist Church (aka Dr. Stoughton's Church), stood next door to the old Cyclorama. Years after it was demolished, people thought that the church and the Cyclorama were the same building. Some historical records will even tell you this, but its bullshit.

Who thought it was a good idea to build two equally-sized circular buildings next to each other?
                      In 1847, auctioneer Alfred Herkness purchased the building and converted it into an auction house for cattle, sheep, horses, carriages, farm equipment, and various other items. It became a famous landmark for the city... and being right behind the Walnut Street Theatre didn't hurt. The business was hugely successful-- ads for it appeared in newspapers all over the country. Herkness' son took over the business after he died and was able to keep it going all the way into 1913. The building was finally demolished in 1915.

This might be a photo of it being demolished. Pic from the PAB.
                          When being demolished, GroJLart of the Gilded Age Frank Hamilton Taylor attempted to find out the history of the building. He was the one who crushed the myth that the Bazaar building was the same as the Fifth Baptist Church- and he was able to do it without the internet! His exact words were:

"This bazaar is supposed by many persons to have been the old Baptist building, erected in 1812 and long popular as "Dr. Stoughton's church," which was also a rotunda in form. There is conclusive evidence, however, to show that the latter stucture was situated in the middle of the block, upon Sansom Street below Ninth Street."

                    Tell 'em, FrankJLart. However, he was unable to figure out where the fuck this building came from. Check out his conjectural-ass illustration of it here. Was it built to be the Jerusalem Cyclorama or was it built for another purpose? Another Jerusalem Cyclorama was built at Broad and Cherry Streets in 1888, but only stood for a short time. This may be a situation where the information pertaining to the creation of this building may be COMPLETELY LOST. No architect, no construction date, no confirmed building usage until 1847, nothing!!!


                          Hello, this is John McLaughlin and you ahh now reading this in my voice. The building that housed the Huuhkness Bazaar was built in 1840 as an exhibition space for panoramas.  It was originally called "The Coliseum."  It opened in Sept, 1840, and the panoramas of Jerusalem and Thebes were the fuhhrst to be displayed.  In 1845, it was puhhchased by George Carter & Co. Auctioneers, renamed "The Coliseum Bazaar," and used fah horse and carriage auctions. BYE BYE!!!

*Thanks to Mike Seneca from the PAB!!!


  1. Thank for giving "conjectural-ass" to the English lexicon. Sadly, the link to the conjectural-ass drawing is dead :(

  2. Hm, now I get "Cannot process request: null". Maybe I'm not internetting hard enough...