Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lost Building of the Week-- May 30th

Penn National Bank

700 Market Street

OY!!! Noice!!! Image from the PAB.
                    This one's a goddamn heartbreaker. The Penn National Bank is a unique Furness treasure lost because some dumbass thought it would be a good idea to put a shitty reproduction of an older building here instead. This building deserves some props.
                   The Penn National Bank started on July 14th, 1828 as the Bank of Penn Township. Back before the 1854 consolidation of the coterminus city and county of Philadelphia, only the area from Vine to South, Delaware to the Schuylkill was actually Philadelphia. The rest was a series of townships, villages, and districts in Philadelphia County.

See? One of them says "Penn Township".
                 Well put all that shit out of your head because the Bank of Penn Township wasn't even located in Penn Township. Its original location was 6th and Callowhill, on the borderline of Spring Garden and Northern Liberties Districts. Eventually, they moved to 6th and Vine, on the border of Spring Garden, Northern Liberties, and Philadelphia. Why be named after Penn Township without being IN Penn Township? Ends up the founders of the bank were all residents of Penn. That's like if I opened a Bank of the City of Philadelphia in Kalamazoo. 
                  The Bank of Penn Township was so badass that they profited despite massive embezzlement from the inside. In 1864, the bank went national and renamed themselves Penn National Bank. Penn became well known for predicting and surviving financial panics. In the decade after the Civil War (aka the waaah of naaahthern aggression), Penn National Bank was one of the only banks that showed a profit every year. The company grew exponentially over this time.
                 In the early 1880's, it was time to go big. They purchased the southwest corner of 7th and Market, where the Graff House (house where Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence) was still standing, mangled beyond recognition and in really shitty shape. Penn National Bank respected that this was an historical site, and in order to make up for destroying it, promised an extra-ultra-kickass new building. In the 1880's, if you wanted a badass building, you went to Frank Furness.
               Megatect of Ultimate Doom Frank Furness saw this building as a unique kind of challenge. He wanted to recall the 18th Century heritage of the space while also making an eye-catching design that would stand out as something special. He took an element of colonial architecture, Palladian windows, and went balls to the walls with them. Instead of just having one like old colonial-era buildings did, he put in four over-sizedass ones sticking out all over the place. Then he clad the whole motherfucker in stone and put those signature Furnessian details throughout. He even included a plaque commemorating the Graff House, right under where it says "Penn National Bank" on the facade. The Graff House was demolished on February 28th, 1883.

The plaque. Image from the PAB.
                  Once Penn National Bank opened here in 1884, people went nuts over it. Passersby marveled at how such huge windows could stay in place. Customers were over the moon about how much sunlight filled the banking floor. The bank saw huge success, surviving through massive financial panics in 1893 and 1907 while many other banks failed. Eventually, an addition was constructed on the back. Once the Great Depression came along, Penn was forced to merge with another bank, becoming Central Penn National Bank in 1930.

Still looking pretty good at age 51 in 1935.
                     Shortly after that, the bank moved out and the building became a series of shitty luncheonettes and junk stores... it was mangled to hell, eventually getting to the point where people thought it had been demolished and replaced with a single-story building. The first floor would survive until 1974.
                      In 1947, the National Shrines Commission visited the site and lamented the loss of the Graff House. Rumblings stirred about rebuilding the house, but it wouldn't happen until the Convention and Tourist Bureau would set aside $2 million in 1968 and get it built by 1975 (it took seven years?) The reproduction of the Graff House that stands there today is a conjectural design based on an eyewitness account of the original's demolition that stated how its western half and upper floor were not present when Jefferson resided there. Therefore, what stands at 700 Market now is in no way historically faithful to the original house. They should've rebuilt the Penn National Bank there instead.
                    As far as Central Penn National Bank goes, in 1969, they were big enough to move to their own butt-fugly Vincent Kling skyscraper with their name and logo on it. How do you go from a Furness to a Kling? They still exist today as part of Wells Fargo.
                  This is such a goddamn shame. Though it was unrecognizable when demolished, I'd rather have the shitty mangled-up first floor of this building than the crappy colonial reproduction that replaced it. Frank Furness is crying in Valhalla right now. There there, Frankie.

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