Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lost Building of the Week-- June 27th

The Bartram Apartment House

3310 Chestnut Street

1899. Just look at that shit. Image from the PAB.
                       We take the University of Pennsylvania campus for granted today, but we all have to remember that its expansion wiped out most of the old West Philadelphia, which was essentially a city upon itself. This right here is just one of the many treasures from West Philly's glory days that is now part of the campus.
                      This building comes from the early age of apartment highrises. Prototypes such as the St. James and the Gladstone in Center City were built on speculation in order to house the aimless trustafarian sons of Gilded Age Money-Royalty. West Philadelphia, home to some rich-ass motherfuckers at the time, had need for this type of residence as well.
                      Mega-developer Adolph Segal was on the case. In 1893, he took a weirdly-shaped trapezoidal lot that fell between the 3300 blocks of Chestnut and Woodland Avenue and had an 8 storey apartment building designed by William H. Free fill the entire space. The oddly-shaped space makes for a building that seems thin when seen from the east and wide when seen from the west. They called it the Bartram Apartment House.
                    Like the other apartment houses of this type, it didn't stay a luxurious residential building for very long. Only about a decade after being built, the building started to be used as an extended-stay hotel. Eventually, it was converted into a full-on luxury motherfucker with designs from the Magaziner and Eberhard firm.

A rendering of the lobby from the Magaziner and Eberhard firm.
                 Among the alterations was a big ass sign that said "Hotel Bartram" just like the one on the Divine Lorraine.

1923 view from 33rd, Chestnut, and Woodland. This is grass now.
                       For the short time that it was a luxury hotel, the building hosted conventions/banquets and put up special guests of the University of Pennsylvania. By the 1940's, a small hotel chain called Milner Hotel came along, opening at least two locations in Philadelphia. One was near 10th and Chestnut and the other was here, at the old Bartram. The building was in pretty sorry shape by this point... a 1945 fire charred up the facade and made the building lose that cool-ass cupola at the top.
                      By the end of the 1950's, UPenn was coming a-knockin'. They wanted to build Hill College House and an associated complex of buildings. This would require demolition of everything between 33rd, 34th, Walnut and Chestnut Streets. The destruction would include the old Bartram and the entire 3300 block of Woodland Avenue. Here's a link to what the building was looking like right before demolition. Its all the way to the right of the picture. A ceremony dedicating the destruction was held on February 5th, 1958.
                     By the time the 60's started, the Hill College House was built but rest of the complex(complete with a surface lot!) would never come to fruition. The site became a huge patch of weeds and dirt. Penn put a surface parking lot up at one side in the mid-60's, then a small building on top of that parking lot a little later. By the time the 21st Century came along, that shitty empty area was finally turned into an extension of Woodland Walk. Its become a nice green space that leads you into the campus and serves as an Einstein-Rosen Bridge spanning between Drexel and Penn.
                   Finally, 5+ decades after the building's demolition, Hill College House's complex is (in a way) planned to come into fruition. Hill Square is part of Penn's latest Master Plan.

Goddammit those damn barcode windows.
                 Maybe, just maybe, when they dig up the ground to make way for this shit, the ol' Bartram will rise from the grave and bring its presence back to Chestnut Street. It would then stand to remind people about the lost city of West Philadelphia.


  1. When I pulled up Philaphilia today and saw the posting, I literally said, "Oh man" out loud. A coworker asked me what was wrong to which I replied, "nothing" as to mean "you wouldn't understand".

  2. Damn, that is one fine row of buildings they demolished.

  3. You mean architect William H Free (according to PAB) designed it, not William H Lee, who designed many theaters but wasn't born until 1884.