Monday, September 22, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week: Penn Center House

1900 John F. Kennedy Boulevard

Its just keeps on going!
             I've avoided talking about this piece of shit right here for two reasons: 1) There isn't much to say about it 2) Its so fucking ugly I actually feel bad for it. Worst of all, in its time, it was considered the bee's fucking knees.  Penn Center House, from 1959, was following a big trend in Philadephia, the co-op. The 2101 Cooperative Apartment Building was the first, built in 1953, and the trend continued throughout the 1950s and early 60s. 
           The shitty design is from mid-century blahchitect George S. Idell, whose other fuck-ups include the 2101 Cooperative Apartment Building (whose own website does not show any exterior photos of the building due to its nastiness), the Ambassador Towne House (now called Riverwest Condominiums), the Rittenhouse Claridge, the Rittenhouse Savoy, and a third Rittenhouse Square apartment building that was thankfully never built. Though all those buildings are also cocky doo doo designs, Penn Center House really takes the cake. Here's his original rendering, which is actually a little more interesting than the real thing.
          You'd think his guy would know better. He was pretty old by the time he designed this shit-- he studied under such badasses as Paul Phillipe Cret and worked with Wilson Brothers at one point. This dude knew what good shit was and even helped design some of it in the early 20th Century. When the mid-20th Century rolled around, Idell must have lost most of his eyesight or something. His buildings from that era almost look like he couldn't see the paper so he just kept tracing his t-square until he got a grid of windows and said "Whatever, good enough. Facade details? Get the fuck out of here!" 
             This disaster of a building has the Penn Center-era massing-- that is to say the block-long, too-short, grid of bricks and windows. For some reason, the architecture and planning geniuses of the Penn Center era thought what we now call JFK Boulevard should have a building on every block matching the size and shape of Suburban Station... but without the awesome facade. This ends up creating a long boulevard of rectangular walls that create a really shitty urban environment. This one's a little shorter than the others but from the street it makes no difference. Thankfully, one of these wall-buildings, the old Sheraton Penn Center Hotel, was demolished (to make way for a building that was never built called 1777 JFK), so the trend gets broken up by the setback of the Comcast Center.
            Penn Center House's street level doesn't do shit other than display a mid-centuryesque decorative cinderblock grille pattern. Behind that grille pattern is a big-ass parking lot that's visible if you look in one of the holes. Walking down the south side of the 1900 block of JFK Boulevard is difficult-- the building just keeps going and going and going like some fucked up architectural purgatory. It makes the Kennedy House and Sterling seem like exciting dynamic buildings in comparison. Its hard to photograph this building unless you have a badass camera with a lens wide enough to get it all in. In order to properly capture how shitty this thing looks from the street, here's a fully functional streetview. Look around on this and tell me that Penn Center House does any damn good on this block:

What trash... there's really nothing else to say. This building could probably be saved if it got a huge facade redo and some better street-level shit... but it would have to be one helluva design. Oh well, we're stuck with it. Fuck. 

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