Monday, May 23, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- May 23

Merchants' Exchange Building

143 South Third Street

Make that Oooooold-ass Building of the Week
               Y'all should already know about this bitch-bastard. This is the Merchants' Exchange Building. In the first decades of the 1800's, Philadelphia and America itself was a much different place.  Business leaders who wanted to make deals with each other would go to various taverns in Old City and get wasted while deciding the fates of thousands. The United States Marine Corps, for example, was founded in Tun Tavern. Don't bother trying to visit it... it burned down in the 18th Century and it's location is now the middle of Interstate 95.
                  By time the 1830's was rolling around, various badass motherfuckers were starting to bitch about getting the skunked beer smell on their contracts. They decided that they should have a central location from which to do business. Their leader, Stephen Girard, who was literally the Bill Gates of the early 1800's, had an ulterior motive. He was already building a new bank on 3rd st, so he decided that the new Merchant's Exchange should be within view of his shit.
                  They contacted William Strickland, who had already designed all of the coolest buildings in early 19th Century Philadelphia. This was going to be his most important Philadelphia structure and he had to make it butt-ass awesome.  The fledgling nation was obsessed with Ancient Greece and tried to model after their inaccurate ideas of what it was like. Thus the coolest kind of architecture of the period was Greek Revival style. Unlike his previous Greek Revivals, Strickland had a triangular lot to work with so he knew that the building had to look cool and different from all sides.
                  Strickland outdid himself for this one. He made a columned facade that faced 3rd Street, then made a rounded portico of corinthian columns facing Dock Street (which still stunk from the arched-over river of shit that was flowing under it). He placed big-ass marble lions on each stairway that ran up the curved back of this Parthenon of Pickled Pricks just in case a future wizard wanted to bring them to life and make them do his/her bidding.
                  Strickland was then like "This motherfucker is good... but what can I do to make this GREAT?". The solution? Include a look-out tower on top modeled after Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. Now the picture was complete. His clients loved it so much that they had to change their pantalettes. Ya see, one of the reasons these business motherfuckers liked doing business in taverns was that they were close enough to the river they could see when the ships carrying their shit were leaving and arriving. The lookout tower made it possible for them to do this from the new Exchange.
                  In 1832 this became one of the city's first real landmarks. The press called Philadelphia the "Athens of America" because of it. Stickland was so proud of his creation that he literally moved the fuck in. All the ports in town maintained a Post Office box here, businesses moved into its offices, and the building briefly became the goddamn World Trade Center of it's time... until the exchange dissolved and the operation moved to the Corn Exchange in 1866.

1859. You can almost smell the horse shit.
                   The building became shitty offices until just after WWI when it became the Produce Exchange. By this point this Castle of Cantankerous Cock-Punches was a blackened weathered ghost of its former self. The Look-out Tower was a boarded-up rebuild from 1901, the structure was surrounded by a little shanty-town of small businesses selling rotten fruit, and there was a fucking gas station across the street.
                   In 1952, shit changed. The National Park service took over and made the old Merchant's Exchange a part of that shitty Independence Historical Grass Lot Collection. They restored the building to its original appearance and then, like Strickland, moved the fuck in. They still have offices there today. Here's some pics. This building kicks ass. 

3rd St. facade. Business in the front, party in the back.
Lookin' like butt while being restored in 1959. Don't ask me about that tall building in the background or I will hurt you.
Strickland was such a dick that he just made a bigger version of the design for the Tennessee State Capitol. I guess he didn't think anyone would notice. He was so proud of this one that he moved in permanently. He is entombed in the northeast wall.

1 comment:

  1. I like the all-seeing eye on top, the pan-opticon of the Baroque,like a dollar bill...