Monday, June 13, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- June 13th

North American Building

121 South Broad Street

It's located in North America.
                Look, it's not the prettiest building in the world but it's still important. This Obelisk of Brownstone Barnacles has lasted through the ages and doesn't look dated despite being 111 years old. How many of our current skyscrapers will last that long? 
                John Wanamaker was a rich motherfucker. He built an empire based around his department store, the first of its kind. Wanamaker raised his spoiled-ass sons to be Captains of Industry just like himself. Thomas and Rodman Wanamaker both worked for their Pop and then set out on their own business ventures. Rodman went to France and was solely responsible for America's interest in French luxury items soon thereafter... he was a huge success. Thomas, on the other hand, was kind of a cock. He bought a struggling newspaper called The North American and decided they should move into a new building in the city's newest business district.
                       In the 1890's, South Broad Street consisted of two new large buildings and a whole shitload of smaller old buildings. Businesses wanted to move there to be near the new City Hall, which was expected to be a stepping stone toward a grand new Philadelphia. The problem, of course, was that it was taking a long fucking time to get done. That's a lot of bricks. Thomas Wanamaker had a great idea. He would take advantage of the slow construction by constructing his building taller than the construction of City Hall so that it would briefly be the tallest in the city at a then-astounding 267 feet.

South Broad Street in 1893. The people on the right are like "When are they going to finish that fucking thing?"
                      He employed the most current 25th Level Badass of Badassisism he could find, James H. Windrim, to design him a building that could live up to all the hype. Windrum, who had previously designed the badass Masonic Temple, was like, "Listen, you trustafarian hipster bitch. I'm sick of Victorian and Gothic facade details. I'm gonna make this one a big fucking brownstone box. I'll put little columns at the bottom to satisfy you debutant pussies. Say 'hi' to your mom for me."
                     When under construction, the North American building stood out on the skyline. The bricks were applied to the steel skeleton from the 10th floor up, causing the building to look funny for a long time. It took much less time to build than other buildings of the era because it was so simple. By 1900, it was done with a year to spare as the tallest in the city. City Hall's construction was taller by 1901. In case anyone forgot the name of the newspaper, big fucking letters were placed on top.

1904. The box rises over the soon-to-be-doomed backyard of the Dundas-Lippencott Mansion. Pic from
                 The North American started to do much better but Big Papa Wanamaker was pissed off at the fact that his son's paper was published on Sunday and had weekly columns written by communists! It merged with another paper in 1925 and the building's brownstone columns were removed and replaced with a limestone cladding that's still there today. It's history thereafter is not that illustrious. The letters and cornice were removed a long fucking time ago. It became crappy Class ZZZZ offices that get renovated at regular intervals. It still stands at Broad and Sansom, now dwarfed by it's taller Depression-Era successors.
                 Pay your respects to this motherfucker next time you walk by. It may seem like an ordinary building now, but back then it was Burj Dubai of Philadelphia. Recognize.

The street-level facade in 1901, when it was the backdrop for the Pissing Contest World Championship.

1 comment:

  1. Just started to follow your blog. I really appreciate all the research you do, thank you. One of my favorite buildings in Phila is an old row home (now apartments) on the southwest corner of 24th street and Delancey place. Check it out, every window is different. It's quietly interesting.