Thursday, July 21, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- July 21st

Mercantile Liblotary

1021 Chestnut Street

What the fuck is this?
                        Can I even call this an Empty Lot? There's a building on it. I don't fucking care. This is an empty lot, plain and simple. Look at the fucking trees! It hasn't been occupied in 22 years and the shell of a building sitting on it is a piece of shit. A piece of shit on THE NATIONAL FUCKING REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES! What the motherfuck!?!?!?
                         Here we have an empty lot right in the middle of Center City on the 1000 block of Chestnut, which is in dire need of revitalization. The Victory I and II is nice, but the rest of the block consists of the side of Jefferson Hospital, some beautiful but beat up old buildings, and a big empty storefront parking garage. Development of this shitbag lot might be the shot in the arm this block needs.
                         This address has been a lot of things. It started as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art's first building.
The first building, 1809. The lot would be the grass on the right side.

                  It burned down and the Academy's second building replaced it:

The second building. The lot ran through the right side of it.
                      Due to financial needs, they put a bunch of storefronts facing chestnut street and sold off the corners of their land on the chestnut street side. A commercial building was built on the lot.

The current lot would be that building on the right.
                        In 1870, when PAFA made their asinine decision to move to North Broad Street, they sold off this land and it became home to Fox's New American Theatre. If they didn't move, they would have built their awesome building on this spot, and we wouldn't be in this mess. Thanks a lot, dicks. The commercial building on the lot remained until a fire claimed it and the theatre in 1877.

The lot is still on the right.
                   I told you this lot has been a lot of things. Stay with me here. The site of Fox's New American Theatre and the commercial buildings next to it became the home of the Chestnut Street Opera House.

Again, on the right.
                   This is where it gets weird. In the early 1950's the Mercantile Library decided to get rid of their awesome building that faced 10th Street and build a new compact library at 1021 Chestnut Street, an empty lot that remained after the Chestnut Street Opera House was demolished in the late 30's. They didn't need the whole lot so they bought it up and sold it off in a package deal with their awesome old building. That massive combined property became the horrendous parking garage that stands there to this day.
                   They wanted their brand new Mercantile Library to be high tech as shit and modern as fuck. In the 1950's, that meant A FUCKING GLASS BOX!!!!
Yay. So modern!!!
                      Like the Guild House, this little building has become the source of massive amounts of ass-kiss and faux-intellectual praise. It won a shitload of architecture awards in 1954, which must have been a pretty shitty year for architecture. A newspaper article from 1990 even calls the Mercantile Library  "nondescript to the untrained eye" and makes a point of telling you your an asshole if you don't like it. As I always say, the first rule of art and design is that the more you have to explain it, the more it sucks.
                     The building closed in 1989 and sat helpless for 15 years as trees and shit grew through it and the glass front got covered in wood. In 2004, it was finally put on the market and U3 Ventures bought it up. They tried to develop it but since it was such a kiss-assable building, a bunch of fuckwads started crying about changing the "historical" glass facade of this dinky little shithole.
                    U3 gave the fuck up and the lot is now up for sale for 1.35 Million dollars. The real estate listing even makes sure to tell you that you'll be dealing with some stupid-ass bullshit if you attempt to do something positive with this crappy space. Look, I am all about saving historical buildings and if you've ever read this blog you know I like historical shit. This is different. This building is already lost. There's plenty of other stuff from that era that is still in use and a lot better looking.

I know, Bill. I know. It's pointless to save this piece of shit.
                       Any rich developers reading this? You need to buy up this lot and "accidentally" knock it down like what happened to the Philadelphia Life Insurance Company building a few years ago. While your at it, take out that big fucking parking garage next door that's been scarring the city for 50 goddamn years. That'll learn 'em.
This is what the Chestnut Street side looks like now. How wonderful.



  1. this post was amazing! I didn't even know that there was a real building behind that...and the fact that it won design awards when built?!? I always thought it was a really entrenched homeless mans residence.

  2. I love historic buildings too, but someone honestly thinks that needs to be saved? Just because it may be a period piece doesn't mean it's worth saving. This thing is worthless. Bring on the wrecking ball and let's get something better in there.

  3. Well it got bought and is planned to be restored...

    Hidden City Philly

  4. I always liked the Library...I can see the mid 20th "modern" relevance of it...but, like you I have to ask...Is it really worth saving? What scares me is what might replace it...

  5. I'd like to thank you for bringing the phrase "kiss-assable building" into the American vernacular.

  6. so....I just bought this building.....If using expletives is a substitution for intelligence and ultimately a form of reverse snobbery, then you're doing a great job....maybe you should track down Lewis Mumford's New Yorker article of May 16, 1956, about the Mercantile....but what the hell does he know...????...right .....Anyway, lucky for me, little keyboard nerds like your self are scared by a few weeds growing on an old roof....The structure is incredibly well built and in great shape. The split level layout is brilliant....but what do you know....the cursing nostalgic for the old heavy oppressive victorian shit that simply reflected the oppressive nature of late nineteenth century America with it's child-labor factories.....but hey, you love those old pictures...pretty right....????,....have to go...have some real work to just sit tight and stay out of our way....keep typing....where would this city be without brilliant stay-at-home bloggers...????

    1. Dayman.....more like Vector in "Despicable Me" when he's hanging out in his Living Room, stretched out on a couch, perched over a shark Tank, with an extra large soda, watching TV.....

  7. This building IS going to be saved! Thank you Michael Ryan and Randee Spelkoman for having the vision (and the dollars) to take on this project! I hope I can someday spend money with your firm to allow you the opportunity to rescue and reuse more great buildings in the city!