Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- July 6th

Joseph H. Schenck Building

535 Arch Street

It's so old, this is the only picture of it. Ever.
                      Look at this sucker. This is from a time when architects actually wanted their buildings to look nice and be memorable. That's no plastic or fake-looking material facade like we have now... that's cast iron and marble, motherfucker. Cast iron was once the way to go in the making of cool-ass facades... a few in the city still survive if you know where to look. No architect in the present has the cojones to put up a cast iron facade like that... they would need some kind of sissy-ass LEED certification to justify it. LEED-Iron?
                     This Castle of Cock-Rockets just didn't make it and was almost forgotten... until now! This building is the proof that there were many great building designs in this city that have been totally 100% lost. The fact that there's only one dinky little drawing of a building that housed a famous company of its time, designed by a famous architect of its time, is completely fucking insane. How many great buildings will we never know about? Fuck.
                    It all starts with Dr. Joseph H. Schenck. Legend has it that he had respiratory problems all his life and no doctor could help him. At the ripe old age of 25, Schenck developed his own remedy, supposedly based on one given to him by an "old family friend".  His neighbors and friends starting using it, and Joey started a business called Dr. J.H. Schenck and Son in 1836, selling his concoction as Schenck's Pulmonic Syrup. Ads claimed that it cured consumption (tuberculosis) and clergyman's throat (laryngitis).

Schenck would put a big picture of himself on his ads. This one is from before the Schenck Building was built.
                    The Syrup became nationally famous and Schenck was forced to expand his operation by moving to Philadelphia and setting up something better than running the shit out of his house in Moorestown, New Jersey. Back then you could sell anything and call it medicine. Schenck's remedies started to come in more goofy varieties like Mandrake Pills and Seaweed Tonic and the business kept growing.
                    He moved from building to building, going larger every time, until finally he got rich enough to build his own. He bought property at 6th and Arch in 1858 and commissioned Admiral of New Asshole-Ripping Stephen Decatur Button to design him a medical super-fortress. When it was completed by 1862, it made Tower Hall look like ass and the Jayne Building look like balls. People called it the "Palace of Marble".
                   It should be no surprise that a Stephen Decatur Button building should be so praised... Button was a fucking powerhouse of the era that was nationally famous in his own time. Very few of his Philadelphia buildings still stand (First Baptist Church, Arch Street Presbyterian Church), but many of his buildings outside the city are still around (Cape May mansions, Alabama State Capitol).
                 This Ziggurat of Scissor Kicks became a landmark to sick-ass tourists who would visit to try and see Dr. Schenck, who, in the midst of running his snake oil empire, would take time to see patients at his office in this building. Schenck died in 1874 and his sons took over the business. He still has living relatives today, surely having to explain how to spell their name to call centers and doctor's offices.
                 The building lasted until at least 1909... that is to say, the complete building. At some unknown point in time, the top 4.5 floors were lopped off and the once great Palace of Marble became a crappy single-storey rusty-ass cast iron box. Here it is in 1958:

                     It was put out of its misery in 1959 in favor of the Independence Historical Grass Lot Collection. The lot is now covered with the weirdly-shaped southwestern edge of the Constitution Center.


1 comment:

  1. Wow. While I would say the land is being used well now since the park adds to the whole Independence Hall complex, this building would certainly have been an asset if it were still there today.