Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- August 10th

Drexel Building I

428 Chestnut Street

About as cool as the 19th Century gets... and that's saying something.
                     This building was cool as shit. An H-shaped MegaSuperCastle of Kickass built on top of a smaller Castle of Imperial Crotch Kicks. It doesn't get much better than this in the search for strange, beautiful, and unusual 19th Century buildings. What a damn wonder this must have been to the curly mustached motherfuckers of the time. Check out that horse-drawn carriage in the bottom of the drawing above. They're tearing ass around the corner, threatened by this building's awesomeness.
                     Drexel & Company Bank traces its origins in Philadelphia all the way back to 1837, when Austrian-born Francis M. Drexel founded it. Francis was a famous painter and had traveled the world. When he founded his bank, his ability to speak German and Spanish plus his world-travelling made him the most kick-ass money exchanger in Philadelphia.  Drexel & Company became one of the largest banks in America. His sons would later run the company after he died, then move on to shape America itself. Francis must have had some magical-ass sperm because he made some badass motherfuckers.
                    His youngest son, Joseph, worked for the bank until 1876, then financed the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and directed the Metropolitan Opera House. His eldest son, Francis Jr., was senior partner when Francis Sr. died. He became a super-rich motherfucker himself and had a daughter named Katherine who became A GODDAMN SAINT!
                   The middle son, Anthony, was the most successful and influential of all. He ran the bank until his death in 1893. Before that, he managed to start other banks in New York and Paris, one of which is still around as a little operation called J.P. Morgan Chase. Oh yeah, he's also known as the Father of Wall Street. No big deal, right? In 1891 he woke up one morning, started a college, and named the motherfucker after himself. I wonder how that ended up?
                    These accomplishments aren't shit in comparison to what Anthony did in the 1880's. In 1884, Anthony wanted a new building for the bank. Despite Drexel and Company's success, they were still working out of the same little building on 3rd Street for the last 47 years. Drexel Bank II was built at the corner of 5th and Chestnut in 1885, designed by Joseph Miller Wilson of the Wilson Brothers Architectural Mega-Syndicate Firm of Doom.
                    Anthony was unimpressed with the small size of the building. He started buying the plots of land around it with the intention of throwing on an addition. However, there was one problem. A kickass-looking bank building called Independence National Bank stood in the way and they weren't gonna sell to this asshole. Tony went back to Wilson and said, "Fuck those bastards. Build the addition around it!" and they did.

Now THAT is an addition.
                   The building they designed ended up being called the "Handsomest Bank Building in America" when it was finished in 1887. It was 10 stories tall and shaped like an "H". Back then, that was like saying it was 5,000 feet tall and shaped like an ampersand. It surrounded the Independence National Bank, cutting it off from all sunlight. This was ironic considering that The Drexel Building, as it was now called, was world-reknown for how much natural light could fill it's vast amount of space.
                   This bastard marvelled everyone who saw it for numerous reasons. One was that it was built in only seventeen months. Another was how it had an iron sketeton, which was high tech as fuck back then. Another reason to be impressed was that it was completely covered in marble. So much marble was used inside and out that the four largest marble quarries in America were completely cleaned out. Finally, and the most impressive, was that this beast was built right on top of the old building. Not a facadectomy, not demolished and rebuilt, built right ON TOP like it wasn't even there.
                  All the biggest and finest companies in the city moved in, along with the Wilson Brothers firm. This Hanging Gardens of Marble Roundhouse Kicks became nationally famous due to it's immense interior size. The building was so famous that businessmen would announce their mailing address as their office number. Wilson Brothers listed themselves at "1038 Drexel Building" for the remainder of it's existence. In 1888, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange moved in and stuck around until 1902.
                  As the decades passed, the Drexel and Company Bank got too cool for their own building. The financial district of the city had moved west in the early 20th Century and it wasn't fashionable for a bank to be in the old one. They built a new building in the 1920's on 15th Street that still stands today (as a Bally's Total Fitness). As time went on, the Drexel Building held many office tenants but began to fall apart. By the 1940's it was a dirty crumbled up H-shaped pile of shit.

Back of the Drexel Building in 1940.
                       Instead of a full restoration, which would be awesome, it was knocked the fuck down in 1956 in favor of the Independence Historical Grass Lot Collection. They needed the space to rebuild Library Hall, which was torn down by Anthony Drexel to build this beautiful motherfucker.

                          What a crock of shit. If this thing still stood, people would flagellate themselves in front of it because it's so awesome. The next time you're at 5th and Chestnut, take a piss on the Southeast corner in honor of this fine structure. Here's more pics:

This is what the floor looked like. The same spot is now grass.

Independence National Bank surrounded by the Drexel Building like the bitch that it is.


  1. man, i fucking love this blog.

  2. love your blog. one thing, though, b/c you make this mistake almost every day: it's = it is. when you want to use the possessive, there is no apostrophe. i.e., you should write: "nationally famous due to its immense interior size" not "nationally famous due to it's immense interior size"

  3. I know, I always make that mistake. I'll try to watch out for it.