Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- August 24th

West End Trust Building

4 South Broad Street

Furness is best.
                   Look at this sexy motherfucker. Needless to say this was a unique building. This was the building that showed the transitional period for Furness, where he attempted to build a highrise using his techniques that he normally reserved for smaller buildings. This Tower of Titanic Testicle Meat is one of those buildings whose demolition really irks me. No one has been able to appreciate the array of bright colors found on the facade of this beast for 80 years.
                  One of the best things about this building is how it conveys a sense of height even though it's actually quite small by today's standards. Even in it's own time, it was about the same height or shorter than the buildings on the rest of Broad Street.

Some time in the 00's. 1900's, that is. This angle shows how petite this building actually was.
                  What a cool-ass pile of stone. The West End Trust and Safe Deposit Company was one of the many banks formed in Philadelphia in the 1890's. Instead of having a singular pioneer like Girard or Drexel running the show, this bank was formed by the common investment of a whole slurry of rich-ass millionaire businessmen. The bank was chartered February 4th, 1891 and worked out of a former Girard Trust bank branch at 2020 Chestnut Street.
                   Since the bank was run by a group of some of the most hardcore businessmen in the city, they knew where development was going to be moving in the future. They purchased a small plot of land at the corner of Broad Street and Penn Square in 1892 for $38,000, knowing that the location was going to be the city's new business center.
                   A. Lewis Smith was the bank's president due solely on seniority. This guy was like 70 years old at this point, which meant a lot more then than it does now. When he retired, he appointed his Vice-President, a young go-getter, to the helm on November 12, 1894.  Horace A. Doan took the bank and ran with it. He built the bank very quickly and soon they were outgrowing their offices.

Horace A. Doan
                      By the end of the 1890's, that little plot of land on Broad Street owned by the West End trust became extremely valuable. It would become the site of their new building. Doan went up to Furness and was like, "Look, you crazy bastard. I need a building kick-ass awesome enough to hold my bank, the fastest growing bank Philly's ever seen. Also, you need to fit it on a really tiny-ass lot. " Furness was like "Listen, you little shit. This is what I'll do... I'll take my style I reserve for my most badass shit and build a really tall version of it. You'll eat your own balls when you see it!".
                      Furness went all-ape on this one. He created a pattern that looks like the facade of one of his smaller bank buildings from earlier times and replicated over and over again so that the new building would look like 12 of his smaller buildings interlocked together.

Close up of the pic at the top. The facade was this awesome little building over and over again.
                He made the facade of Red Granite, Pompeian Brick, and Terra Cotta for a redandpinkstravaganza going up 12 storeys. Take notes, motherfuckers... this is how you do a red brick highrise. It's really too bad that their are no color photographs of this thing. It was like having a super-tall version of the PAFA building.
                Construction was completed and West End Trust officially moved in on August 14th, 1899. Business was huge and a small mention of the buildings' beauty was written whenever referring to the bank in the literature of the day. Architecture critics hated it; no surprise there. Their most common complaint was that Furness doesn't know how to design a highrise. Later highrises he designed would look more and more conventional as a result.

West End towards the end of its short life. The two other buildings show Furness' change in style to more conventional-looking shit.
                      The bank's success didn't last forever. By the 1920's, business had fallen immensely. West End merged with 2 other struggling banks in 1927 and gave up its name. The bank it became has gone through so many name changes, mergers, and sales that it would take all day to explain them. Long story short, West End Trust still lives on as a minute part of Fidelity National Financial of Jacksonville, Florida.
                      In 1930, the Girard Trust Bank became interested in expanding their Furness-designed palace next door. In that year, they knocked the 31-year-old West End Trust the fuck down and built their new cool-looking office tower that still stands today as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
                       I can't really complain too much about this building being lost... the spot it was in couldn't stay that small forever. Just remember as you look at these pictures... this thing was a brightly colored red, pink, and beige when it was new. It darkened toward the end but still retained its Furnessian regality. RIP, motherfucker, RIP.

Close-up of the cool-ass crown of the building.


  1. Yo check out the second picture in this post:

    Could that be the very end of the demolition of this beauty? The arches that are left look a bit like Furness's first floor, and I think this is a demo picture, not construction of the Ritz.