Monday, August 15, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- August 15th

Daniel J. Terra Building (a.k.a. Corzo Center a.k.a. Pennsylvania Lumbermens Building a.k.a. Ritz Carlton Philadelphia)

201 South Broad Street

A ghost of it's former self.
                        What a kick-ass building this once was. Not that it's so horrible now, it just doesn't really stand out the way it did when it was in its prime. Very few ever realize that this building is 100 years old. It's been mangled, then mangled again, then unmangled in its long and noteworthy life. It should be proud... this Tower of Crushed Testicles was briefly the city's most popular destination.
                         So popular, in fact, that its very creation is somewhat mythical. The legend has it that Philadelphia's most badass turn-of-the-20th Century power-couple, Geleanor (George Widener and Eleanor Elkins), was responsible. You see, George and Eleanor were the spoiled trustafarian offspring of two great Philadelphia dynasties. Their marriage was the thing of gossip and scandal.

People Magazine November 6, 1911.
                      It all started in 1911. Eleanor attended a fancy-ass party at the Bellevue Stratford and got kicked out by the bouncer for lighting a cigarette. This pissed off her rich-ass husband... the Bellevue Stratford was the finest hotels in America and it would fuck over his social life if he and his wife were not able to go there for the great cotillions, balls, and orgies (that's not a joke) enjoyed by the uber-rich Philadelphians of the era.
                     George was like, "Motherfucker, I'm going to build a much more luxurious hotel right across the street! All the other rich motherfuckers will love to be able to smoke during their group sex!". At the same time, the Ritz Carlton series of hotels was flourishing in Europe and announced its intentions to expand into North America. Widener was like, "Check and Mate, motherfucker.", hiring Grand Champion of Asshole-Wrestling Horace Trumbauer to design it. What he turned out became legendary.
                         Now I don't know if Ritz-Carlton had some kind of brand-imaging design guidelines or if Trumbauer just liked to knock off other architect's designs, but this building's facade is suspiciously similar to architect Charles Wetmore's NYC and Atlantic City Ritz locations. Either way, the building still kicked ass. It was the most super-high-tech and luxurious hotel in America.
                   This beast opened in 1912 and was built with only 49 super-expensive-ass rooms. The rest of the building was filled with restaurants and ballrooms. There was a buffet in the basement, a cafe in the lobby, a gigantic main restaurant on the 2nd floor, private dining rooms on the fourth floor, and a gigantic kitchen that served them all that took up the entire third floor.
                   Geleanor was so goddamn excited about it that they went to France to find the most badass chef possible. They wanted their patrons to have the real deal, not some American dude who cooks French food. If their customers didn't hear the chef say "sacre bleu!" every so often they would be pissed. On their way home, shit didn't go too well, and only Eleanor came back. Geleanor was no more.

George Widener as depicted by Guy Standing Jr. in the appropriately named 1957 film, Titanic.
                         The hotel was so goddamn popular that an addition was planned within its first year of operation. It wasn't just any addition. They more than doubled the width of the building in the east, added a piece to the south, and added two floors of awesomeness to the top.

Addition under confucktion in 1914.
                    The addition took forever to build. Once the project was complete, it became the most badass hotel in the universe AND you can smoke inside!! The place was so luxurious that the stone facade along the bottom was wrapped ALL the way around, even on the back of the building that faced an alley and that barely anyone would see.

This picture from 1914 shows the Ritz-Carlton in full-scale badassitude.
                         The place did splendidly for decades but eventually the hotel failed in the early 1950's. A plan came into place to forever mar this beautiful building and convert it into crappy offices for the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company.

Here's the rendering for the horrific mangling of the former Ritz.
                  What the fuck were they thinking? They wanted to rip up all the beautiful stone details and replace it with glass! To add insult to injury, the conversion they actually executed was even WORSE! After ripping off the limestone that Geleanor had moved halfway across the country to install, they tacked on a super-crappy plastic-looking grid of turds. The result would then be called the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Building for the next three decades.

The crap facade in 1990's.
                    Some time later, more fucking-up was done. They ripped down the awesome crown that topped the building and replaced it with a box of brick with a shitload of small windows. I guess the crown was much too awesome for those Lumberfucks. In the 1980's, Pennsylvania Lumbermens moved the fuck out and the building was just a shitty pile of offices until it was acquired by the University of the Arts in the 1990's.      
                    Thankfully, someone at U. Arts woke the fuck up and realized that the building should be returned to it's former grandeur. They ripped off the grand grid of shit and used a fiber-reinforced cast stone to replicate it's original intricately detailed 2nd to 5th floor. It's a good thing Trumbauer wrapped the limestone detailing around the back of the building. It was used as a guide.

Limestone facade from the bum bathroom behind the building.
                         This unassuming building is now on it's third life as an educational and performance center for the University of the Arts, probably living on a lot longer than Geleanor ever intended. The first floor has retail spaces installed in the 1950's conversion that have a mysterious ability to keep their tenants in business. I mean really, have you ever even seen someone walk into that Robinson's Luggage?
                          Geleanor has many living descendants. They should go on down to Broad and Walnut and show some respect for their great-grandpappy's work and smoke a cigarette inside.


  1. "now on its third life" NOT "now on it's third life". it's = it is. its = possessive. you make this mistake in EVERY post, and it ain't even badass :(

  2. Bah... I corrected a few of those and I thought I got them all. Oh well I'll try better next time.

  3. GroJLart,

    do you have a contact email? i have an idea to share with you.

  4. Ok let me fill you in on a facts about the Ritz Carlton..For a number of years Horn and Hardart ocuppied the first floor,in fact a few of the windows in Robinson are the original from that period. The remains of the H and H still remain in the basement terrazzo for days and even a few vestiges of the Ritz period...As far as your comment on Robinsons,seeing as how I have been their display man for 20 years I know a little more about the amount of business we do from that location than your flippant comment is bullshit Mr. Badass critic

  5. See for the story of Marble Court, immediately behind this building and once an alleged Indian camp site.

  6. Poster Nutbag-- yes, my e-mail is

    Vardis-- Thanks for the info

    Harry-- WOW!! I didn't know anything about that before... I knew it was called Marble Court but I didn't know anything about the Indian stuff. Thanks for that, it's always good to know that there's always more to learn.

  7. The 1950's-1970's was simply deplorable in terms of architecture. It's amazing to see how such treasure was trashed in favor of crappy modernism. At least in this case it was reverted.

    I do agree with you about how this building can sustain retail. Italian Bistro? Really? We can do better than that.

  8. There's too much to learn about Philadelphia. Brain hurts. Eyes too.

  9. Seems the mysterious ability to keep tenants in business did not extend to the now defunct Italian Bistro. Though I'm sure that place had Geleanor rolling over in their graves for a long while.

  10. Good way of describing, and pleasant paragraph to get facts on the topic of my presentation subject matter, which i am going to present in academy.