Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- October 5th

Athletic Club of the Schuylkill Navy (aka Grand Fraternity Building)

1628 Arch Street

Willis G. Hale aint nuthin to fuck with!
                   Willis G. Hale was such a badass motherfucker that this is the kind of building he produced when told to tone it the fuck down. Seriously, this building is an example of him phoning it in. Just look at that shit... no one today has the mettle to design such a structure.
                  The Schuylkill Navy is the oldest amateur athletic governing body in the country. They formed to prevent people from fixing and betting on boat races. The group consisted of a whole bunch of individual rowing clubs. In 1884, it was decided that the rowing clubs should get into other sports as well, and members of many of the clubs formed the Athletic Club of the Schuylkill Navy. Their first clubhouse was in a mansion at 1913 Market Street.
                     Only a few years after they formed, they became interested in building a new clubhouse, one that would be the envy of jocks everywhere. They were able to buy a thin plot of land in a residential neighborhood, but the Athletic Club was growing so quickly that their needs started to outmode the size of the land they purchased. The club hoped to be able to build a tall clubhouse that would have kick ass amenities but fit into this little space. They found an unknown architecture firm from the time that worked on the problem for a year. The dumbass motherfuckers failed to come up with a design that worked.
                    That's when the club went to Willis G. Hale for help. They begged him to solve the design problem, even though they were almost out of money. Hale was like, "fuck that other firm, I'll get this shit done with my eyes closed. Shoulda came to me first, bitcheeessss!!". Hale designed this 119-foot-tall super-clubhouse in like 10 seconds while sitting on the toilet.
                    He was able to fit bowling alleys, a billiard room, cafe, restaurant, parlors, garden roof deck (before it was cool), swimming pool, Turkish bath, racquetball court, running track, barber shop, and a full-sized gymnasium... all within a 45' x 150' lot. The framing was of wood and the facade was a highly detailed melange of Indiana limestone that Hale thought was extremely simple.
                   Though Hale had solved their problem, his wooden skeleton for the building proved to be somewhat inadequate. Reports of it flexing and creaking came along when the building would have huge events and hold over 1,200 people...that combined with the fact that it was a fire trap caused it to eventually gain a reputation of being unsafe. That didn't stop it from being called "the most perfect clubhouse in the country". The Athletic Club only end up using the building for a short time. Later, the building just became known as the Athletic Club of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Athletic Club. 
                  In 1915, the Grand Fraternity (yet another gentlemans' club) purchased the building and did extensive alterations to make it more useful. They converted much of it to meeting rooms/banquet halls for different lodges and installed elevators, skylights, new gas lighting, and a brick stair tower for fire safety. They reopened the place January 1, 1916.
                 They didn't stay in there too long... by the 1920's the building was converted to offices, but the name "Grand Fraternity Building" stood firm until the end. This Mega-Parthenon of Party Prawns stood until 1972, 83 ball-busting years. Not bad for a throw-away project by Hale. That's some good shit right there.

Still kicking ass in 1968.

1 comment:

  1. LEGIT.
    old ass amazing lost building of the week tip: 1290 N 4th St. REDIC.