Monday, October 10, 2011

Mystery Building of the Week-- October 10th

Charles P. Mills & Son Photography

699 Ranstead Street

There it is.
                    Ok, so a lot of people have been complaining about how I shit on mid-century modern architecture... however, I don't hate all of it. Here's a building from the mid-20th that I actually like. It fits well on the street and does this cool shit where on one side you see none of the 7th Street-facing windows, then on the other side, bam! There they are!

                     The problem is, information about this building is lacking, and I mean information in the most basic sense. The architect... the construction date... the EVERYTHING! Its like this thing doesn't exist. I'll just have to tell you what I know about it.
                Charles P. Mills and Son Photography was a commercial photo processing company. They would develop and enhance pics that would be used in magazines, catalogs, advertisements, all kinds of shit. The business started in May of 1957 and was well-known in the industry until digital cameras came along and kicked the shit out of 'em. The company ended up folding on December 30th, 2004.
                 It's unknown if this building was constructed for this company or if they just moved into it. They operated out of a couple of different buildings until they moved into this one in 1966. All I know is that this building was part of one of the many redevelopment plans that have happened in this neighborhood.
                 The building has been for sale ever since the company moved out. The price was 3.2 Million dollars for the 15,024 sq. ft of space. The real estate listing brags about removing the height restriction for the space and even sneaks in a rendering of a building that you could build on the spot if you demolished this beast.

Just a suggestion, I guess.
                 This mystery has a silver lining. After 8 years sitting empty(save the Atwater Kent/Philadelphia History Museum's offices on the 4th floor), this cool-ass building finally has a new occupant. PhillyCAM, Philadelphia Community Access Media (Philly's Public Access Television Station), is opening a brand new media center inside the Mills Building on October 12th, two days from now.
                I'm glad that this building is going to be in use, but the mystery still remains... who's the architect, when was it built, and what the fuck?


  1. That's all right. The Occupy Wall Street/City Hall crowd will fix this mystery (and everything else) when they implement their anarchist revolution (not reform, they were careful to point out). 'Course if they succeed in that, everything will be burnt to the ground so none of it will matter anymore, but hey, can't have everything can we.

    Which, come to think of it, if that crowd would've learned that last part by this time in their naïve, childish lives, they'd be doing more productive things right now than repeating inane stuff some muddle-head is shouting at them from a bullhorn.

  2. Whassamatta, qguy, you were unable to find a political blog to post that on because you had your head up your ass?

  3. qguy, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this blog is now dumber for having read to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  4. Oooh, such a witty retort, Dan. Can I keep that one in my hip pocket to use next… year?

    Hey, it's just something going on at the moment. I wasn't really commenting on the politics, just the irony of their aims, relative to all the current and historical development chronicled on this blog.

    I think it's germane, if a bit tangential.

  5. Now Poster, *that* is what a retort should be. I tip my virtual hat to you!

  6. GroJLart, what's your email address?

    btw, check this out. Here is an old vision of Market St:

  7. My email address is

  8. Alrighty, the styling, other than the baffle windows, is clearly Midcentury Modern. It looks like it was probably built around 1956 or so.

    Very few architects of the time would have built using a baffle window style--fewer still getting Philadelphia commissions. Find the architect then active whose signature style this is, and you can be 90%+ sure you've found the guy who built it.

  9. Built in 1966!! Also: "it is one building comprised of Two Main Sections that share a uniform elevation of gray brick, a continuous Basement, and a common hallway with a Stair Tower and Elevator."

  10. I don't know if you're still active, but the Mills Building might very well have been designed by Nolen Swinburne.
    Jim Nolen built his own house in Chestnut Hill across from Norwood Academy.
    Herb Swinburne built his place on Timber Lane near Penn Charter Academy.