Monday, October 17, 2011

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- October 17th

The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent (a.k.a. Atwater Kent Museum a.k.a. Franklin Institute I)

15 South 7th Street

It's a lot older than it looks.
                    This little grey motherfucker has managed to continue kicking ass and taking names for 186 years without a single complaint. This lil beast makes the rest of 7th street look like the hairiest part of my ass. It makes it easy to believe that Philadelphia was once known as the "Athens of America".
                    In the early 1820's, Philadelphia was well into its mission to be the most badass city in the world. One thing the city (and country) was missing was an official science/invention/research/education organization. London had one going since 1799, and Philadelphians weren't gonna let some tea-sipping shitbirds be more advanced. On February 5th, 1824, chemist/geologist William Keating and ironmonger Samuel V. Merrick founded the The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts and ran it out of Carpenter's Hall.
                   The early Franklin Institute held classes in various fields and held a collection of books. The place became so popular that they couldn't handle the demand with such a small space, so they moved to some building that was at 4th and Arch. Megacommander of Architectural Ass-kick John Haviland taught architectural drawing at the institute, and the founders hit him up for a design for a grand new building from which to conduct higher order levels of badassery.
                   John Haviland was obsessed with Ancient Greece and was convinced that Greek Revival was the ultimate form of architecture. Literally. He thought Greek Revival was as far as architecture should ever and would ever go. This man also believed that Greek Revival should have an urban twist, not be literal rebuilds of ancient shit. He designed a squared-up Greek temple that could never go out of style. And it hasn't.

The Franklin Institute in 1895, 70 years after construction.

                    The cornerstone was laid with a full-dress Masonic ritual on June 8th, 1825. The Institute moved in around 1827 and liked it so much that they stuck around for 107 years. As awesome as his design was, Haviland wasn't too happy with it. He wanted to embellish it with more decoration that included a big-ass statue of Ben Franklin that would stand on top of the building like a Greek god, but the Institute told him to tone it the fuck down.
                   The Franklin Institute only used a portion of the building and became the most prestigious science and technology center in the United States. Inventors from all over the world would visit to present their new shit. After only three years, the Institute got large enough to kick out the federal court that was using the second floor. Once fully occupied, the place featured a 300-seat lecture room, multiple laboratories, a humongous library, and a School of Mechanic Arts.
                   The building stayed in continuous use for generations. In 1897 an addition was tacked on, but was removed so quickly that no source seems to know when it happened. In 1934, the Franklin Institute ditched this awesome building and moved into their new Science Museum on the then-new Parkway. This Imperial Fortress of Facefucks sat empty for years and, due to being 110+ years old, was falling apart.

This photo is labeled 1960 but I have reason to believe it's from the 1910's.
                     In the mid 1930's, a shitload of Philaphiles wanted to turn the Old Franklin, as it came to be known, into a Philadelphia History Museum, but none of them could afford to buy and rehab the building. They all went to the wealthiest Philaphile they could find, Shogun of Radio Atwater Kent, and begged him to get this thing going. Kent had just paid for the rehab of the Betsy Ross House and was like, "Ok motherfuckers, I'll throw down the dough... on three conditions: 1) It will always be a Philadelphia history museum, 2) It will have free admission, and 3) Name it after me, forever!".
                  Kent bought the place in 1938, donated it to the city, and after three years of Works Progress Administration renovations plus $171,000, the completed museum opened in 1941. Philaphiles from far and wide donated artifacts for display. The museum's collection grew to be gigantic and had to be stored off-site. Unfortunately, financial and administrative turmoil gripped the place for its entire history.

As the Atwater Kent Museum in 1956.
                  Even more unfortunately, in recent decades, the place became kind of lame. Despite having a super-gigantic collection of 80,000 Philadelphia-related artifacts, the museum displayed like three things plus some goofy shit like a huge map of the city and a room full of reprints of Saturday Evening Post covers as their main attractions. In 1994, the museum broke one of Kent's rules and started charging admission.
                Finally, in 2009, the museum closed for renovations and stated that it would reopen as the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, since many modern Philaphiles have no idea who the fuck Atwater Kent was. The original grand reopening was set for March 2011, but has been pushed back to Spring 2012. This means it will probably be ready in June 2015. The museum paid a shitload of money to some bullshit re-branding consultant firm to re-imagine the museum and make it more popular. This was the best logo they could come up with:

                  It's supposed to represent the street grid. I hope Thomas Holme's ghost finds whoever designed this shit and fucks him/her in the ear with his big swinging ghost-dick. I conceived and rendered a superior logo with a Sharpie in four minutes:

                       I hope that when it reopens, the Philadelphia History Museum actually starts displaying all the cool shit they've been hanging onto for decades. Since most modern museums seem to be targeted toward preschoolers, I'm highly doubtful that they will.
                     If I were in charge, I'd go balls to the walls with this thing. I would display every beer can and bottle from every brewery Philly has ever had, a set of artifacts from every neighborhood, a product from every old factory, models of all the coolest lost buildings, an exhibit of all the different urban revitalization plans over the years, a diagram of showing the growth of the street grid, shit about the different indian tribes from the region, models of all the different kinds of rowhouses, a timeline of city government corruption, an exhibit of all the Philadelphia Firsts, the actual paintings that were Saturday Evening Post covers instead of reprints, a Mummers section that's better than the Mummers Museum, Moses King's books/photos, Frank G. Taylor's books/drawings/photos, to name a few. You don't need some garbage brand consulting firm con-artists to tell you that. You need a Philaphile.


  1. There SHOULD be a Philadelphia museum like you described. Good grief, that would be fantastically amazing.

  2. The displays you suggest would be wonderful, but would take a space 10x the size of PHMAK. How about a PHMAK annex on the first floor of City Hall. How cool would that be?

  3. A truly awesome building, and a truly awesome article. And seriously, it looks like someone spent approximately 48 seconds "designing" that new logo. I much prefer GroJLart's.

  4. I agree with NickfrmGtn! And I love, love, love your logo!

  5. Shit dollars, I'd pay good money to go to your museum.

  6. laurablanchard, I appreciate your idea here.  I remember a number of years ago there was an editorial in the paper that suggested government vacate City Hall in favor of turning City Hall into a museum.  While I initially scoffed at the idea, after reconsideration I think that is actually a great idea.

    It would be a lot like how the French cleared out the Louvre and then turned it into a museum to put the monarchy’s decadence on display.  In addition to GroJLart’s great suggestions for a museum, we could have an initial exhibition that would be dedicated to the countless years of corruption in the city government.  It would be a great tribute to the people of our city if outsiders were fully allowed to enjoy one of the best buildings in America.  It would truly be great to have City Hall be more accessible to the public and honor it as the great building that it is which reflects our city.