Monday, November 14, 2011

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- November 14th

Applebee's Center City Philly (aka Bookbinders Seafood House, aka 5th Police District Station House)

215 S. 15th Street

Yes, I'm going to talk about an Applebee's. Picture by VikingSquirrel.

                     Check this thing out. Though sitting in the shadows of much taller buildings, this thing is a vestige of a much earlier time for 15th Street. At one point, everything else on the street matched this. Not a bad looking building for an Applebee's. Of course, its original purpose wasn't as a chain restaurant... or as Bookbinder's Seafood House. It was originally a police station.
                    It all began with the consolidation of a shitload of little townships and villages into the coterminus City/County of Philadelphia. The need arose for a Philadelphia police force to serve every district. Since they had little time to plan or waste, a bunch of shitty little police stations popped up all over county in existing homes or quickly-built police shacks. These sub-standard stations stayed in use well into the 1860's and by 1869, looked like shit. The Police Chief at this time was St. Clair A. Mulholland.
               Chief Mulholland was a fucking died-in-the-wool mega-badass. Born in Ireland, he came to Philadelphia early in life and enlisted his ass into the Civil War. He went straight up the ranks and became the last person to be made a Major General during the war. He was horribly wounded four separate times, each one thought to be a mortal wound. He didn't fuckin' care and kept on fighting. After the war, he became a well-known expert in the field of penology, that is to say, the study of PUNISHMENT. He became Philadelphia chief of police in 1868.

Now that's a beard.
                       In 1869, Mulholland was pissed off about the sorry-ass state of the city's police stations. He went up to then-mayor Daniel Fox, put him in a full nelson, and said, "Build me some better police stations you slimy bastard!!!". Fox was like, "Don't hurt me, General Mulholland!" and had the 1857-built Fifth District Police Shack knocked down and rebuilt in 1870. Back then, the fifth district was in what is now Center City. The new building was built at 215 South Fifteenth Street, then known as the corner of 15th and Brighton.
                    People liked the new police station because it didn't look like shit. The other police shacks soon got demolished and replaced with similarly nice-looking buildings. Mulholland later retired, moved to Paris and became a painter (!!!). The Fifth District Station House stayed in use as a police station for at least 50 years. An addition was tacked on in the very early 20th Century.

15th Street in 1913. You can see the police station's roof just to the upper left of the middle of the image.
                    By the end of the 1920's, the station house was a piece of shit. It was too small for modern needs and was falling apart. It probably would have been demolished if not for the events that occurred next.             
                   Across town in Old City, in the early 1930's, the Bookbinder family gave over their famous seafood restaurant to an organization called the Jewish Federated Charities. The grandsons of the founder of Bookbinder's were like "Fuck that, we'll start our own restaurant!!", and opened the Bookbinder's Seafood House in the old Fifth District Station House in 1935. It became even more famous than the original.

Postcard for the place from The Epoch When Everything Was A Postcard.
                 For the next seven decades, Bookbinder's Seafood House rocked this building while 15th Street went through change after change after change all around. Eventually, the building was caught in a nearly permanent shadow from the taller buildings surrounding it.
                 For most of its life at 15th Street, it was one of the only nice and high quality restaurants in town. In the 90's and 00's, a shitload of new and exciting fine restaurants popped into the city and made business in the old guard of restaurants suffer. There was also a conflict between the owners of the restaurant, which at this point were two Bookbinder brothers that were descended from the original gangstas that started the place.
                In 2004, one of the brothers sued the other. One had agreed to buy out the other in 1989 and 1997 and financed the purchase over a long period of time. When the restaurant's business waned, payments were no longer possible. The lawsuit in 2004 shut down Bookbinders' Seafood House for good. The building then sat there doing nothing, the first time it had been unoccupied since the early 1930's.
                In early 2006, the building became an Applebee's. Restaurant snobs and regular citizens alike were pissed off that this chain, which is known for its suburban banality, pushed its way into Center City in this way... in this building. Personally, I'm just glad the building is occupied. I admit, I've caught a meal or two there just because I was drunk from McGlinchey's and all the other restaurants on the row were too crowded.
              When it comes down to it, the chain signed a 15-year lease on the spot, so get the fuck used to it. Unless something drastic occurs, they'll be there until at least 2021. No trace of its use as a police station still exists and only an image of a lobster in the front door recalls its life as Bookbinder's. Again, at least the 141-year-old building is still in use.

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