Thursday, May 5, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- May 5th

Back of the Criminal Justice Center Lot

13th and Arch

The Criminal Fuck This Center.
           Before the Convention Center Expansion I would have let this lot slide. It's brother lots on Arch at Juniper and at 12th have had construction plans roll through to serve the Center, but this lot is just a crappy city vehicle parking lot. Any retail, residence, or hotel should be able to do fine here now that there isn't a much bigger empty lot across the street like there was before the expansion. Oh, and while we're on this spot, lets talk about what was here before this Sea of Shattered Dreams:
Recognize that statue at the top? It was moved to Fairmount Park
             This was a guy's house. That's right. In 1838, rich-ass War of 1812 veteran railroad tycoon Matthew Newkirk carrier-pigeoned his pal Thomas U. Walter, who just happened to be a famous architect, and wrote:

                       Hey Mr. Fancy-Pants architect...
                       Build me a big fucking house at 
                       13th and Arch. Don't let me 
                       catch you talkin reckless with 
                       your curly mustache and shit. 
                       I was in the War of Eighteen 
                       motherfucking twelve! 

                 Walter built him this bad-ass Neo-Classical Wall of Cock Slaps in response. Newkirk must have been a Bro-fist Full of Finance because it was the first private home in the city with gas service. Today that would be like the first home with video walls. The awesome statue up top didn't get installed until 40 years later, when the building became the chill spot for the Sons of the Society of St. George, which was an organization that supported Englishmen that lived in America. They would have meetings and party and say "pip pip cheerio" and so on.
              It makes sense that the St. Georgio's would want that location.. it's right near the Masonic Temple. The Elks had the same idea... they moved into a mansion down the street that still stands. You can see it in the picture above, covered with that awful flower mural. Hard to believe that the area just west of Reading Terminal Market was once a wealthy residential neighborhood. It all started going downhill when Reading Terminal was built. The Georgists moved out shortly thereafter and the building was knocked down in favor of something called the Frankel Building that stood for 70 some years until it became the lot we're supposed to be talking about.
             Getting back on topic, those greenhorn out-of-towners that come down to the convention center have plenty of dough in their hands ready to be spent on anything you throw in front of them. A continuous stretch of tourist-targeted retail should run on Arch from Broad to 12th. The newfangled garage that will be built at the Arch and Juniper lot will be a good start but there needs to be more.
              Ever since the thought of the Convention Center Expansion, Philaphiles have debated whether or not it will have a positive impact on the surrounding area in the same way the original Convention Center did. It is obvious that the Expansion will improve North Broad but it still remains to be seen what impact it will have on the Arch Street corridor next to it. Don't even talk to me about the Race Street corridor on the other side. Oh yeah, did you ever wonder where they kept all those bike rack barriers that are used for major events?
These bike racks are shit-faced. What's with the garbage bags?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- May 4th

American Life Insurance Company Building

330 Walnut St.

The face!!! The faaaace!!
            The loss of this building is a damn tragedy. First of all, it has conical towers, which is always my favorite thing to see on a building. Second, the corner of the building HAS A FUCKING FACE ON IT!! I learned about this building a few years ago when someone told me that there used to be a building with a big face on it that was destroyed in favor of GRASS. After some searching I found it-- the American Life Insurance Company.
            It almost looks like a magician stood at the corner of 4th and Walnut, swung his arms outward, and said, "Fuck the sky, Fuck the ground, Let me grow, with Brick I'm bound!!", and grew into this Monolith of Monster Mandibles. Then, the American Life Insurance Company saw the building from their old digs up S. 4th street and said "That's exactly what we've been looking for!!", and moved in.
            This awesome building was designed by Original Gangsta-in-Chief Thomas Preston Lonsdale in 1888. It was the most imposing presence on the street until 1911 when the larger Irwin Building (a future Lost Building of the Week) was built catercorner to it. Decades passed and someone had the dumbass idea to mow down blocks of beautiful and historic buildings in order to create the Independence National Historical Grass Lot Collection. At first, it would seem that the location this building is in (SE corner of 4th and Walnut) would not be part of the Collection... but I'll have you know that the GRASS LOT that is the remains of this building after 1961 is indeed a lawn that is supposed to be part of that shitty-ass national park.
             Imagine if architects today had the platinum balls necessary to put a giant face on the corner of a building. They could make it animatronic and have it berate you as walked by. Real Philadelphia shit. This is the kind of building you want to print out 5000 pictures of and drop from a plane on top of every architecture firm in America. Then you mail them a model that you make of it out of foamcore with a note that says "See? This is when architecture meant something. Stuff your LEED Certification up your ass. This is LEED Neutron Star Certified, bitchesssssssssss!" Then they'd punch the wall with rage, causing their whole office to collapse on them because they put a 3 ton green roof on a ceiling held up by drywall.
             Anyway, why did they knock down this sexy motherfucker? They could have done the exact same Independence National Shitstorical Grass Lotstravaganza without taking out this Ark of Awesomeness. No one ever even notices the grass lot that remains. Here's a streetview of that garbage lawn. What a pisser.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- May 3rd

Pigeonhole Parking

219 South Broad Street

Barf. Photo by Viking Squirrel.
               This piece of cowshit is the sickly older brother of last week's Butt-Fugly Building of the Week. Look at this Tower of Titanic-Level Fuck Ups. Browned-up exposed concrete, faded blue shit everywhere, and a big faded sign that never looked good. The worst part is: this shitty parking structure never needed to exist.
                In the 1960's, a city that was never built for cars now had to start accommodating for them like never before. Recently built highways served the city's suburban workforce and they needed somewhere to put those cars while they were at work. On South Broad Street, however, there was plenty of parking. The empty lot left over from the destruction of the Hotel Walton was able to support pretty much all the parking needs of the area, so this Butt-Fugly Building of the Week need not ever exist!!!
              I guess someone thought that the Hotel Walton lot was going to be built over soon (though it wasn't built on until 1983, dumbasses) and in 1968, it was decided that a "pigeonhole" parking lot would be built, and that they would use elevators (!!!) to move the cars up and down it, making it the first (and ugliest) of its kind in the city. They wanted it to look modern, which back then meant putting vertical lines everywhere. Here's the rendering from before it was built:
What the fuck? Picture from Temple U Library, in case you can't see the gigantic watermark.
         Hey, wait a minute!!! That's much better than the design that was actually built!! The tall part of the garage is set back from the street so it's much less noticable, and there appears to be a small building attached that could have been used for retail purposes today! AAARGH!!!
         Look, I knew someone was going to start complaining that the style of the time looked good and that this Pile of Putrescence probably looked nice when it was knew, however, being the big-balled motherfucker that I am, I managed to scrounge up a picture of it's opening day on February 15, 1969:
Still fucked up. Oh, and check out the mangled up Ritz-Carlton/Miguel Corzo Center to the left. Oof. What a horrible time to be a Philaphile that must have been. Once again, read the gigantic watermark.
            Still looks like a piece of garbage. I would advocate knocking this motherfucker down and having it be an Empty Lot of the Week for two years until something decent got built there. Shit, I'd settle for some crappy fake facade cladding like the one at Juniper and Sansom. Anything but this shit. Did anyone involved with this realize where it was and what it would look like? Fuckin' morons.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- May 2nd

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

118 North Broad Street

         Now this is some serious shit. This gem has stood the test of time and proved that good shit is good shit is good shit. Just look at that motherfucker.
           In 1845, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the oldest Art Museum and School in America was having problems. They had this great spot on the 1000 block of Chestnut Street but they had endless financial problems that were almost causing the school to close. On top of that, their buildings kept fucking burning down. They had to build revenue-producing buildings fronting Chestnut Street so they could have the money to save the school and rebuild it. The venture was so successful that in 1870 they sold their property and second building while it was hot so they could build a Kick-Ass Awesome Fireproof Mega-Fortress of Doom at their new property they just bought at Broad and Cherry Streets.
         They called on the architectural stylings of the Commandant of  Incredible Curiosities,  Frank Furness, to design the most Cocktacular Superstructure of Brick Succotash possible at the time. It took SIX YEARS to build this relatively small building, filling the facade with so many architectural details you have to see it to believe it.
          PAFA took a huge risk with this building. They had to rent space in other office buildings and conduct their school while this castle was being built. Imagine being one of the Art students that got fucked by this... didn't get to enjoy the courtyards of the old building and didn't get to enjoy the beautiful architecture and details of the new building. Also, some extremely prescient board members of the Academy were against the move because they somehow KNEW that North Broad would be a pile of shit once it got cut off from the rest of the city after the building of City Hall.
         Once the building was completed and opened just in time for the Centennial, PAFA became the Art School with the coolest fucking education building and museum you can find. Decades passed and the building's crappy location on North Broad both kept it safe from demolition and kept it unnoticed by generations of Philadelphians and tourists who didn't even know it was there. By the time this Fortress of Fucktitude was reaching 70 years old, most of the facade had been painted over or cracked off. The cool ass statue over the door had deteriorated down to a Henri Mooresque form and was removed. Facing a major car thoroughfare managed to stain the facade to an almost black. By the time it was 90, the facade was so entirely fucked up that the school/museum knew they'd have to light a fire up their own asses and get restorin' for the Bicentennial. They called on architect Hyman Meyers (great name) to fix THIS:
1965. You think this is bad? Wait until 777 South Broad is 89 years old. 
             Holy shit. Hyman sure had is work cut out for him. It took 2 years to restore the shit-covered pile of bricks. Things went great for the Bicentennial and the 175th anniversary of the school/museum. By that point, the museum stayed in the Furness-designed building and the school was scattered across a number of buildings around the city. In 2005, the school's Bicentennial, they finally managed to get a continuous campus going by opening the Hamilton Building across Cherry Street.
             As many Philaphiles know, this Temple of Tyranny is now being reflected by the glass facade of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Expansion and is in the process of another restoration and the addition of Lenfest Plaza, the school/musuem's first courtyard since 1870:

Frank Furness is seeing this in Valhalla and saying "What the FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuu..."
            It includes curvy video benches and a giant fucking paintbrush that will cantilever over Broad Street and will probably end up falling on some cars and pedestrians one day...I hear that's how Osama Bin Laden died (too soon?).  FINALLY, the building's location on North Broad that even in 1870 was a bad idea is working out for them. The museum expects to have literally 10 times the amount of visitors once the plaza is complete and they will make some mad scrilla. Now all they have to do is get rid of the methadone clinic, drug treatment center, and crazy house that are holding back that area.

"I live!!"

Plaza progress. Hurry up, you bastards!