Thursday, June 2, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- June 2nd

Uncle Rusty's Reading Railroad Riverlot

Bounded by Vine Street and Callowhill Street, Columbus Boulevard to Water Street

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                     This crappy surface parking lot hasn't had a real building on it in over 100 years. That has to be a record or something. There's no excuse for this shit. This is only a block north of the Ben Franklin Bridge, has easy access to 95, is right across the street from Dave and Busters and a boat dock, and has a perfect view of the river.
                      What was it before it was a surface parking lot? Well, to explain that you'd have to understand that there was once a time in our great city when it wouldn't be terribly unusual to see a freight train pass your house. Train tracks used to criss-cross all over the city at street level. One major terminus for these city-crossing freight trains was a few blocks north of this Desert of Dirty Dogshit.
                    Having train lines everywhere meant that the railroad tycoons needed space where they could store freight cars when not in motion. The city was pockmarked with ugly traincar storage lots, predecessors to our own crappy surface parking lots. This Emptylotosaurus was one such lot. Even after years and years, after all those other traincar lots disappeared and the freight tracks were removed, buried, or causewayed, this Ocean of Foot Fungus stayed a piece of crud:
From the corner of Columbus and Callowhill in 1955. Shit then and ass now!
                 Now you would think SOMETHING would make it's way on to this highly convenient location. NOPE. Nothing. The empty lots to the south and the north have had tall building proposals that have fallen through like a rat through a thin pie crust. This butthole of a lot hasn't even had one of those. It just has cameos in those other projects' renderings:

There it is on the right of this dead-ass proposal's rendering. Try not to wonder why there's lasers in sets of two firing down the street.
Remember this thing? There's Uncle Rusty in the lower left.
                      Enough of this. This lot needs a makeover. A skyscraper. A Museum of Keytars. I'd rather see a 2,000 foot parking garage. A building shaped like a giant hamburger. Pretty much all the absurd-ass things you could think of are viable candidates for this lot. Anything is better than an asphalt wading pool. What a piece of shit. This fucker is going to be an empty lot until the year 5000.   

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- June 1st

The Arcade Building aka Commercial Trust Building

15th and Market Streets

You've probably driven through the site of this building like 5 million times. Image from Go buy one.
                      Wow, just look at this shit. This was Frank Furness at his best. He was good with some of his smaller works but his bigguns really take the cake. After Broad Street Station was completed, there were some problems. Hundreds of people would come off a train at a time and wander in all different directions out the front doors of the station. This made traffic a bitch out front and was dangerous for the pedestrians.           
                     Pennsylvania Railroad had this really thin, long, crooked-U-shaped empty lot across the street from the station. The monocled railroad tycoons in their top hats and coats with big collars and shit were like "We can easily solve the problem! We'll build a tall commercial building with a pedestrian bridge over Market Street that will funnel people into a shopping center along the sidewalk!! When it rains and snows, we'll be even more rich!! Bahahahah! Now let us sacrifice a kitten to Molech."
                     They solved the problem of building a 13 storey building on a sliver of a lot by BUILDING IT OVER THE SIDEWALK. This created a promenade of shops called the Arcade. Really, the same idea behind the atrocity known as the Gallery was used here. Railroad passengers coming off their trains would take the pedestrian bridge across dangerous Market Street and end in a tunnel full of stores right on the sidewalk. Then they would buy shit.
                      Are there any buildings in the city today that straddle over a sidewalk? We have some that straddle over a whole street, but a 13-storey building OVER a sidewalk? How the fuck did they get away with that one? Well, as usual, you can count on our wonderful city's corrupt-as-shit city government. They probably approved this idea based on someone accidentally dropping a burlap sack with a dollar sign on it during the proposal.
                   Of course, in order to ensure maximum kick-asstitude for this structure, they hired Frank Furness and his gang to design this cool-ass building. Furness knew that the building should complement his masterpiece Broad Street Station but also look cool on its own. For him this was as about as easy as falling asleep is to us humans. He threw together a big Victorian Longhouse of Doom:

Back when City Planners had balls.
                Don't let the angle of that picture fool you... this building is thin as shit. It just wraps around the corner which gives it the illusion of mass. Frank Furness must have conjured this out of a cauldron full of his own wings and horns. It was a ball-grabbingly huge success. The Pennsyvania Railroad made a shitload of money from it and all those tycoons were able to buy extra rolls of golden toilet paper as a result. About 15 years after construction, they built a 21-storey addition with a cool-ass dome on top. Here's a pic of it from right before it was demo'ed:
Did I mention that Frank Furness got busy in a Burger King bathroom?
                   Now, wait a minute... this thing was about to be destroyed when this picture was taken? Does it really look like demolition material to you? Well guess what? It wasn't. The Historical American Buildings Survey report on it says  "the building is in good condition at this time" about 7 years before it was banhammered. Well, thank Edmund Bacon and is giant Kevin Bacon-making cock. Part of his urban renewal program was the removal of this Cathedral of Brass Knuckle Boxing in order to make way for... wait for it... NOTHING!

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              That's it right there. That streetview above is the site of the Arcade Building. The curve in Penn Square runs straight through the site. Thanks Ed. Furness would have kicked your ass if he knew about this.

Only color picture I could find of this beast.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- May 31st

Residences at Dockside (formerly Dockside Apartments)

717 South Columbus Boulevard   (Pier 30)

                      What a piece of crud. Everyone has the same reaction when they first see this thing. "Is that a cruise ship? Oh, it's a building? Oh well, who cares." I don't know who must have thought this was a good idea. I can imagine a bunch of guys sitting around a board room saying, "Let's build an apartment building on a pier!!! Let's make it look like a boat!! People will be like 'Wow! I always wanted to live on a cruise ship that's docked at a barely accessible point of the waterfront!'"
                      Ads for this thing say "wonderful views" but I imagine that's only for the residents who face North and West. The South and East facing apartments look upon a world of shit. Unless you're some kind of stevedoring enthusiast who wants to watch cargo not get shipped at Camden's garbage waterfront, those views are useless.
                     Just take a good look at this fucked up Poseidon Adventure. It looks like a ship wrecked there and they used it as a frame to build an apartment building. It looks so dated that it's hard to believe that this pile of shit on thirty-foot pilings was built in the 21st century. Yay, another building on a parking garage pedestal.
                 The other problem with this building is it's location. I don't understand why real estate developers often forget the FIRST THREE FUCKING RULES OF REAL ESTATE. Not only does this building look like ass, but they couldn't have chosen a worse part of the waterfront to place it on.

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                    It's across the street from a surface parking lot and an on/off ramp for a interstate highway. To the south there is a noisy-ass heliport. This is not like a hospital heliport near your place whose noise gets muffled by the buildings between you. This is a heliport with way more traffic and much more unmuffled noise. Those south-facing apartments get fucked even more than I thought.
                This Carnival Fool's Ship is completely cut off from the city. Living there is like living in the city in your own isolated cage that's only accessible by car. Why live in the city if you can only travel by car? That's what the burbs are for. It would have been better at ANY other point of the waterfront. Even if you put it next to that crappy PECO plant on the river near Pier 70 it would be a better location.
                 This place was designed by Bower Louis Thrower Architects. They're so embarrassed about it that they don't even acknowledge it on their website. This is one situation where we can thank the housing bubble for stopping construction... there were actually plans for a second one!!! We would have had twin fucked-up shipwrecks on the waterfront. What a relief!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- May 30th

Dorrance Hamiltion Hall at the University of the Arts (formerly at least 4 other names)

320 S. Broad Street

I am immortal, I have inside my blood of kings!

                     Broad Street is almost 13 miles long and has a shitload of buildings facing it. Of those buildings, many are old-ass buildings. This is the oldest-ass building on Broad Street. They call the Academy of Music the Great Old Lady of Broad Street but this, Hamilton Hall, is 26 years older. It's the Great Motherfucking Grandma of Broad Street's Mom. Not only that, it represents a Marvel Team-up between three of Philadelphia's greatest architects.
                     In 1821, a bunch of really rich motherfuckers found out about a fancy pottery maker named David Seixas who was educating deaf kids for free. They threw a bunch of money at him and convinced the state to charter and fund a school/asylum for the kids. They called it the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, which is a name that illustrates how old this fucking building is.
                    They went up to the CEO of Asskickerization Enterprises, John Haviland, and said. "Give us some shit that looks nice from a grass field at the edge of town... it is going to be built at Broad and Pine" Haviland was like, "I'm gonna revive the shit out of some Greek!" and by 1826 his little box with a columned portico was built:

Rural mud lane at Broad near Pine.
           It became so popular that people would take carriage rides all the way out to Broad Street just to look at it and the Centre Square waterworks. After the Institute began and by the 1830's started to grow, the rich motherfuckers went up to the Grandmaster of Greek Revival, William Strickland, and said "Add two long-ass wings to the back and sides of the building so we'll have more room. Don't worry about it matching the original building... we'll just paint the old part the same color."
           At this point Strickland was already rich and famous in Philadelphia and was about to leave town to litter the country with more Greek Revival buildings. Stickland waited until the last minute and drew a two rectangles coming off the back and sides. He was done.
The coolest building on horseshit strewn cobblestone Broad Street with its Strickland Wings.
                 30-some years later the Centennial was approaching and like everything else in Philly at the time, the Institute decided that it should make itself at least 200 times more badass. What do you need to make a building badass? That's right, you need a badass motherfucker. Therefore, they went straight to Frank Furness. The rich fucks were like "Extend the building to 15th street. Do your worst!!" and Frank Furness was like "Fuck you, I do what i want!!" and created a red brick Castle of Mega-Kickass off the ass of the Stickland/Haviland building. The school was so proud of it they featured it in the upper right corner of their propaganda:

Click this shit to see all the details. 
                   About 20 years later the Institute then said "fuck it" and moved their entire operation over to the new edge of town. In 1893, the then fledgling Pennsylvania Museum and School of the Industrial Arts moved in. It went through several incarnations and name changes until it became the University of the Arts in 1987. The building had layers of thick paint removed in the 1950's to expose Haviland's original facade and a glass enclosure was built over the court between the Stickland wings in 1983. Today it sits between two much newer (and uglier) buildings, the Kimmel Center and Symphony House.

15th Street-facing Furness wings with lots of shitty buildings in the background.