Saturday, June 25, 2011

Philly Reel to Real-- June

Blow Out


My ass has a sound all it's own.
                      This movie from Brian De Palma and starring John Travolta and Nancy Allen was filmed in Philadelphia in December 1980 and January 1981. It captures a time in Philadelphia history when the streets of Center City were so shitty that even the cockroaches were moving out to the burbs. For the longest time I would see this movie and wonder what parts of the city they were in because they seemed so unfamiliar. This one, for instance:

Something familiar...
                        It's fucking BROAD STREET!!! Not some shitty unknown part of the 13-mile-long Broad Street, but 244 South Broad Street! That's the Empty Lot that got covered with the Sporting Club at the Bellevue. Right there across the street is the infamous Pigeonhole Parking building. I guess those lights are supposed to look like a Christmas Tree. It's hanging from one of the many cables that used to straddle Broad Street for decorative use during the holidays. The city stopped doing that a long time ago and until recently there was one cable left dangling over Broad Street, mystifying newcomers. Here's another one:

Click on this shit to enlarge and see if you can figure out where it is.
                             Hmm.. A fire house and a bunch of bridal shit... so there was a bridal district? I guess before dumbass reality shows this was the only way to see wedding shit. So what stretch could this possibly be? What's in those storefront now? Check it out:

Click to enlarge again.
                     It's the 500 block of South Street! Shit, it doesn't look much better now, just a bit cleaner and with different mangled storefronts. Anyone remember Quakerhead Collectibles? It used to be on this stretch. South Street is not cool enough nowadays to have an action figure store. Here's another one: a murder scene at a nasty construction site in a seedy part of town:

Click on that and look closely. Where the fuck could it be?
                      Give up? You're looking at the construction site for Market East Station. Before Market East Station, not much of the Reading Terminal building went underground. Those are the pilings for it on the right. You can see the crappy Girard Estate block across the street. A couple of the streets seen in Blow Out look more or less the same with minor differences. In the movie, the Travolta character lives on the 300 block of Arch, in a building with a crazy mural on the side:

That is one funky mural.
View down the street 1980/1981.

Here it is now. The mural and shutters on the buiilding are gone, the trees are larger, but other than that it's pretty much the same:

I wonder if the people who live there know that they live in Blow Out's house!?!?
View down the street today. Sorry, I don't have a fucking crane like De Palma.

               Here's the 300 block of Race. So the sinister folks who alter the bullet-holed car in the movie were only a block away from the good guys' house?

Blighted-looking 300 block of Race in 1980/1981
The same block 30 and a half years later. The trees obscure the view of the bridge.
                 If you ever want a good sense of how far Philly has come, check out Blow Out. There's plenty of other scenes I didn't include in this article so see if you can spot some of the locations. In the movie, you can see the 1300 block of Chestnut when it was a two-way street, a brief view of the pitiful 1980/81 skyline, a blighted 100 block of South 15th street, the inside of Reading Terminal when it was still in use as a train station, a tagged up 30th street subway station, the ancient buildings that were still standing on the 1200 block of Market, and finally the Gallery looking EXACTLY THE SAME. There's also plenty of spots that I could not identify, so see if you can decode some.
                Any Philaphile should enjoy what goes on in the rest of this scene:


Friday, June 24, 2011

This week over at Philly Sports History

Here's what was featured on Philly Sports History this week. Make sure to check it out and show Johnny Goodtimes some love.

Philly 2111-- June 24th

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- June 23rd

Deadly Disappointment Lot

12th and Arch Streets

God fucking Dammit!
                       Why is there an empty lot across the street from Reading Terminal Market and the Convention Center? NO ONE could get this lot developed? NO ONE was motivated enough to make piles and piles of money enough to get this thing going? What the fuck? Wasn't a prime enough location for you? Was TOO convenient to the Convention Center, City Hall, Reading Terminal, City Hall, Criminal Justice Center, Maggiano's and a shitload of hotels? You've got to be kidding me.
                        12th and Arch was developed in pretty much every decade since the 1830's except the last two. Large rowhomes once stood on the spot, back in the brief time period when the area to the east of pre-City Hall version of Centre Square was the ritziest in town. They became storefronts and lasted all the way up to about 1987.

You know it's 1917 when you see fire escapes in front of rowhomes. Second points of egress were few and far between in mid-19th Century construction.

Here's the corner again in 1970, still rockin' the frontwise fire escapes. Hard to find them nowadays outside Old City but you still run into them once in awhile.
The Deadly Disappointment Lot was once MUCH larger.
                     Since those rowhomes were destroyed, this corner has stayed a Puke-paved Parking Pond to up into the present day. Plenty of developers have been interested in it, but for some reason this piece of piss lot can't seem to find a friend. There was lots of excitement a few years ago when the W Hotel was going to try to expand into Philadelphia one more time after getting rebuffed by NIMBY's over wanting to build on The Great NIMBY Memorial. They had a design that was intriguing, a compliment to the PSFS Building a block away.

A new building that I almost sorta like and they never fucking built it. FUCK
                      As with most cool projects, it never fucking happened. That's what always happens. You see cool-ass renderings for neat-looking buildings that are about to go up, and then it somehow FAILS MISERABLY. Then, when you see a rendering for a project that looks like butt, it finds away to get itself built by all means necessary. The saddest part of the story of this lot is that there is a current proposal for this lot that is gaining strength rapidly. Home 2 Suites is planning to build a franchise here, an extended stay hotel that will inevitably look like ass. How do I know it'll look like ass? I found the rendering:

                     Really? REALLY? Another fucking box? Is this 2011? Isn't this sort of a tourist area? Why a friggin BOX? You couldn't be a little more creative? I'd rather have the mangled rowhome with the fire escape on the front. This is friggin' embarassing. The worst part is that this has had a better chance than any other project ever to be proposed here. What a goddamn tragedy. Balls.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- June 22nd

The Bullitt Building

131 South Fourth Street

Should've called it the Badass Building.
                       Goddammit, why did we have to lose such a cool-looking building? Stone arches at the bottom, cool-ass details everywhere. Look at all the pointy shit at the top. Not enough triangles on buildings nowadays. Everything's a square or a rectangle. Gotta love how it wraps around the corner but has an entrance and facade that faces the corner.
                       I love how all the buildings in these old pictures have awnings everywhere. After the invention of air conditioning, the awnings went away. All you crunchy hippies out there looking for "green solutions" and a reason to say "sustainable" 10,000 times need to look again at the energy-saving 19th-century awning technology.
                       It all starts like this. John C. Bullitt defined the words Badass Motherfucker. He grew up in Kentucky, son of one of its founders. He came to Philadelphia in 1849 after college (in a time when barely anyone went to college) to make some fucking bread. He started a law firm that still exists to this day that represented huge clients such as the Bank of Kentucky, the University of Pennsylvania, and J.P. fucking Morgan. He grew to love Philadelphia so much that he became a bonafide Philaphile.

Statue of Bullitt outside City Hall.
                      This man ate, slept, and shit Philadelphia. He tried to get involved in city government but it was a corrupt fucking mishmash of councils and committees with no structure at all. Bullitt eventually got elected State Representative of the 8th Ward (Logan Square, Rittenhouse, G-Ho) with the intent of crushing the corrupt-ass city government (good fuckin luck).
                        He introduced what came to be known as the Bullitt Bill, which was a definitive list of the departments and committees city governments in the state should have. When the bill finally passed in 1887, the Philadelphia city government was turned upside down and started to function much more efficiently. Praise was brought on Bullitt, and he became known as the Father of Greater Philadelphia. Really, holy shit, what a fucking title. Father of Philadelphia!
                       At about the same time the Bullitt Bill was being argued about in state congress, Bullitt was involved with a small little side project... founding a NATIONAL BANK. The Fourth Street National Bank, as it became called, needed a building, preferably on Fourth Street. For the architect, Bullitt would be expected to pick Frank Furness, since ol' Franky was literally his son-in-law's uncle. Instead he cheaped out and went to the guys who designed his house: G.W. and W.D. Hewitt.
                       Luckily, the Hewitts studied under Furness and their firm became his knock-off. Like Blowjobs and Pizza, even a bad Furness is pretty good. In this case, the knock-off Furness is KICK ASS AWESOME!! This Castle of Dragonmilk Cocktails was so cool-looking that Bullitt didn't name it the Fourth Street National Bank Building, he named it the Bullitt Building after himself. The building was pretty big (it was 1886) and the bank's offices didn't fill the whole thing. Bullitt had a crazy idea. He started renting office space to other companies, making the Bullitt Building the FIRST high-rise office building in Philadelphia.
                       Over the years, the building stayed in use but as the 20th Century came and progressed, the area that housed the Bullitt Building became a shithole. This Great Wall of Kick Ass got deemed a fire hazard and got torn the fuck down. It became a goddamn surface parking lot until the Independence Historical Grass Lot Collection came along and covered it all with grass. Fire hazard my ass. They couldn't put a fire escape on Harmony Street facing side? I call bullshit. Here's what's left of it:

View Larger Map

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- June 21st

1234 Market Street (a.k.a. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Building a.k.a. The SEPTA Building)

1234 Market Street

                 This building isn't even really that ugly, it's just fucking BORING. A big black reflective box. Really, it's just a space-filler. No one ever really notices it... it lives in between two beautiful buildings, the Wanamaker Store and the PSFS tower. If anything, being between those two buildings makes this Black Box of Never-Ending Boredom seem even MORE boring. Here's what was there before this crap building:

Nineteen Shitsky-Five. From
                  Ok, so it wasn't that great... but at least it wasn't boring. In the early 70's, the city was looking to show off to everyone by building a new city office building on a shitty stretch of Market East. It would be connected to the subway and the buildings surrounding it, linking with the new concourse between Reading Terminal and Suburban Station. It was gonna be badass. A modern high-tech office building on what was previously a crappy stretch of hoopty stores. There were such high hopes for this motherfucker...

See, in the rendering it doesn't look that bad because the windows are distinguishable from the building. Pic from the place described in the big-ass watermark.
Frank Rizzo inspecting a model of the future 1200 block of Market. Watermark.
The groundbreaking. Rizzo nonchalantly smashes a champagne bottle. Watermark.
Under construction. Watermark.
People signing a girder. Watermark.
                   ...and after all those hopes what do we get? A BIG FUCKING PIECE OF DOGSHIT!! You have to understand that people really thought this shit was the future. They pictured this ultra-modern black crystal palace free of Philadelphia Grit... the thing that would turn Market East around. Why do you think there's so many pictures? People really were excited about this thing. Instead it ended up a piece of fuck. Just remember this one the next time a super-awesome Market East revitalization plan comes along. Just because there's happy people walking around in the rendering, it doesn't mean it won't be a piece of shit in a few years.
                  Once completed in 1972, The Chamber of Commerce moved in along with a bunch of other city offices. Then came SEPTA. In 1992, SEPTA needed a building. They had offices scattered across 4 buildings in the city and were fucking tired of it. They thought about building a skyscraper on top of the Gallery, but figured that would be way too fucking awesome. They bought 1234 in 1993 for 64.8 million dollars and has been there ever since.
              Recently, strictly for bragging rights, they spent MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars to make this Stinking Pile of Putrescence energy efficient. The EPA even awarded 1234 Market with it's Energy Star Label in 2010. Just remember that the next time you get mugged by a cockroach in one of SEPTA's decaying subway stations. You can say to yourself as the roach is eating your cell phone, "At least 1234 Market is 9% more energy efficient! FUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu"
             What is it with buildings named after their address? Be more creative next time, you fucks.

Monday, June 20, 2011

600 North Broad Update-- June 20th

600 North Broad Street

Work continues on the EB Realty Superblock.
                  Eric Blumenfeld, the rich-ass developer with titanium balls, is finally making good on his 2006 plan to rebuild the old Wilkie dealership at 600 North Broad Street. Back in 2006 the plan was to have a supermarket on the first floor and parking garage/condos on top. It seems now things have changed... the first floor will now be home to the biggest rich-ass restaurateur orgy ever imagined. Stephen Starr, Mark Vetri, and caterer Joe Volpe all plan hipster-targeted food troughs within this space.
                Philly's chief Orange-American Stephen Starr will open seafood spot Route 6, which is a dumbass name because it will be located on Route 611. Call it Route 611, dummy. Mark Vetri is looking to take advantage of the beer snobbery fad by opening his place, Birreria 600. Another fucking goofy-ass name. What is it, a Pizzeria for beer? At least he got the number right. Joe Volpe's catering place doesn't have a name yet but rumor has it that it will be called Fuck This Shit.

Big fancy-ass factory-style windows have replaced the old factory-style windows. This spot used to have a big curling ramp on it.
Fancy-ass windows being installed along the side that used to be garage doors and shit.
                I admire Eric Blumenfeld for following through on this project instead of scrapping it and saving himself the money/trouble. I met him at a fundraiser back in 2008 and asked him about this project. He said, "I'm waiting for the economy to get better before I go through with that one." and I didn't believe him. Well, he sure showed me. Too bad his plans for the Divine Lorraine fell through (and too bad the next developer's plan for the DV fell through as well).
                No one really knows what this thing's supposed to look like in the end but the renderings from 2006 are BUTT-ASS AWFUL. I remember seeing them way back when but I must have blocked them from my memory until I saw them again on Skyscraper Page. It more or less looks like a suburban housing development plopped on top of the old Wilkie:

Future Butt-fugly Building of the Week?
What's the pitch for this? "Experience urban living in a suburban house in the sky!"
                I'm gonna give EB the benefit of the doubt and say that the new plan is probably different from the 2006 rendering. It better fucking be.

Old-ass Building of the Week-- June 20th

U. S. Customs House

200 Chestnut Street

There's four whole sides like this!! Image by Bruce Andersen.
                    Holy Buttbang, take a look at this motherfucker. This is the kind of building you don't notice much from the ground but when you see it far away you jizz your pants a little. This is one of those cool-ass buildings that could never be built in today's shitty day and age because the materials cost would be astronomical. That's real bricks, real limestone, real granite, not that crappy plastic crap they put on buildings nowadays.The bottom is a stone pedestal that could almost be respected as a building upon itself. It then has a plus-sign shaped tower capped with a friggin lighthouse.
                  In 1913, the U.S. Customs House in Philadelphia was still located in Stickland's 1818 Second National Bank building. Officials that worked there were pissed. Why did they have to suffer in a nearly 100-year-old building (which meant something much different in 1913 than it does now) when other cities had these brand new high tech mega-facilities? They bitched and moaned to the federal government for 20 years until President Hoover told them to shut the fuck up and ordered a new building, knowing the plans couldn't possibly get finalized until after his term.
                  Then came FDR's New Deal. The Fed threw down 4.2 million dollars for the project. That's 60 million in today's dollars, the same price as the recent Royal Wedding. With all the extra bucks, they could go balls to the walls with this thing. The U. S. Customs House was going to be a landmark and they needed an architect that could pull it off. If you really wanted to make an impact in 1931, you called up Ritter and Shay.

Ritter and Shay wearing their American Instiute of Architects Award belts.
                Ritter and Shay, fresh from designing kick-ass buildings for Broad Street, took on the physical challenge. They wanted to take their time on it but Terry Heath, Secretary of the Treasury, was like "You dumbasses! Design that shit quick! I promised people jobs... and kickbacks!! Get on that shit, you dirty fucks!" With that, Ritter and Shay turned their eight storey box idea into a 17-storey Beaux-Arts Art Deco Lighthouse. They incorporated red brick to match the historical neighborhood they were in... a design decision that worked with this building but was copied over an over again in horrible ways throughout the city.
                This Castle of Cock-Crazy Commodores was finished in 1934, after 2 years of construction by 4,000 workers. The building was so big that the U.S. Customs offices didn't even fill the whole building. The Treasury Department threw their Coast Guard, Steamboat, and Lighthouse offices in there. The building was thought to be high-tech because it held the newfangled Radio Inspector arm of the federal government. They're still around now but they're called the FCC.
                 I don't usually talk about the interior details of buildings but this one is an exception. The lobbies and public spaces in this building are filled with beautiful murals and sculpture by local Philadelphia artisans of the time.
Aaaah it's moving aaaah
                 What a cool building. Because of the low-rise nature of Old City, this Tower of Tornado Monsters will continue to be prominent on the skyline despite it's relatively short stature. It shows the beauty that only a true brick-and-stone-cladded building can have. What would it look like if it was built in the 2000's? Today's crappy design would have made it out of plastic-looking fake stone and brick panels and a green roof would have been forced onto it. The windows would be much bigger, making it needlessly reflective. Hopefully no one will ever get the idea of doing something like that...

Gap Headquarters in San Fran. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
                    The Custom House just got added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 25th and  is covered in scaffolding while going through a nearly 24 million dollar restoration process and lighting plan. Hopefully that will bring it back to its original luster, as depicted in this postcard from the illustrious Age When Everything Was a Postcard.

The U.S. Custom house on a treeless peopleless carless signless lightless street. Image by Go buy one.
It even looks good covered in scaffolding!