Thursday, August 11, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- August 11th

First Regiment Armory Lot

Bounded by North Broad, 13th, Carlton, and Callowhill Streets

For shame!!!
                      Here's another lot that shouldn't fucking exist. It's a big hole in the middle of North Broad Street, marring the buildings around it with it's emptiness. Any improvement made on North Broad becomes useless as soon as people see this lot (and it's brother across the street). This Lake of Asphalt Lard creates a psychological barrier between Callowhill Street and all points south.  It's one of the more depressing empty lots in the city... the first building it had was also the last.
                      It wasn't just any building, either. It was a kick-ass awesome Great Wall of Icepick Neckstabs that took eight fucking years to build (1882-1890).

1894, on the horseshit-strewn dirt road that was North Broad Street. Check out the tower that Roman used to have.
                          Imperial Chancellor of Shitkicking James Hamilton Windrim was the architect of this, the First Regiment Armory, which was a BIG FUCKING DEAL when it was built. Military men from all over the tri-state area swarmed into Philadelphia for the groundbreaking.
                         On April 19th, 1882, A huge processional of over 600 soldiers and veterans marched up and down Broad Street from Chestnut to Bainbridge, then back up to the construction site at Callowhill. Once they arrived at the site, a fully-costumed Masonic ritual took place while the cornerstone was laid. Attendance was so high for the event that the following banquet had to be held at multiple sites. The day of celebration ended with a concert and reception at the American Academy of Music.
                         The building served as home to the 103rd Engineer Regiment, aka the Dandy First, which was supposedly founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1747. The building was used by the regiment occasionally but spent most of its life as the premiere venue for conventions and exhibitions. Auto shows, business expos, technology fairs, all the same kind of shit the current Convention Center holds were all held here first. Needless to say, this Fortress of Fingerbangs was much better than the coal yard that it replaced. An addition was added in 1904 to ensure slightly more kick-ass. It was designed by Architectural Shogun Warrior Charles Brooke.

With kick-ass ensuring addition.
                   Over the next 8 decades, the Armory stood unchanged as all of North Broad grew around it. After Convention Hall was built, this thing became pretty useless. By the late 20th Century it was falling apart. In 1959 the Dandy First moved out and continued their badassery over at 33rd and Arch, in a huge building they had been using since 1916. 

Towards the end.
                     Usually, when a building get's knocked down, I say it was "unceremoniously knocked the fuck down". In this case, I can actually say there was a ceremony when this fucker was destroyed. The Dandy First proudly said goodbye to this awesome building in 1979. Ever since then, it's been a fucking crappy surface parking lot.
                     Not just any surface lot, mind you. A surface lot elevated off the ground. The old foundation of the old Armory stayed intact and the surface lot was built on pylons. In July of last year, after 3 decades, the lot started to sink and needed to be replaced. The Philly blogosphere went apeshit thinking that there might be SOMETHING developed on this lot, but it ended up just being filled in and repaved as a brand new surface parking lot. Yay.

Here's a pic uploaded to Philadelphia Speaks by user eldondre when there was excitement over the possibility of development on this lot.
                        What a huge fucking disappointment that was. The future development of North Broad Street is contingent on this lot and others like it getting filled in. North Broad has less development now than it did in 19 fucking 40. Someone with a lot of dough needs to drive a dumptruck full of money up to Parkway Corp and get this thing erased. Get on that shit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Update!-- August 10th

                      Hello, this is Robert Stack. I've risen from the grave so that you can read this in my voice. Play this youtube video for the appropriate background music:

Update! One of the inspirations of this blog, the Robert Morris Building, has found a new developer and is continuing the renovation that was begun by Kimpton Hotels. This Imperial Fortress of Asskick will now be converted into apartments.

Update! Uncle Rusty's Reading Railroad Riverlot is now a small part of the Waterfront Master Plan that includes the building of hundreds of residential units. It will also be the subject of an architectural dig by Temple University, according to one of our readers.

Update! The Great NIMBY Memorial has a new proposal. Toll Brothers presented a new residential project for the site that will no doubt be squashed by NIMBYs over some trivial circumstance.

Update! The G. Fred Diboner Lot now has a pop-up garden that's been running for a few months. Go check it out!

                For every development, there's someone, somewhere, who knows the truth. Perhaps that someone is reading this. Perhaps... it's you. If you have any new or extra information relating to articles posted at Philaphilia, write to us at You need not give your name.

Lost Building of the Week-- August 10th

Drexel Building I

428 Chestnut Street

About as cool as the 19th Century gets... and that's saying something.
                     This building was cool as shit. An H-shaped MegaSuperCastle of Kickass built on top of a smaller Castle of Imperial Crotch Kicks. It doesn't get much better than this in the search for strange, beautiful, and unusual 19th Century buildings. What a damn wonder this must have been to the curly mustached motherfuckers of the time. Check out that horse-drawn carriage in the bottom of the drawing above. They're tearing ass around the corner, threatened by this building's awesomeness.
                     Drexel & Company Bank traces its origins in Philadelphia all the way back to 1837, when Austrian-born Francis M. Drexel founded it. Francis was a famous painter and had traveled the world. When he founded his bank, his ability to speak German and Spanish plus his world-travelling made him the most kick-ass money exchanger in Philadelphia.  Drexel & Company became one of the largest banks in America. His sons would later run the company after he died, then move on to shape America itself. Francis must have had some magical-ass sperm because he made some badass motherfuckers.
                    His youngest son, Joseph, worked for the bank until 1876, then financed the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and directed the Metropolitan Opera House. His eldest son, Francis Jr., was senior partner when Francis Sr. died. He became a super-rich motherfucker himself and had a daughter named Katherine who became A GODDAMN SAINT!
                   The middle son, Anthony, was the most successful and influential of all. He ran the bank until his death in 1893. Before that, he managed to start other banks in New York and Paris, one of which is still around as a little operation called J.P. Morgan Chase. Oh yeah, he's also known as the Father of Wall Street. No big deal, right? In 1891 he woke up one morning, started a college, and named the motherfucker after himself. I wonder how that ended up?
                    These accomplishments aren't shit in comparison to what Anthony did in the 1880's. In 1884, Anthony wanted a new building for the bank. Despite Drexel and Company's success, they were still working out of the same little building on 3rd Street for the last 47 years. Drexel Bank II was built at the corner of 5th and Chestnut in 1885, designed by Joseph Miller Wilson of the Wilson Brothers Architectural Mega-Syndicate Firm of Doom.
                    Anthony was unimpressed with the small size of the building. He started buying the plots of land around it with the intention of throwing on an addition. However, there was one problem. A kickass-looking bank building called Independence National Bank stood in the way and they weren't gonna sell to this asshole. Tony went back to Wilson and said, "Fuck those bastards. Build the addition around it!" and they did.

Now THAT is an addition.
                   The building they designed ended up being called the "Handsomest Bank Building in America" when it was finished in 1887. It was 10 stories tall and shaped like an "H". Back then, that was like saying it was 5,000 feet tall and shaped like an ampersand. It surrounded the Independence National Bank, cutting it off from all sunlight. This was ironic considering that The Drexel Building, as it was now called, was world-reknown for how much natural light could fill it's vast amount of space.
                   This bastard marvelled everyone who saw it for numerous reasons. One was that it was built in only seventeen months. Another was how it had an iron sketeton, which was high tech as fuck back then. Another reason to be impressed was that it was completely covered in marble. So much marble was used inside and out that the four largest marble quarries in America were completely cleaned out. Finally, and the most impressive, was that this beast was built right on top of the old building. Not a facadectomy, not demolished and rebuilt, built right ON TOP like it wasn't even there.
                  All the biggest and finest companies in the city moved in, along with the Wilson Brothers firm. This Hanging Gardens of Marble Roundhouse Kicks became nationally famous due to it's immense interior size. The building was so famous that businessmen would announce their mailing address as their office number. Wilson Brothers listed themselves at "1038 Drexel Building" for the remainder of it's existence. In 1888, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange moved in and stuck around until 1902.
                  As the decades passed, the Drexel and Company Bank got too cool for their own building. The financial district of the city had moved west in the early 20th Century and it wasn't fashionable for a bank to be in the old one. They built a new building in the 1920's on 15th Street that still stands today (as a Bally's Total Fitness). As time went on, the Drexel Building held many office tenants but began to fall apart. By the 1940's it was a dirty crumbled up H-shaped pile of shit.

Back of the Drexel Building in 1940.
                       Instead of a full restoration, which would be awesome, it was knocked the fuck down in 1956 in favor of the Independence Historical Grass Lot Collection. They needed the space to rebuild Library Hall, which was torn down by Anthony Drexel to build this beautiful motherfucker.

                          What a crock of shit. If this thing still stood, people would flagellate themselves in front of it because it's so awesome. The next time you're at 5th and Chestnut, take a piss on the Southeast corner in honor of this fine structure. Here's more pics:

This is what the floor looked like. The same spot is now grass.

Independence National Bank surrounded by the Drexel Building like the bitch that it is.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- August 9th

1700 Market (aka Industrial Valley Bank Building)

1700 Market Street

Concrete puke in the form of a building.
                        Now here's an unforgiving concrete pile of donkey shit. There should be a huge warning sign at the top of this motherfucker that says "See What Happens When You Build a Skyscraper Out of Sidewalk?" This browned-up tower of filth is was the tallest building constructed in the city during the 1960's. That's pretty fucking pathetic. It looks like the concrete brother-in-law of the Municipal Services Building.
                      This Tower of Cement Ballsacks is the result of horrible 60's-era fartchitecture. Industrial Valley Bank was one of the region's largest banks in the mid-20th Century. They were working out of offices scattered throughout the metropolitan area and needed a central office building. They decided to build it at 17th and Market, taking advantage of the new and successful Penn Center.
                       IVB wanted their new building to be "space age" so they called on the coolest new architects of the time, the firm of Marvin Levy Wurman. They came up with a slim tall skyscraper, but IVB rejected the fuck out of it for not being "space age" enough. They approved their second design, which was this:

The rendering. They thought it would stay white forever. HAHAHAHA.
                Yay, another building with a parking garage pedestal. IVB thought they were cool as shit with this thing. They wanted it to be built using the latest, greatest, and cheapest construction techniques. In 1967, that meant bringing in concrete panels on a truck and fastening them together like legos.

Under confucktion.
                        You know how in modern times everybody goes all apeshit over "green building techniques" and any excuse to say "sustainable" 5,000 times? This is what that building was like in 1967. They were so proud of being able to put up a 430 foot building so quickly and for such a low materials cost. The company that engineered the building even put double-truck ads in magazines and shit about it.

Is that Diane von Furstenberg? Probably not, just confused as to why there's a 1000-foot-tall woman inspecting the construction.
                        After the building was complete, it became the premiere piece of construction in the city. It was all shiny and white and dominated the western part of the skyline. It was even used as a staging area in the early 70's for a new city tourism campaign.

View from the west in the 70's. Did I mention it has a big blank concrete wall in the back?
Was already starting to get dirty by time the IBM building to the right was built.
                     By 1986 Industrial Valley Bank failed and the building was renamed 1700 Market, becoming another annoying building named after it's address. Within the next year Liberty One was built next door and in the next few years other taller buildings surrounded it, causing this pile of shit to fall into obscurity.
                    Currently, 1700 Market is a piece of shit. It was ugly in the 60's and even uglier now... it's all browned up and shit. Those super-smart motherfuckers who thought a concrete building was a good idea obviously never saw an old browned-up sidewalk and made the connection.
                    The building keeps changing hands between owners, which is always a bad sign. It was purchased by a Chicago developer in 2004 and was put up for sale only 7 years later. A Brooklyn investor is now into it, taking on the burden of it's 150,000 square feet of vacant office space. Good fucking luck. The only way you could improve this Rectangle of Rusty Elephant Balls is to knock it the fuck down.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- August 8th

Stephen Girard Building

21 South 12th Street

                       Wow, this is one hell of a building. This Hall of Holy Horse Apples is one of the oldest surviving highrises in the city and has managed to stay almost identical to it's original form. Most buildings this old get mangled beyond imagination over the decades, especially on the first floor. This building's facade is the same as the day it opened with the exception of a few missing balconies. This beast is a real survivor... many of the buildings that were built AFTER it have long been demolished.
                      It all begins with Stephen Girard. He was the great-grandpappy of super rich motherfuckers in the early 19th Century. He was literally the Bill Gates of his time, the richest man in America. Luckily for us, Girard was also a huge Philaphile. He loved the city and ended up giving over almost his entire fortune when he died to a trust dedicated to the betterment of Philadelphia and its citizens.

Stephen Girard 1750-1831
                       His estate was full of so much fucking property that it took seven years to figure it all out. A big part of his estate was funds dedicated to starting Girard College, a school for orphaned boys. This school was to be built on an entire city block that Girard purchased and developed in 1807 between 11th, 12th, Chestnut, and Market. However, some of Girard's property outside of the city had one hundred million dollars worth of anthracite coal in it, and the mining of that coal made the value of the Girard Estate skyrocket.
                      The skeezy group of City Councilmen who were running the estate had so much money they didn't know what to do with it. They decided to build Girard College outside of town on a much larger piece of property and commercially develop the 11th/12th/Chestnut/Market block. The commercial and retail buildings built on the block became among the most successful in the city, making the Estate grow even larger.
                    By the mid 1890's, the Estate had become super-gigantic despite millions of dollars already being invested. The people running it, now the Directors of City Trusts, were still working out of a dinky little office in the Girard Bank Building on 3rd Street and they wanted a huge commercial office building from which to conduct their badassery. They wanted their building to be on their successful commercial block, but didn't want to give up any commercial space to build it. They decided to have their Grand Castle of Kick Ass built at 21 South 12th Street, a small square of bounded by streets and alleys on all sides.
                    The Directors brought in Vice-Admiral of Roundhouse Kicks James Hamilton Windrim to design the new highrise. Windrim was famous as fuck at this point and had already designed most of 1890's Philadelphia's most badass buildings. He practically drew this thing with his eyes closed and managed to design an invincible fireproof mega-castle that would be the tallest building on 12th street (for a few years).

The rendering. You have to remember that there weren't many other buildings this tall in 1896.
                     Construction took a little longer than expected and the building opened almost a year behind schedule. Once it was done, it was considered a true masterpiece of modern office building design. The building was so popular that almost all of its offices were rented the day it opened, December 18th, 1897. Windrim liked his own design so much that most of the buildings he designed after it were sequels to this one.

Dominating the skyline like a motherfucker in 1899.
                        Only fifteen years later, the Directors of Trusts said "fuck this shit" and moved to the new Lafayette Building. The offices in the Stephen Girard Building went through tenant after tenant and renovation after renovation for 100 years until the present as the city grew around it.
                         The Girard Estate block, as it has come to be known, has entirely changed a few times over since then with the exception of this kick-ass building. After the building boom of the early 1930's, the Stephen Girard Building has been in the shadows of the PSFS Building, making it go unnoticed.
                         Nowadays, the time has finally come when this great building has become in danger of demolition. The rest of the Girard Estate block has become something of an albatross, now consisting of a chopped up low-end retail building on Market Street, a badly aged 1940's parking garage/retail building facing Chestnut, and a former department store annex serving as the city's extra Family Court space. A developer with a 90 year lease on the block intends on building a brand new Everything. Here's an old rendering from before the economy tanked:

Hard to tell if the Girard Building would be demolished for this or not, it's too short to show up from this view.
                         The most recent plan is a four-story retail building facing Market that may or may not encroach into the Stephen Girard Building's space:

Not to be a dick or nothin' but I've been calling this Gallery III.
                       These developments put this awesome building in danger. Being historically registered doesn't mean shit. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall was demolished despite being the third or fourth oldest building on Broad Street for the Convention Center Expansion. I'm not one of these crazy preservationists that will screw over the city's progress for an old building, but I really hope they can save this motherfucker. If it's replaced, please let it not be a glass box or plastic-looking fake-bricked monstrosity. Show Girard some respect.

1910's or so. 12th Street sure kicked ass back then.