Thursday, August 18, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- August 18th

NIMBY Memorial West (aka Design Lot, aka University Lot [You know it's bad when you're not the first person to name the lot])

313 South Broad Street

Don't be fooled by it's small size.
                  NIMBYhood claimed this victim in 1999 and never looked back. Like the Great NIMBY Memorial, NIMBY Memorial West is the direct result of whiny neighbors fucking over development just to get their way, no matter the cost. For shame!!! This lot is the biggest eyesore on the Center City section of South Broad Street, and that's saying a lot. At this point, you could build a giant concrete sculpture of my ass on it and I'll be happy.
                 This lot's first known life was as the residence of the Fell-Drexels, yet another 19th Century Philadelphia power couple. They built a mansion at 313 South Broad, set back from the street, back when the term "street" would be used rather loosely. It was more like set back from the 100-foot-wide horseshit and mud conveyor belt that was called "Broad Street" back then. After the Fell-Drexels moved to what we now call Fort Washington, the residence changed hands a number of times until purchased by the City Club of Philadelphia.
                The City Club was one of the many many many gentleman's clubs that existed in American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The City Club was much newer and different from the Freemasons, Elks, Oddfellows, Saint Georgians, Columbians, Scottish Riteys, and all the other groups of rich men that sat around smoking cigars and shit. The City Club was basically made up of all the assholes who weren't allowed in or thrown out of any of those other clubs for any number of reasons. Naturally, they were the fastest growing gentleman's club of the era. They spread into Philadelphia in 1905.
                In 1916, they purchased the Fell-Drexel property and built their own five storey clubhouse around and in front of it for the then-hefty sum of 250 Stacks.

                       The Hall became a party spot for members and a rentable venue for small events. Decades later, after the Philadelphia chapter of the City Club disbanded, the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts used it for studios and performance space. They built a theater inside and called it "Theatre 313". The school gave the building the creative name Philadelphia College of Performing Arts Annex.

The Annex Building in 1978.
                      After the PCPA joined with 2 other schools and became part of the University of the Arts, Theatre 313 continued to stay in use. In 1995, U. Arts received a massive grant from rich motherfucker Daniel Terra and went apeshit with it. They purchased the Pennsylvania Lumberman's Building and planned a new 17-storey dormitory that would replace the old City Club building, among other improvements.

Hey, it's hard to find a rendering from the 90's. It's too old to be relevant and not old enough to be archived somewhere!
                      It was going to be awesome... a new highrise for Broad Street that would contain a brand new three-storey art gallery and space for 374 students. This was the key to saving this forlorn stretch of Broad Street. Four years of planning and thousands of dollars later, demolition of the City Club began. Then came... the NIMBYs.
                     Residents of the 300 block of Juniper Street lost their damn minds! How dare a private property owner build a 17 storey building on a city's primary street without consulting them on every detail!!! Like the recent situation with the Dog Park, the nearby citizens had no idea that this project was even happening until the demolition, despite U. Arts and the Avenue of the Arts Inc. mentioning it at every fundraiser, graduation, exhibition, press release, and event  for 4 years straight.
                    The NIMBYs were so blindsided by this that they just started making up shit in order to fuck the project over. Leon Chudzinski, then president of the Washington Square West Civic Association, said "...with 17 floors, the dorm would tower over other buildings in the vicinity by more than 10 stories... ...This is something that isn't within scale with the rest of the community", which is complete unadulterated bullshit. Center City One is LESS THAN A HALF BLOCK AWAY from the site and is THIRTY FUCKING STOREYS!! Fuck you, Chud.

Center City One as seen from the neighborhood in question.
                       The NIMBYs literally complained about every aspect of the project, even down to what materials would be used in the construction, as if they should have ANY kind of say on that. The project got delayed and delayed as NIMBYs fucked with U. Arts and the project stalled like a motherfucker. Thanks, assholes.
                       What goes through their heads? This isn't fucking Shanghai where a 2,000-foot skyscraper with six 800-foot support buildings will be built in your damn back yard. I suspect that many of these neighbors owned property that they often rented out to U. Arts students and were threatened by new modern student housing taking their customers.
                     The University still needed the dorm space so they gave up the plan and made a deal with the owner of the former Social Services Building at 311 Juniper Street, which was already in the process of being converted into apartments. Ironically, the Social Services building is located on the same block as all the residents that gave them shit. You can spot it in the middle of the picture at the top of the article. The NIMBYs freaked out and went for the jugular. In this case, there wasn't much they could do and the project was completed. Good. Fuck 'em.
                     After 1999, the NIMBY Memorial West just sat there with a shitty chain link fence in front of it for a few years until U. Arts started using it as an outdoor Art Gallery and Exhibition Space. This is a pretty good use for an empty lot but I'd rather have a building. Any other use stands as a reminder of how a few disgruntled residents stopped a perfectly good project on Philadelphia's primary street. What a fucking shame.

This is how it looked on Tuesday, August 16th.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- August 17th

Victoria Theater (aka Nicklette Theater)

913 Market Street

Holy shit what the fuck is that!?
                   This one has been driving me nuts since I acquired the photo above for my collection on May 6th. Just look at that thing. What was it? Shrine of Saint Kickass? Church of the Consumption of our Lard? Tomb of the the Unknown Klingon? The damn thing looks ancient. And BUTT-ASS AWESOME!
                   I bought the photo from a junk store... the first thing I do at any such store is ask whoever's in charge if they have any old Philly photos or renderings. 99 times out of 100 they say "Fuck no, get the fuck out!" and 9 out of every 10 times that they say "yes", they dig up some old picture of Independence Hall.
                  This time was different. The old man in charge of the place not only said "yes", but also whipped out the photo above. At first, I didn't even believe it was Philly, but after recognizing the Horn & Hardart's next door I realized that I was being presented with a lost-ass Philadelphia building I didn't know about. I was excited as fuck. I was able to find all kinds of info on lost buildings for this blog and figured this one would be a piece of cake. I couldn't be more wrong. I searched and searched but could only find bits and pieces.
                 After digging around for 4 months and asking everyone I knew, I finally found out some shit. The building was called the Victoria Theater and it was on the north side of Market between 9th and 10th. The place had vaudeville acrobat shows and this 1910 photograph has been used in a number of history books that speak on American child labor in the early 20th Century. Accompanying info says that the kids were performers at the Victoria Theater of Philadelphia:

The kids are like "Keep digging, mothafucka!"
                     After that, I hit a wall and couldn't find shit. I went on to tell anyone who asked me about this blog about how I couldn't find anything on the Victoria Theater and how much it pissed me off. Finally I ended up running into a theater buff online who thought I was an asshole for not knowing anything about this place. I never caught the person's name but they pointed me in the right direction. Thanks, anonymous stranger.
                   It all begins with Siegmund Lubin, one of the pioneers of American film-making and known Philaphile. An optics dealer, he became fascinated with the invention of moving pictures and decided he would create his own films and cameras and start a movie business. He got sued up and down for copyright infringement (with good reason, pretty much every aspect of his company was copied off someone else) throughout his career but was not deterred. He started a movie studio in Philadelphia (in his backyard) in 1897 and continued to expand, eventually becoming one of the largest studios in the country.
Famous 1899 photo of Lubin's rooftop studio.
                     Film was such a new medium that there really wasn't such thing as a movie theater at the time. Lubin visited some early movie theaters to figure out how they worked and started building his own all over the eastern half of the country. He became massively successful and is credited with beginning the movie business as we know it. In 1908, he set out to build a new Philadelphia theater to add to the collection, this time much bigger and more luxurious than his previous efforts.
                   He approached some badass architects, George Stearns and Horace Castor, and said, "Alright you fucks, I need a movie theater that can hold 900 motherfuckers. It needs to be at least 70 times more badass than any other one I have." Stearns and Castor were already well-known at this point and had already put up some of Philly's coolest buildings and mansions, many of which still stand today. They practically did this one in their sleep and it turned out AWESOME.

Photo from when it began kicking the 900 block of Market Street's ass.
                  It opened in 1908 as the Nicklette Theater and it kicked ass. It would later be used as an example of how to build a huge movie theater. Only a few months after it opened, Lubin was like "fuck this shit" and sold his entire chain of theaters in order to pay for his massive new studio he was to build in North Philadelphia. The place was renamed the Victoria Theater and continued to show Lubin films in addition to vaudeville acts.
                The place lived on for 4 more decades, showing everything from feature films to burlesque acts. The super kick-ass facade got all covered in crud and the theater eventually became the most blighted thing on the block.

From about the same time period as my photo. Check out the Strawbridge's Building in the background.
                    The Victoria Theater was demolished in 1950 and the rest of the block got demolished in the 1970's for the building of the... wait for it... Gallery at Market East. What a damn shame. Could you imagine what it would be like if this building was still around and restored? Fuck the Troc, this place would be one of the coolest concert venues in the city.  Scott Columbus would have drummed his fucking dick off on that stage and Lord Ezec would love to kick this place's ass! Well, someone could always rebuild the motherfucker. Here's the blueprints! The perfect spot for it would be in tomorrow's Empty Lot of the Week.

No, seriously.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Go vote for Philaphilia as Philadelphia's Most Valuable Blogger!!

                   Thank you to whoever nominated this shit for Most Valuable Blogger! Now it's time to vote. You can vote every day until September 9th!! Go Vote Now!

Butt Fugly Building of the Week-- August 16th

Three Parkway (aka Pennwalt Building)

1601 Cherry Street

                 You know how I always complain about concrete buildings and glass facade buildings and say, "What happened to bricks? What's wrong with a brick facade?" This is the building that you can use to shut me the fuck up. It looks like the giant maroon tombstone of Spincthor, the Norse god of ass-picking.
                  Its not as ugly as it is boring. No one would notice this thing if their were tall buildings surrounding it.. it would just fade into the background. Unfortunately, this building faces the Ben Franklin Parkway and EVERYONE gets to notice how crappily tedious the brick facade is.
                 In the late 1960's, The Friends' Select School, a private school in Center City, had an antiquated facility that was falling apart. They couldn't afford to renovate, move to the burbs, or build a new building. G. Lawrence Blauvelt, the Headmaster of the school, recalled how store owners in the city commonly lived over their stores, saving money on rent. He proposed leasing one of their three acres for a commercial office building that would in turn pay for the cost of their new school building.
               After some long-ass negotiations, they made a deal with the Pennwalt Chemical Corporation. Pennwalt would rent the land on a 99 year lease and build a 20-storey office building. The new school building could be built at the same time, using the buttload of dough Pennwalt threw down on the agreement. Construction began in 1968.

Under confucktion. If only they knew...
                     Once completed in 1969, people made a big fucking deal over the agreement and touted the "Joint Occupancy" method as the WAY to get shit built. Other cities copied the model throughout the 70's. Good for them, but why did they have to do it with such a boring-ass ugly fucking building? Just look at that fucknugget. The combination of a squarish North/South profile and extremely vertical windows is the incongruousness that brings the Pennwalt Building into the uncanny valley.

Pennwalt when it was new and just as ugly.
                    Pennwalt Chemical rocked the first 6 floors of this shitpile and sold the buiding to Goldman Sachs in 1984, renting the office space from them thereafter. Goldman Sachs hung onto it for only 5 years before selling it off. In 1989 Pennwalt got bought out by a French company and later moved to King of Prussia. The building saw tenant after tenant until 2001, when Reliance Insurance Company, then the building's largest tenant, went out of business.
                   The now antiquated (and still ugly) building languished half-occupied for 4 years until then-Governor Rendell threw a bunch of money at a relatively new company called ExcelleRx, which was rapidly outgrowing it's crappy offices in the equally butt-fugly Penn Mutual Tower. ExcelleRx moved into the building and emblazoned their name on the top in green. Good effort, but the building is still ugly and boring as fuck.
                  Many people think that the Friends' Select School building is part of this building... they are wrong. Friends' Select owns the land, but the Pennwalt Building, now called Three Parkway (which is not even its address!), is privately owned and stands eighteen inches apart from the school. Those Friends should have Selected more carefully. One minute of observing this building is equal to 20 hours of observing a blank bathroom tile. Fuggit.

The cake they made of it for the Topping Out Ceremony is better looking than the real one. Pathetic

Monday, August 15, 2011

Old-ass Building of the Week-- August 15th

Daniel J. Terra Building (a.k.a. Corzo Center a.k.a. Pennsylvania Lumbermens Building a.k.a. Ritz Carlton Philadelphia)

201 South Broad Street

A ghost of it's former self.
                        What a kick-ass building this once was. Not that it's so horrible now, it just doesn't really stand out the way it did when it was in its prime. Very few ever realize that this building is 100 years old. It's been mangled, then mangled again, then unmangled in its long and noteworthy life. It should be proud... this Tower of Crushed Testicles was briefly the city's most popular destination.
                         So popular, in fact, that its very creation is somewhat mythical. The legend has it that Philadelphia's most badass turn-of-the-20th Century power-couple, Geleanor (George Widener and Eleanor Elkins), was responsible. You see, George and Eleanor were the spoiled trustafarian offspring of two great Philadelphia dynasties. Their marriage was the thing of gossip and scandal.

People Magazine November 6, 1911.
                      It all started in 1911. Eleanor attended a fancy-ass party at the Bellevue Stratford and got kicked out by the bouncer for lighting a cigarette. This pissed off her rich-ass husband... the Bellevue Stratford was the finest hotels in America and it would fuck over his social life if he and his wife were not able to go there for the great cotillions, balls, and orgies (that's not a joke) enjoyed by the uber-rich Philadelphians of the era.
                     George was like, "Motherfucker, I'm going to build a much more luxurious hotel right across the street! All the other rich motherfuckers will love to be able to smoke during their group sex!". At the same time, the Ritz Carlton series of hotels was flourishing in Europe and announced its intentions to expand into North America. Widener was like, "Check and Mate, motherfucker.", hiring Grand Champion of Asshole-Wrestling Horace Trumbauer to design it. What he turned out became legendary.
                         Now I don't know if Ritz-Carlton had some kind of brand-imaging design guidelines or if Trumbauer just liked to knock off other architect's designs, but this building's facade is suspiciously similar to architect Charles Wetmore's NYC and Atlantic City Ritz locations. Either way, the building still kicked ass. It was the most super-high-tech and luxurious hotel in America.
                   This beast opened in 1912 and was built with only 49 super-expensive-ass rooms. The rest of the building was filled with restaurants and ballrooms. There was a buffet in the basement, a cafe in the lobby, a gigantic main restaurant on the 2nd floor, private dining rooms on the fourth floor, and a gigantic kitchen that served them all that took up the entire third floor.
                   Geleanor was so goddamn excited about it that they went to France to find the most badass chef possible. They wanted their patrons to have the real deal, not some American dude who cooks French food. If their customers didn't hear the chef say "sacre bleu!" every so often they would be pissed. On their way home, shit didn't go too well, and only Eleanor came back. Geleanor was no more.

George Widener as depicted by Guy Standing Jr. in the appropriately named 1957 film, Titanic.
                         The hotel was so goddamn popular that an addition was planned within its first year of operation. It wasn't just any addition. They more than doubled the width of the building in the east, added a piece to the south, and added two floors of awesomeness to the top.

Addition under confucktion in 1914.
                    The addition took forever to build. Once the project was complete, it became the most badass hotel in the universe AND you can smoke inside!! The place was so luxurious that the stone facade along the bottom was wrapped ALL the way around, even on the back of the building that faced an alley and that barely anyone would see.

This picture from 1914 shows the Ritz-Carlton in full-scale badassitude.
                         The place did splendidly for decades but eventually the hotel failed in the early 1950's. A plan came into place to forever mar this beautiful building and convert it into crappy offices for the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company.

Here's the rendering for the horrific mangling of the former Ritz.
                  What the fuck were they thinking? They wanted to rip up all the beautiful stone details and replace it with glass! To add insult to injury, the conversion they actually executed was even WORSE! After ripping off the limestone that Geleanor had moved halfway across the country to install, they tacked on a super-crappy plastic-looking grid of turds. The result would then be called the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Building for the next three decades.

The crap facade in 1990's.
                    Some time later, more fucking-up was done. They ripped down the awesome crown that topped the building and replaced it with a box of brick with a shitload of small windows. I guess the crown was much too awesome for those Lumberfucks. In the 1980's, Pennsylvania Lumbermens moved the fuck out and the building was just a shitty pile of offices until it was acquired by the University of the Arts in the 1990's.      
                    Thankfully, someone at U. Arts woke the fuck up and realized that the building should be returned to it's former grandeur. They ripped off the grand grid of shit and used a fiber-reinforced cast stone to replicate it's original intricately detailed 2nd to 5th floor. It's a good thing Trumbauer wrapped the limestone detailing around the back of the building. It was used as a guide.

Limestone facade from the bum bathroom behind the building.
                         This unassuming building is now on it's third life as an educational and performance center for the University of the Arts, probably living on a lot longer than Geleanor ever intended. The first floor has retail spaces installed in the 1950's conversion that have a mysterious ability to keep their tenants in business. I mean really, have you ever even seen someone walk into that Robinson's Luggage?
                          Geleanor has many living descendants. They should go on down to Broad and Walnut and show some respect for their great-grandpappy's work and smoke a cigarette inside.