Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dead-Ass Proposal of the Week-- September 15th

Mandeville Place

2401 Walnut Street

                       This one's a real pisser. The only reason this building doesn't exist is because of the stupid housing bubble. One could argue that the only reason this was ever proposed was the bubble, but fuck that. It's a shame to see a building that's fully approved just fall by the wayside because of market shit.
                       During the mid-00's building boom in Philly (and America), 500 nonillion condo highrise proposals appeared out of nowhere. There started to be so many of them that they all started to look alike. Out of the 34 vigintillion condo projects that all seemed to be on the way, Mandeville Place stood out as the most risky and badass.
                       This was going to be a 43-storey building with only 45 condos in it. Do the fucking math. That meant that most of the units inside were going to be entire floors of the skyscraper. That's fucking nuts. Even the mega-expensive 1706 Rittenhouse only has a handful of such units. This was going to be crazy. On top of that, it was going be a cool-looking-ass building!
                     The plan called for a 607-foot super-thin wall of glass that would rise from 24th and Sansom. The Rosenbluth Building at 2401 Walnut would be incorporated into the design with added retail and a garden/roofdeck/restaurant.

                      The developer, Bedrock Group, LLC, could have renamed themselves Badassery Associates, LLC if they finished this thing. Richard Meier and Partners Architects executed this kickass design. I'm not sure if I've EVER complimented a living architect before.
                      The saddest part about this project is that I can't even blame anyone or anything specific for its non-existence. No NIMBYs or Civic Associations fucked this one over. It was fully approved... construction was supposed to begin in March 2008. Contractors for every part of the building were engaged. Rumors of site prep swirled around the internet. Then.. the housing crash. Fuck. Needless to say, this is as dead as a dead dog's dick. What a shame.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- September 14th

The Schuylkill Permanent Bridge

Schuylkill River at Market Street

Market Street at the Schuylkill. It was a long fucking time ago.
                   So it's the late 18th Century and you're in Philadelphia. If you wanted to leave the city and go east or west, you would have to take an expensive-ass crowded ferry or otherwise cross a floating pontoon bridge. If it was raining or windy, you were fucked. The need for a sturdy bridge over either the Delaware or Schuylkill existed since Philadelphia's founding.
                  In the 1780's, Thomas Paine (yes, THAT Thomas Paine) designed a iron bridge that would span the Schuylkill River at High (Market) Street. Back then that was like designing a bridge to Bermuda. The design never came to fruition, mostly because nobody had any idea of how the fuck they would put it together.
                In 1797, Charles Wilson Peale (yes, THAT Charles Wilson Peale) designed a wooden bridge for the same spot and got a patent on how it would be constructed. On April 27, 1798, Governor Mifflin incorporated a group of private investors that would fund a stone bridge across the river.
                They called in engineering badass William Weston, Esquire from England to design a stone bridge and figure out how the fuck to build the supporting piers for it. Weston was an engineering badass and designed a special kind of coffer dam to get this thing going.
                 Construction began in 1800 with a budget of $200,000. As the piers were being built, the investors figured out that a stone bridge would be too expensive and they would need to build it out of wood. Benjamin Latrobe submitted a plan for the new bridge design but it must have sucked because there's barely any record of it.
                Then came legendary badass Timothy Palmer. This guy was a self-taught architect and bridge designer. He was like "Fuck Thomas Paine, fuck Charles Wilson Peale, fuck Latrobe too. I have a design for a wooden bridge that will span the Schuylkill and make every other bridge look like a bitch." He called it the Permanent Bridge, because it was designed to last 30 years.
                 Once the stone piers were complete, the wooden frame designed by Palmer was begun. Judge Richard Peters, president of the dudes funding the bridge, had a great idea. They could cover the bridge frame and roadway with more wood and protect it from the elements. Maybe the Permanent Bridge could survive for 40 years instead of 30! Palmer designed the cover with another architect, Owen Biddle. Sculptor William Rush decorated it with sculptures about commerce and agriculture and shit. Part of the bridge was painted with sand, stone, and plaster-infused paint so it would look like masonry.
Diagram showing the bridge frame and skin.
                     On January 1st, 1805, the 550-foot, way over-budget Schuylkill Permanent Bridge, the first covered bridge in America, opened. It instantly became a Philadelphia landmark. Tolls varied based on what you were driving across and how heavy it was. Rates ranged from 1 cent (for a single person walking) to $1.35 (for a six-ton load).
                 The bridge was a huge success, inspiring other wooden bridges to be built across the Schuylkill in Philadelphia and other cities along the river. Palmer went on to design a shitload of other covered bridges that dotted the nation. In 1850 to 51, the bridge was expanded to carry trains after most of it was destroyed by fire. Though it was built to last only 40 years, it managed to survive all the way from 1805 to November 20th, 1875, when it finally burned down.
                 An 1805 wooden bridge lasting 70 years? That's pretty fucking impressive. Though some consider the 1850 renovation an entirely new bridge, the piers that William Weston designed held it up. A plaque commemorating this bridge is on display at the current bridge at Market Street, which is officially called the Market Street Permanent Bridge. It's just one year younger than the 1805 one was when it was destroyed.

Look at that shit. Nice work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- September 13th

Philadelphia Beacons by Ray King

All Four Corners of Broad and Washington

Stupid. Picture from
               THIS is the so-called gateway to the Avenue of the Arts? Those pieces of shit? No wonder that corner has stayed empty lots for so long. These four so-called "light sculptures" might as well be 40-foot piles of donkey turds. The worst part is... it took five years and $522,420 to get these Towers of Turd Cement built! What a disgrace. As it turns out, god-tier levels of dumbassery from multiple city agencies was responsible.
                 It started in 1993, during the planning period for turning South Broad Street into the Avenue of the Arts. A contest was held to determine what pieces of public art would act as a symbol for this brave new world. After reviewing 476 submissions, 11 semi-finalists were chosen. Of those, two finalists made it to the end. One was by California artist Robert Coburn and the other was from Philaphile Ray King. Coburn's A-shaped Bells were chosen to line the Avenue and King's ugly fucking glass-and-stone towers were chosen as the "Gateway".
              The assumption was made that new developments would be happening all the way down to Washington Avenue (HA!) so the work was to be installed at Broad and Washington, one of the city's saddest corners. The "Gateway" would be called Philadelphia Beacons and be a sculpture made of "light"(ugh). That is to say, 41-foot-tall 20-ton pillars with black granite bases, stainless steel rhombuses, and over 1000 squares/triangles of laminated glass. Sort of like if four tornadoes formed over a construction site and a bunch of raw materials ended up squished together into these nasty forms.
             You'd think something like this would get built pretty quickly and we could sit here and lament their stupid choice (I'd hate to see the stuff they rejected!), but NO. Five years of dumbass bullshit preventing this thing from being built until the end of 1999. Ends up these monsters, which are 20 tons each, needed a 40 foot deep hole to sit in. King plotted spots for the holes to be bored, but when the stupid-ass Streets Department showed up they realized that the dig would interfere with pre-exiting utilities on the east side of Broad. They would need to put the eastern holes somewhere else.
             Instead of just moving the holes over to a reasonable location, they threw the hole over to a spot right next to a ADA curb cut at the corner of the sidewalk. King freaked out because he thought that he could get sued if someone was injured because of his ugly-ass sculpture's proximity to the ramp. The city and the Streets Department were assholes about it. They refused to move the curb cut and refused to release him from all fault if someone sued. They also refused to dig the holes somewhere else.

You can see in this picture how its right on the curb cut.
                 On top of all that, the city wanted the bases to be out of bad-ass Italian black marble instead of cement, but didn't want to pay for it. King quoted them a price and they supplied only about 1/3 of it. The shit got suspended and plywood boxes ended up sitting at the corner for years, causing Broad and Washington into an even bigger eyesore. King and the city went back and forth until the city started to threaten him with a suit in January 1999 for not getting started, even though they were the ones that caused him not to start. Fuckers.
                The city finally caved in July 1999 and construction began. The glorified ass-poles were unveiled on December 24, 1999 and went on to disappoint everyone who has seen them since. Gateway to the Avenue of the Arts? More like Gateway To Two Shamefully Gigantic Empty Lots and a Bunch of Fast-food Places/Gas Stations. It sucks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mystery Building of the Week-- September 12th

The Locust Rendezvous Building (aka American Protestant Hall aka Rugby Academy aka a shitload of other names)

1415 Locust Street

Now that's some nice shit.

                     Check this shit out... though it looks like shit now, this structure's facade reminds you that it was once a great building. This beast is not a mystery because of its origin... the history is known. The real mystery comes from how this structure has managed to survive for ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY ONE years without being noticed or acknowledged for almost that entire time.                                                        
                   The Locust Rendezvous Building is not on any historical register despite the fact that it actually is an historical building. A shitload of other buildings that aren't culturally, architecturally, historically, or even slightly interesting are listed on all kinds of historical registers and surveys but this one has managed to be completely ignored. NOT ANYMORE!                                                                                                                                It all begins with the American Protestant Association. They were a group founded in Philadelphia in 1842 that was composed of men that were extremely concerned about the spread of Catholicism in America. They were convinced that the Pope was attempting to take over America.
                       Two years after their founding, the club was a major player in the Philadelphia Bible Riots, a series of violent insurrections in Kensington and Old City. Needless to say, this club was a bunch of fucking troublemakers. By the late 1850's their organization had grown into dozens of chapters in cities all over America and managed to become a full-on gentleman's club along the lines of the Free Masons or Odd Fellows.

Philadelphia Bible Riots. Like a flash mob but more violent and about Jesus.
                          In the late 1850's the organization became concerned about protestant literature being suppressed (by Catholics, of course) and made plans to build a Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania that would include a library of writings regarding protestantism and the bible. They would call it the American Protestant Hall and Library Association. Since Locust Street was the so-called "Street of Libraries" at the time, they placed it at 1415 Locust Street. It was built in 1860.
                   For 1860, this building is the equivalent of a 20-30 storey building now. An 18,330 sq ft building was HUGE back then. This Tower of Testicle Juice Cocktails was large enough for multiple chapters to meet separately at the same time. Other organizations, like the Orpheus Club, would meet in there as well.
                    After about 20 years, Catholicism had not take over America yet and the many chapters of the American Protestant Association started to dissolve. This is when the building got into its second historical use, as the Rugby Academy for Boys and Young Men.
                    The Rugby Academy was a secondary school for rich-ass trustafarian kids to prepare for college. It was a small school, consisting of only 17 instructors. Though it only existed for about 20 years, it became THE breeding ground for captains of industry.
                   In 1900, 1415 Locust became another secondary school, the Catholic Military Academy. Pretty ironic that a Catholic school occupied a building that was built by an anti-Catholic hate-group. They only stayed in the place for a few years. In 1905 the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel purchased the old Hall with the intention of demolishing it for a parking garage. Obviously, it never happened.
                   At some point in the 00's decade, the building was converted to offices and became the headquarters of the American Ethical Union. They published their famous International Journal of Ethics from their offices there. In the teens, famous architect Clarance Edmond Wunder had his firm's offices there and designed a bunch of kick-ass art deco buildings that still stand today. He moved to the Lewis Tower(now the Aria Condo) down the street in 1924.
            After that, the building was occupied by an assload of office and storefront tenants. Bartlett Tours Travel Agency in 1926, Tune-Disk Records in 1948, Philadelphia Council for Arts, Sciences, and Professions in 1951, Keystone Records in 1952, Processing and Office Workers of America labor union in 1953, Baer Insurance Agency in the 1970's, Sidney M. Bert Associates engineers in 1979.
           The building was purchased by its current owner in 1988 for $76,900 and the Locust Rendezvous, the current storefront tenant, opened in 1991. After all those uses, functions, and tenants, 1415 Locust still has "American Protestant Hall" emblazoned on its crumbling facade.
           With all those uses and all those decades passing, you think someone would take a fucking picture of this thing once in awhile. I can't find shit. I was able to scrounge up a close-up of an aerial view from 1930, but other than that, niente!
            This poor building doesn't get any recognition. I mean really... this thing is from 1860 and is connected to numerous historical events and people. How did the myriad of historical commissions, societies, and fanboys in this city, state, and country manage to miss this one? Anybody reading this have old pictures of this thing? If you do, send them over to me at