Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dead-Ass Proposal of the Week-- October 13th

The Unknot Tower

1122 Chestnut Street

Well its different, I'll give it that.
                     This is a proposal that probably had almost no chance at the get-go but would have been somewhat cool if it actually managed to happen. This is the Unknot Tower, a silly-looking but kind of interesting thingamajig that was proposed for a location that could use such a building... the 1100 block of Chestnut. I can't argue with the placement. That stretch has had some really bad luck for the past few decades.
                    This was proposed by Gagandeep Lakhma's CREI, the sorry-ass developer that went out of business when their crappily built American Lofts project went into the shitter. Funny, I grew up with a kid named Gagandeep... I used to call him Golden Shit (hey, I was 8). Anyway, this proposal came along in March of 2008, when like 9000 proposals for cool-ass highrises and skyscrapers were flooding the Philly interwebz community.
                    I admit, I was one of the suckers that got excited about this thing. A 23-storey triangular building stuffed into this little double-lot on the crappiest part of Chestnut? Score!! Part of my excitement was that I would be able to watch this beast be constructed from my house, a pleasure I did not get until the top of the Residences at the Ritz was built.
                   I nearly creamed myself the day I saw Zoning Notices on the shitty buildings that needed to be demolished for this thing to happen. I actually became convinced that I would see this crazy motherfucker go up! It was like a dream! Ends up it WAS just a dream. I'll give some props to the architect, Winka Dubbeldam (?!?!??), for coming up with an idea that isn't another bunch of colored boxes with asymmetrical uneven windows like every other proposal that seems to be coming down the line.
                Right now, the rear of the two buildings that would have been demolished for the Unknot is covered with scaffolding... anyone know what's going on there? Hopefully some millionaire developer with kryptonite balls will find Winka's design and make it happen.

It wasn't just crazy from the outside.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- October 12th

South Street Bridge I

Crossing the Schuylkill at South Street

                This was the first South Street Bridge. A wrought iron cage with a rotating draw-section in the middle, all supported by iron cylinders filled with masonry. Though it doesn't look like much today,  the scandal and saga associated with this bridge being built makes the controversy over the new South Street Bridge seem like child's play. All the bitching and moaning people did about the new one is nothing compared to the crap that went on about this beast.
                    In the late 1860's, the need for yet another bridge over the Schuylkill arose. Say you wanted to go to the Blockley Almshouse from Center City. You would have to haul your ass up to Walnut Street, wait in a long line of horse carriages and shit, cross over, then trudge your ass down some unsidewalked mud and horseshit filled road over to the almshouse. A bridge at South Street would make that trip a lot quicker.
                 A bridge in this spot presented some challenges. Not only do you need to cross a river, you also need to cross over a shitload of train tracks that were laid on either side of it. The full length of the bridge would have to be 1,934 feet and seven inches. Back then, that might as well be 5,000 miles. On top of that, an assload of huge ships would come down the Schuylkill all the time... you either had to make the bridge really tall or put a draw-section into it.
                 Mega-badass engineer John W. Murphy took on the physical challenge. He had already made a career of designing all kinds of bridges over seemingly impossible areas, and conveniently, he lived in Philadelphia. This guy worshiped iron and knew everything about it. He was commissioned by the city on March 30th, 1870 and construction began in 1872. 
                 His design was the shit. For the piers, he stacked a bunch of 10 foot long and eight foot wide cylinders on top of each other. Each small section weighed 14,600 pounds. Then he filled them all with a shitload of rocks and brick. This would have no problem holding up the comparatively light bridge deck. Then he put a gigantic pier in the middle that was capable of rotating while holding up to 400 tons. This was how ships would get by. The pivoting pier bumped the budget up to $865,000. Series of stone arches held the bridge up over the train tracks on either side.
                  Having a an experienced engineer on the job had advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was that this guy was able to design this complicated-ass iron monstrosity and pivoting draw bridge with his eyes closed. The disadvantage was that this guy was old as fuck. He ended up dying while the bridge was being built in 1874. This is when all the drama began. 
                The Phoenix Iron Company, the contractor supplying all the iron (actually they were just melting down old army cannons and reforming them), had made an agreement with Murphy to be paid for their iron as it was delivered, instead of taking a lump sum of cash from the beginning. Murphy had even gotten a letter from the City Controller authorizing the deal. After Murphy died, the city government, in their traditional corruptness, denied any such deal took place and refused to pay for any more iron. Phoenix therefore stopped delivering iron and the bridge sat half-built for years. 
                The lawsuit filed against the city by Phoenix ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court basically laughed at our corrupt-ass city government and awarded Phoenix their damn money, which the city had been conveniently hiding in a secret account. The Bridge's construction continued and was finally completed in 1876.

                  Shortly after construction, other problems arose. The iron piers started to crack up and had to be repaired with iron band-aids. On February 10th, 1878, the stone arches of the western approach, the section that went over train tracks, came crashing down. It was replaced by a wooden approach until an iron skeleton-built approach was constructed in December 1885. The crappily-constructed bridge lasted until 1921, only staying in operation for 45 years. 

The bridge in the last year of its life, with iron western approach replacement.
                This bridge, despite its many setbacks, is a lot better looking than the crappy highway overpass that is the new South Street Bridge. Not that this bridge would have been very useful today... it wasn't very wide... but at least someone was thinking about some style points for small bridges back then. A few bridges from this one's era still survive and are full of modern vehicular traffic... the Calhoun Street Bridge in Trenton is even built of iron from the same iron company.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- October 11th

cirque, CIRQUE by Judy Pfaff

Inside the old Reading Terminal train shed

Piss Christ, what the fuck were they thinking? Pic by fermicat.
                       This giant intestinal tapeworm really chafes my anus. It's called Percent for Art, not Percent for Shit. You're gonna take a great work of art like the Reading Terminal train shed, the last surviving one of its kind, and muddle it up with this mess? This $400,000 mess?
                       Back in 1992, the Great Wall of Pennsylvania a.k.a. the Pennsylvania Convention Center was still being planned. To satisfy its Percent for Art requirement, a search went out for artists that would enhance the super-massive interior space with public art. Instead of hitting up the 5 vigintillion great artists that already work and reside in Philadelphia, a call was put out to artists from everywhere but here, especially New York.
                      The lady in charge of finding artists liked the work of Judy Pfaff, so she specifically invited a submission from her for the largest piece of art of all, a work that would fill the 70,000 square foot Reading Terminal train shed. Pfaff was the only artist that was specifically targeted, and what a coincidence, they picked her proposal. Though it's not the first piece of art to have a stupid name, she gave it an especially disastrous one... cirque, CIRQUE. It's like someone's saying "cirque" and then yelling it at you.
                     This monstrosity was built over seven months in a barn in Putnam County, New York by Pfaff and six assistants, May-December 1994. They used/wasted 7 miles of steel and aluminum tubing, 150 gallons of auto paint, and 120 glass orbs bringing this thing to life.

Materials being wasted for the piece in 1994.
                    It was trucked in hundreds of pieces to Philadelphia just to wait in storage while the train shed was used for the movie Twelve Monkeys to stand in for the Philadelphia International Airport. Once installed in July of 1995, nobody noticed or gave a shit. The Convention Center had already been open for awhile and visitors just walked under it without a care in the world ever since.
                     A New York Times article written shortly after laments that Pfaff made "only" $40,000 on the piece and how the so-called Art World doesn't care about public art, therefore making the work was a waste of time. Elite snobs. I don't think that public art is ever a waste of time or money... many great pieces can be found in this city... I just lament this thing because it sucks.
                  Albert Paley also submitted an idea for the train shed. Anyone out there have a pic of it? I've always liked his shit... I bet it would have turned out better than this mess. Oh, and would it kill whoever plans shit like this to use a Philadelphia artist once in awhile? It's not like there's a shortage of 'em.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mystery Building of the Week-- October 10th

Charles P. Mills & Son Photography

699 Ranstead Street

There it is.
                    Ok, so a lot of people have been complaining about how I shit on mid-century modern architecture... however, I don't hate all of it. Here's a building from the mid-20th that I actually like. It fits well on the street and does this cool shit where on one side you see none of the 7th Street-facing windows, then on the other side, bam! There they are!

                     The problem is, information about this building is lacking, and I mean information in the most basic sense. The architect... the construction date... the EVERYTHING! Its like this thing doesn't exist. I'll just have to tell you what I know about it.
                Charles P. Mills and Son Photography was a commercial photo processing company. They would develop and enhance pics that would be used in magazines, catalogs, advertisements, all kinds of shit. The business started in May of 1957 and was well-known in the industry until digital cameras came along and kicked the shit out of 'em. The company ended up folding on December 30th, 2004.
                 It's unknown if this building was constructed for this company or if they just moved into it. They operated out of a couple of different buildings until they moved into this one in 1966. All I know is that this building was part of one of the many redevelopment plans that have happened in this neighborhood.
                 The building has been for sale ever since the company moved out. The price was 3.2 Million dollars for the 15,024 sq. ft of space. The real estate listing brags about removing the height restriction for the space and even sneaks in a rendering of a building that you could build on the spot if you demolished this beast.

Just a suggestion, I guess.
                 This mystery has a silver lining. After 8 years sitting empty(save the Atwater Kent/Philadelphia History Museum's offices on the 4th floor), this cool-ass building finally has a new occupant. PhillyCAM, Philadelphia Community Access Media (Philly's Public Access Television Station), is opening a brand new media center inside the Mills Building on October 12th, two days from now.
                I'm glad that this building is going to be in use, but the mystery still remains... who's the architect, when was it built, and what the fuck?