Thursday, October 20, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- October 20th

Rittenhouse Sorrow Lot

1907-1915 Walnut Street

                                 This is one of the most famous Empty Lots in the city. This is the damning lot of doom that has plagued the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood for 16 years. This piece of shit has seen it's share of Dead-Ass Proposals but is now just sitting there with no plans.
                                This stretch of Walnut was once fine row of mansions reserved for Philly's most elite motherfuckers. The fine old house just to the left of the lot belonged to William Wanamaker. The rest of the fine homes that once stood on this lot got either replaced or mangled up beyond recognition by the mid 20th Century. There was one lone motherfucker that managed to survive relatively intact. This was the Francis L. Potts Mansion, designed by Joseph Huston, a student of Furness.

Francis L. Potts Mansion in 1986. You can see the William Wanamaker Mansion way over to the left.
                     On December 14th, 1994, a massive fire consumed the old house and manage to damage the shit out of the ugly-ass buildings that were on either side.

The butt-fugly Eric's Rittenhouse Square Theatres, built 1968, modified 1985, ugly as fuck!
                     The insidious PPA took interest in the condemned fire-damaged properties and demolished them in 1995 with the intention of parking cars... thus began the life of this grassy stink-hole. On September 12th, 2007, the Dublin-based Castleway Properties bought the lot for THIRTY-SEVEN MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS with the intention of building a 525-foot L-shaped residential skyscraper on it. Funny, the tax records say they only bought it for $1.
I could fux with it.
                          Only eight months later, they gave the fuck up. They did one of those "information only" presentations, but after that, nothing.  Speculation arose over whether there would be a different project here instead by the same developer or if something completely different would be coming. I seem to remember another proposal for this spot that looked like a ziggurat with green roofs all over it... maybe I dreamed it.
                          This lot's only claim to fame at this point is that the owner is a fucking dirty shitbag tax cheat. This property is one of the many many many tax delinquent properties that have gained attention in the last few months. This lot's tax bill is $145,253.88 a year. Pay the fuck up!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- October 19th

Second Philadelphia Mint

NW Corner of Chestnut and Juniper

Strictly Stricklandious!
                       Here's another great structure from the age when Philly was known as the "Athens of America". People take Greek Revival buildings for granted but don't realize that in the early 1800's, this shit was like a 4,000 foot skyscraper.
                       In 1827, the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia was facing a problem. They had been working out of this dinky little building just north of Seventh and Market, but the demand for coinage was at an unbelievably high level and they could not keep up no matter how many additions or pieces of new equipment they acquired. In December of 1828, the workers at the Mint begged the chairman of the House of Representatives Mint committee to build them a new place, much larger and more modern of any mint in existence.
                      Congress took the matter very seriously, feeling guilty that they allowed the country's monies to be manufactured in an oversized rowhouse for the last 30 years. On March 2nd, 1829, they passed a bill creating a new U.S. Mint, this time so big that it would fill the country's needs for generations. They purchased a huge plot of land at the northwest corner of Juniper and Chestnut, which was at that time a no-mans' land. Here is where the mega-mint would be built.
                       For such a monumental design, they needed a monumental architect. Enter William Strickland. This motherfucker didn't fuck around. He gave them a white marble Grecian Temple dedicated to the manufacture of Scrilla that had some of the biggest interior spaces you could find outside of a cathedral. On July 4th, 1829, the few Masons left in Philly (Freemasonry was in decline at the time) got their aprons on and laid the cornerstone for this monster. Construction took 4 years.

When it was new. It may not look like much now, but in 1833 this was a big fucking deal.
                          When the new mint first opened, they just carted over the shitty equipment they were using at the old building and the stuff they churned out looked like crap. The mint sent out a scout, Franklin Peale, to go check out (spy on) European coinage methods and steal their ideas. Two years later, Peale's return co-incided with a noticeable upgrade in coining technology at the mint.
                        Decades passed and the mint stayed in continuous use, as so it was designed. The city grew though and past it. Technological upgrades and additional mints in other cities (some designed by Strickland) kept the building useful up into the 1870's.
                         In 1881, the building was falling apart and started to become too small to meet the demands of the age. An addition was planned that was to be constructed in 1885. Congress authorized the design and threw some money at it, but it ended up becoming a classic Philadelphia Dead-Ass Proposal. Instead, Congress just said, "Fuck it, build a new one.", and they did in 1901.

The planned addition. I'll tell ya, it's not bad!
                        After the mint moved to their new digs, the building at Juniper and Chestnut was demolished and was replaced with the Mint Arcade until 1914, when the Widener Build was built. That building is pretty cool but it would have been nice if this thing was still around. Good job, Strickland.

The mint looking pretty haggard in 1895.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Butt Fugly Building of the Week-- October 18th

Penn Mutual Tower Addition II

530 Walnut Street

                      Ah jeez, another building made of sidewalk. So they took not one, but TWO cool-looking old buildings and fucked them over with this glass-walled concrete monstrosity. What's worse is that this fuckbucket is across the street from Independence Hall, so this is some of the first Philadelphia architecture seen by people all over the world. That's a shame, right there.
                    The Penn Mutual complex is actually an interesting melange of architectural styles from different periods. There's a 1913-built section, 1931-built section, and then this 1976 cemento-castle with an 1835 facadectomied John Haviland Egyptian Revival. It started in the late 1960's. Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company wanted to throw yet another addition on to their multi-building, but wanted to save the ancient 1835 Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company building that still survived on the same block.
                   In 1970 they found the Great Satans of Philadelphia, Mitchell and Giurgola, and asked them to complete the physical challenge. These two dumbshits came up with a building that would connect the old John Haviland building's facade with the other Penn Mutual Tower using a humongous mishmash of window and sidewalk, looking like a giant Monolith of Turd-Colored Asscheese.

They made the rendering look sleek so the Penn Mutual guys would be fooled.
They did the same thing with the model. Made it look like it wasn't made of sidewalk.
                    People lost their shit when they saw those renders. They thought this thing was going to be some kind of futuristic Tron-type building design with the Haviland facade incorporated. As the building started to be constructed in the early 70's, it became obvious that this piece of shit was just gonna be another Mitchell Giurgola concrete jumble of garbage.

Under confucktion.
                       Once it was complete, it was hailed as an amazing piece of modern architecture. People thought the retention of the old Pennsylvania Fire Insurance facade was ingenious...the place even had an observation deck from which the Independence Historical Grass Lot Collection could be viewed! Little did they know that the concrete would quickly brown-up and crumble.

Penn Mutual Observation deck. It and its accompanying exhibit hall closed in 1983.
Check this shit out.
                     Of course, like most butt-fugly buildings, this piece of shit got a shitload of design awards. Despite that, Penn Mutual said "fuck it" to this building and moved over to Horsham, PA. The building now just houses offices from a shitload of different companies along with a whole lot of air... much of the building is vacant.
                     What a shame. There was a chance to put a cool-looking building here that would fit in with the older additions and blend with the Haviland design. Too bad they handed the project over to the Great Satans. What a bummer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Watch the 1911 World Series at Shibe Park!

                    Johnny Goodtimes over at Philly Sports History is reporting on the 1911 World Series this week, exactly one century after the fact! Like most of us, he's disappointed in the Chokies' cruddy playoff appearance and is giving us the World Series we were supposed to have, but between the Philadelphia A's and the New York Giants! Go check it the fuck out!

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- October 17th

The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent (a.k.a. Atwater Kent Museum a.k.a. Franklin Institute I)

15 South 7th Street

It's a lot older than it looks.
                    This little grey motherfucker has managed to continue kicking ass and taking names for 186 years without a single complaint. This lil beast makes the rest of 7th street look like the hairiest part of my ass. It makes it easy to believe that Philadelphia was once known as the "Athens of America".
                    In the early 1820's, Philadelphia was well into its mission to be the most badass city in the world. One thing the city (and country) was missing was an official science/invention/research/education organization. London had one going since 1799, and Philadelphians weren't gonna let some tea-sipping shitbirds be more advanced. On February 5th, 1824, chemist/geologist William Keating and ironmonger Samuel V. Merrick founded the The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts and ran it out of Carpenter's Hall.
                   The early Franklin Institute held classes in various fields and held a collection of books. The place became so popular that they couldn't handle the demand with such a small space, so they moved to some building that was at 4th and Arch. Megacommander of Architectural Ass-kick John Haviland taught architectural drawing at the institute, and the founders hit him up for a design for a grand new building from which to conduct higher order levels of badassery.
                   John Haviland was obsessed with Ancient Greece and was convinced that Greek Revival was the ultimate form of architecture. Literally. He thought Greek Revival was as far as architecture should ever and would ever go. This man also believed that Greek Revival should have an urban twist, not be literal rebuilds of ancient shit. He designed a squared-up Greek temple that could never go out of style. And it hasn't.

The Franklin Institute in 1895, 70 years after construction.

                    The cornerstone was laid with a full-dress Masonic ritual on June 8th, 1825. The Institute moved in around 1827 and liked it so much that they stuck around for 107 years. As awesome as his design was, Haviland wasn't too happy with it. He wanted to embellish it with more decoration that included a big-ass statue of Ben Franklin that would stand on top of the building like a Greek god, but the Institute told him to tone it the fuck down.
                   The Franklin Institute only used a portion of the building and became the most prestigious science and technology center in the United States. Inventors from all over the world would visit to present their new shit. After only three years, the Institute got large enough to kick out the federal court that was using the second floor. Once fully occupied, the place featured a 300-seat lecture room, multiple laboratories, a humongous library, and a School of Mechanic Arts.
                   The building stayed in continuous use for generations. In 1897 an addition was tacked on, but was removed so quickly that no source seems to know when it happened. In 1934, the Franklin Institute ditched this awesome building and moved into their new Science Museum on the then-new Parkway. This Imperial Fortress of Facefucks sat empty for years and, due to being 110+ years old, was falling apart.

This photo is labeled 1960 but I have reason to believe it's from the 1910's.
                     In the mid 1930's, a shitload of Philaphiles wanted to turn the Old Franklin, as it came to be known, into a Philadelphia History Museum, but none of them could afford to buy and rehab the building. They all went to the wealthiest Philaphile they could find, Shogun of Radio Atwater Kent, and begged him to get this thing going. Kent had just paid for the rehab of the Betsy Ross House and was like, "Ok motherfuckers, I'll throw down the dough... on three conditions: 1) It will always be a Philadelphia history museum, 2) It will have free admission, and 3) Name it after me, forever!".
                  Kent bought the place in 1938, donated it to the city, and after three years of Works Progress Administration renovations plus $171,000, the completed museum opened in 1941. Philaphiles from far and wide donated artifacts for display. The museum's collection grew to be gigantic and had to be stored off-site. Unfortunately, financial and administrative turmoil gripped the place for its entire history.

As the Atwater Kent Museum in 1956.
                  Even more unfortunately, in recent decades, the place became kind of lame. Despite having a super-gigantic collection of 80,000 Philadelphia-related artifacts, the museum displayed like three things plus some goofy shit like a huge map of the city and a room full of reprints of Saturday Evening Post covers as their main attractions. In 1994, the museum broke one of Kent's rules and started charging admission.
                Finally, in 2009, the museum closed for renovations and stated that it would reopen as the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, since many modern Philaphiles have no idea who the fuck Atwater Kent was. The original grand reopening was set for March 2011, but has been pushed back to Spring 2012. This means it will probably be ready in June 2015. The museum paid a shitload of money to some bullshit re-branding consultant firm to re-imagine the museum and make it more popular. This was the best logo they could come up with:

                  It's supposed to represent the street grid. I hope Thomas Holme's ghost finds whoever designed this shit and fucks him/her in the ear with his big swinging ghost-dick. I conceived and rendered a superior logo with a Sharpie in four minutes:

                       I hope that when it reopens, the Philadelphia History Museum actually starts displaying all the cool shit they've been hanging onto for decades. Since most modern museums seem to be targeted toward preschoolers, I'm highly doubtful that they will.
                     If I were in charge, I'd go balls to the walls with this thing. I would display every beer can and bottle from every brewery Philly has ever had, a set of artifacts from every neighborhood, a product from every old factory, models of all the coolest lost buildings, an exhibit of all the different urban revitalization plans over the years, a diagram of showing the growth of the street grid, shit about the different indian tribes from the region, models of all the different kinds of rowhouses, a timeline of city government corruption, an exhibit of all the Philadelphia Firsts, the actual paintings that were Saturday Evening Post covers instead of reprints, a Mummers section that's better than the Mummers Museum, Moses King's books/photos, Frank G. Taylor's books/drawings/photos, to name a few. You don't need some garbage brand consulting firm con-artists to tell you that. You need a Philaphile.