Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dead-Ass Proposal of the Week-- November 10th

John G. Johnson Art Gallery

Northeast Corner of "Fairmount Plaza" (later turned into Eakin's Oval)

Noooooooo!!! Son of beeech!!
                           You think Barnes got shafted? You think his will wasn't honored? At least there'll soon be a building with his name on it. Wait until you hear about John G. Johnson. This motherfucker got the big fucking stiffy.
                     John Johnson was the most badass lawyer in town. When he died, they called him the greatest lawyer in the English-speaking world. That's fucking insane. This guy loved art, and collected over 1,300 pieces that he displayed in his gigantic house on South Broad that was between South and Lombard, now the site of that shitty midcentury-modern medical clinic. 
                    This guy's art collection was well-known while Johnson was still alive and many people, including super-rich mega tycoon P.A.B. Widener, wanted that shit. In the earliest stages of planning for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, they just assumed that Johnson's collection was coming their way. In his will, Johnson stated that he would donate all of his artwork to the city and that he wanted it to stay on display in his house forever, thereby fucking over the PMA and everyone else who was after his shit. After he croaked in 1917, a ton of motherfuckers started chomping at the bit to make some dough off his kick-ass collection.
                   In the early days of designing the Parkway, plans called for the northwestern terminus of it to be a traffic circle called Fairmount Plaza that would be surrounded by Art-related institutions. Not only would the Philadelphia Museum of Art be there, but a new Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, a new Pennsylvania School of Industrial Arts (now UArts), and the building in the rendering above, the John G. Johnson Art Gallery.
                     That's right... John Johnson's collection was so huge and awesome that an entire museum was planned for the Parkway just to show off his shit. You'll have to realize that this was at the same time that it was assumed that the new Parkway would be the main street of Philadelphia for EVERYTHING. Not just museums, but Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania as well. Basically, the Parkway was going to be Valhalla and the John G. Johnson Gallery was just going to be one of the many great institutions that would line this thing. Sure, it wasn't in his will, but at least the collection was have stayed together and be safe. Had this been built, the bullshit that occurred next would not have happened.
                         By 1933, the old Johnson Mansion was starting to fall apart and became a leaky firetrap. The PMA jumped on the situation and used it as a sideways way of snapping up John G. Johnson's $4,445,802 collection for free. The PMA came along and graciously offered to hold the work to keep it safe in their new fireproof mega-castle, just for awhile.

Johnson's badass Mansion in 1936. It doesn't look all that bad to me.
                        Plans for the Johnson Gallery on the Parkway kept going back and forth well after the PMA took the collection, I guess to keep the surviving Johnsons' mouths shut. It no longer mattered after 1955, however, because John G. Johnson's kickass residence was knocked the fuck down in that year in favor of that shitbag medical center that stands there now. Don't get me started on that place.
                      This story makes the shit happening with the Barnes seem like some trifling-ass bullshit. At least his collection will be displayed to millions of people in the way that he configured it with a building with his name on it. Johnson gets no such glory. This sad motherfucker was "probably less known to the general public in proportion to his importance than any other man in the United States." according to his obituary, and even now that title still stands.
                     In the 1980's, the PMA gave an even bigger "fuck you" to Johnson and dispersed his collection throughout the museum instead of having it set aside as its own gallery. That would be like if the PMA picked apart the Barnes collection and spread it out all over the whole museum. Barnes' dead ass should consider itself lucky. PMA, if you gave a fuck (which you don't), you would take over those two baseball fields on the Parkway and build the John G. Johnson Gallery as restitution for the shit you pulled eight decades ago. I fucking dare you, assholes!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- November 9th

The Great Arch

Crossing over Mulberry (Arch) Street at Front Street

Not impressed? If this was 1690 you'd be eating your own ass out with excitement over this thing!
                       Sometimes a bridge is so badass that an entire long-ass street gets named after it FOREVER. This is that bridge... the reason we call Arch Street "Arch Street" and not "Fucktograph Lane". The drawing above is conjectural, of course. The real bridge was probably much thinner.
                     Back in the primordial village/city of Philadelphia of the 17th Century, it was a pain in the ass to walk/ride up Front Street because there was this massive dip in it right at the corner of Mulberry Street. In 1690, some guys named Benjamin Chambers, Thomas Pearl, and Francis Rawle presented a petition to build a massive stone arch there so that travelers on Front Street could just walk over Mulberry instead. The little dinky 66-foot long pile of stones that ended up being built was the most high-tech piece of engineering in Colonial Proto-America.
                     The first written record of the bridge after it was built was written in 1698. In it, some dude named Gabriel Thomas describes how people often carted shit off huge ships docked at the Mulberry Street Wharf and brought the stuff down Mulberry Street under a huge arch. In 1704, there's an account of the city/village coming down on some dickhead for blocking the underside of the arch with his lumber.
                     The arch was apparently a piece of shit that didn't last very long because in the same year, plans were discussed on how to repair it. The whole next decade, accounts about how dangerous the arch was for "man and beast" pop up just about every year. It wasn't until 1712 that the arch had fences on either side to prevent people from falling off.  By 1713 the underside of the arch was becoming all fucked up and by 1718 the bridge itself was considered "impassible". In 1720, the arch had become a public nuisance and probably one of the city's first major pieces of blight. It was finally pulled down in 1721.
                    In April 1723, orders came down the line to level out Front Street so that it would meet Mulberry at the corner and there wouldn't be a dip there anymore. In 1727, Six years after the arch was completely removed, the first written account referring to Mulberry as Arch Street appears. Somehow, people loved this dangerous-ass pile of rocks so much that the street going under it carries that name to this day. That shit's fucked up, yo. Mulberry Street was officially renamed Arch Street in 1853.
                    Buildings that showed evidence of the previous height of Front Street stood long afterward, and became the clue that later historians used to start researching the ravings of old people that claimed that there used to be an arch over Arch Street. The site of the Great Arch is half covered with I-95 South, but if you go there you will see how Front Street gradually dips down to meet Mulberry... err... Arch Street.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- November 8th

Wave Forms by Dennis Oppenheim

Corner of 34th and Chestnut Streets

Ah jeez.
                    What the fuck!?!??! This garbage is some of the newest public art in Philadelphia and it looks like a dead dogs' dick. Its called Wave Forms but most people know it as Those Stupid Fucking Bells. That gas meter box thingy in the corner of the picture is better looking art than this shit.
                   First of all, Philly already is inundated with enough bell-related crap. Everywhere you go in the city has Liberty Bell-related imagery all over the place. You'd think that this artist, who's other work is actually pretty good, would have seen enough already. Oh wait, the artist for this, Dennis Oppenheim, doesn't know shit about Philadelphia. He's from California!! Why the fuck is so much of the public art in this city done by artists that aren't located here? This city has artists coming out of it's ears... use one of them once in awhile, assholes!!!
                 It all started with that Domus apartment project you see in the background of the picture above. They needed to satisfy the Percent for Art requirement and it seems that they misread it as Percent for Shit. They got 1.2 million dollars from the Hanover Company, whatever the fuck that is, to throw up some kind of public art that would compliment the plaza in front of their ugly-ass building.
                 Enter Dennis Oppenheim. Here's the shit he proposed:

Actually, several different configurations were proposed, none of which look like the final product.
                     The renderings for the stupid bells were put on display in 2006 at the Slought Foundation, in their own pretentious words, "a non-profit organization that engages the public in dialogue about cultural and socio-political change." (barf). Oppenheim came up with all kinds of goofy explanations to justify his dumbass design. He said the bells would "disturb the association of the bell as ‘object’ to bell as ‘dwelling’ ”. YOU go live in them, asshole. As with all art and design, the more you have to explain it, the more it sucks.
                     By December 2007, the stupid bells were installed (by a California company, of course), looking much different than the renderings, and with some colored granite squiggles between them that are supposed to represent sound waves made by bells. Dumb. There's six in all, 20 feet tall made of aluminum tubing. What a wasted opportunity. 1.2 million dollars to play with and this is all we get? Oooh, you can walk through them. WHO FUCKING CARES?!?!
Here's the other three bells. From
                    One of the kissing-ass articles that came out when this thing was installed says, "...Oppenheim reinvented the iconic symbol with inserted architectural elements including windows, promoting transparency." He put windows in it. WOW, what a genius!!!!! To promote TRANSPARENCY, you see. Was transparency getting a bad rap somewhere? Is transparency something that needs to be promoted? Promoted to what? Vice President of the Pretentious-ass Art Corporation? Feh.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mystery Building of the Week-- November 7th

Medical Towers

251 S. 17th Street

One tall and thin fucking mystery. Pic by well-known Philaphile Brad Maule.
                      This is a nice looking building that is quite well known in the city, especially because at 364 feet, it has stuck out way taller than any other building in the immediate area until 1706 Rittenhouse was built across the street. The problem is, the history of this cool-ass building is somewhat of a mystery.
                     One of the weirder things about it is that its original name was "Medical Towers", plural. At first, I figured that more than one was planned to be built, so the name of the complex would be called "Towers", but then I found one of the original descriptions of it from when it was first proposed. It literally says "the building (singular) will be called Medical Towers (plural)". WHY THE FUCK would you call one building two buildings?!?!? Did they mean Medical Tower's, like a possessive? Is it a contraction for Medical Tower is? Did the person naming the building want to call it "Medical Tower's Gonna Kick Your Ass" but died before they could finish saying it? That's just fucking weird.
                   Here's another mystery for ya: the architect!!! There is seriously no architect associated with this project. All the little internet records and profile pages for this thing will tell you its height, build date, all kinds of other shit, but when you try to find who the architect was, NOTHING. Apparently the contractors found the plans for it drawn on a napkin at a bar or something.

Medical Towers under construction based on the plans of the famous architect Mystery Von Shitstery.
                   Medical Towers was built in 1931, during a huge building boom for this city, and has been in continuous use ever since for a medical clinic and a shitload of individual medicine-related offices. Some consider it one of the more ugly Art Deco buildings in America, but the ugliest Art Deco building in the world is better looking than 90% of the buildings built after that time.
                 That's pretty much it. I'd like to tell you about some kind of cool history that has happened here, but really, some buildings are just buildings. Some guy killed himself by jumping out of a high window in 1941, but that's that.
                So what's the deal? How could a building that was one of the tallest in the city for decades have no known architect? Why was it known as "Medical Towers" for so long? This shit is making my crazzzyyY!!! Uh oh, too late. Anyone out there have a clue where the fuck this building came from?


                            Hello again, this is John McLaughlin and you aah now reading this in my voice. The building was designed by the fiiihm of McIlvain and Roberts. GroJLaaaht is a moron and didn't look up the building by all of its altaahtanate names. BYE BYE!!!

                                                                     *Special Thanks to Bruce Laverty and Mike Seneca from the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project!