Thursday, November 17, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- November 17th

Ruin of the Great Locust Lot

217-221 South 9th Street

Craptonius, this is.
                        Yes, I know.. this empty lot is tiny and goes mostly unnoticed compared to some of the huge empty lots nearby... but it really fucking irks me that this pile of dirt has managed to stay vacant for so long. Its only 3 rowhomes wide, but seems like a hole the size of Godzilla's asshole. It has existed for over 30 years but has been covered by a picket fence for at least the last 10. Recently. the fence was removed and this piece of assbang had now been exposed.
                          The lot consists of three separate properties, two owned by the same group since 1994, and one that just changed hands on April 29th. I suspect this is why the fence had been removed. This little shitbag piece of dirt,weeds, and bum-debri was once filled with large, once-stately rowhomes.

The lot in 1958.
                During the mid-70's urban revitalization plan known as Knock Everything the Fuck Down, these rowhomes were destroyed along with most of the rest of the block bounded by 9th, 8th, Locust, and Walnut.

This is like the 500th time I've posted this picture on this blog. This was the original version of this Empty Lot, the Great Locust Lot of 1977.
                            Over the decades, the massivesupermega lot got itself all filled in, except for this little 3-property wide sliver that is more or less untouched from how the rest of the lot looked in the photo above. The old rowhouses on either side of this dirtpile still stand... it makes one wonder what the fuck happened that made the houses that were standing here be removed. What a shame.

The lot when it had that rickety-ass wooden fence in front of it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- November 16th

The Franklin Building

125 South 12th Street

Aww shit.
                       The site of this building is now a crappy parking lot with a big mural on it. What a shame that this one got lost. The Franklin Building was a result of Mega Grandmaster of Ass Kick Frank Furness' childhood friendship with William West Frazier, sugar tycoon and generalized rich-ass motherfucker. Take a good long look at that thing and make sure to check out the super-high-res version of this picture here. Furness threw everything he had at this little building.
                      Each row of windows has something different about it except for the 5th and 6th floors. The facade even wraps around what was then called Lawson Street so even if you were pissing the the middle of that alley you could still enjoy some Furnessian magic. It even has statues of strongmen as the four columns over the front door, as if they're saying, "Show some fucking respect to this building or we'll drop it on you!".

                     The origin of this building is quite simple. William West Frazier had known Furness since they were both toddlers. When Frazier grew up, he commissioned Furness to build him a shitload of houses and other buildings. You can read more about their relationship here. When Frazier needed an office building for the family's sugar business, at that time called Franklin Sugar Company, he went to straight to his buddy for a design. The Franklin Building was built in 1895.
                     The Frankin Sugar Company was constantly embroiled in lawsuits, many of which went to the United States Supreme Court. One about their inclusion in the "Sugar Trust" monopoly, one about not paying proper taxes and tariffs, another about their crooked transportation of goods. Even when this building was being built, they were going through multiple legal battles at once.
                    Records are spotty about when this thing was demolished. However, it's pretty safe to say that this thing was removed sometime in 1939 or 1940. How do I know? Well, here's a close-up of an aerial photo from 1939:

There it is!
                        .... and here's a picture of the same address on the last day of 1940:

                       So there you have it. Instead of this cool-ass Furness building, we've gotten a shitty parking lot for the last 70 years. To this day, there's a big hole in this part of the 12th Street streetscape. If this building was still around today, it would make for a pretty badass apartment or condo building. Enjoy your fucking parking lot, everybody.

The site of the Franklin Building as it appears today. Yay, a mural.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- November 15th

The Rittenhouse Savoy

1810 Rittenhouse Square

                       Buildings like this are why NIMBYs exist. This is supposed to be a residential tower? Those shitbag ribbon windows make it look like an old dilapidated hospital. This style of facade was the shit that dictated butt-fugly buildings for decades to come. Even in its own time, it was hated. Now that its aged (badly), it makes even more of a stink today.
                      As we all know by now, the mid-20th Century is when architecture went to shit. This building and its slightly less fugly brother, the Claridge, represent the some of the beginnings of that architectural assness hitting Philadelphia. The Savoy was first introduced to the Center City Residents Association in February 1950. NIMBYs came at it in full force, and rightly so. Some unoccupied historical old rowhouses stood in the way of the development.
This aerial view from 1950 shows the historically significant rowhouses that the NIMBYs were trying to save.
                      The builders and newspapers all assumed that the residents hated the building because of its height, but that's a stupid assumption... the Square already had tall buildings that had been there for decades. The NIMBYs were more worried about the shitty look of the horizontal-ribbon windowed exterior fucking up the beauty of their pretty-ass Square.
                     You see, the Rittenhouse NIMBYs of that age considered themselves heroes. They had just come off of squashing a horribly-thought-out plan to turn the Square into an underground parking garage, so they were reveling in their newly-discovered powers. They literally shouted down the parking lot developer until he gave the fuck up.

This right here proves that the NIMBYs of old were true, not so much. Check out the early rendering of the Savoy that was included.
                    To calm down the NIMBYs, the developer of the Savoy, some dude named Kaiserman, assured them that the architects' drawings were rendered in such a way that the facade only APPEARED overly horizontal. He stated that vertical lines would also be included in the composition of the facade. Of course, he was lying through his teeth. Look at that thing. That's a horizontal as horizontal gets. Kaiserman had no respect for the Square. He just figured that people hate new shit so it was just natural opposition to have to deal with. I guess he didn't wear his glasses enough back then or something because the Savoy is ugly as fuck in any time period.
                     Despite the NIMBY powers at hand, the Square had its new butt-fugly piece of shit Savoy building, along with its bro, the Claridge, by the end of 1951. Though the Savoy is pretty nice on the inside, the Square really gets uglied up by it, especially now that its getting old. What a fuck up. Other ugly-ass Rittenhouse buildings in later decades would be sequels to this mess. Thanks a lot, Kaiserman.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- November 14th

Applebee's Center City Philly (aka Bookbinders Seafood House, aka 5th Police District Station House)

215 S. 15th Street

Yes, I'm going to talk about an Applebee's. Picture by VikingSquirrel.

                     Check this thing out. Though sitting in the shadows of much taller buildings, this thing is a vestige of a much earlier time for 15th Street. At one point, everything else on the street matched this. Not a bad looking building for an Applebee's. Of course, its original purpose wasn't as a chain restaurant... or as Bookbinder's Seafood House. It was originally a police station.
                    It all began with the consolidation of a shitload of little townships and villages into the coterminus City/County of Philadelphia. The need arose for a Philadelphia police force to serve every district. Since they had little time to plan or waste, a bunch of shitty little police stations popped up all over county in existing homes or quickly-built police shacks. These sub-standard stations stayed in use well into the 1860's and by 1869, looked like shit. The Police Chief at this time was St. Clair A. Mulholland.
               Chief Mulholland was a fucking died-in-the-wool mega-badass. Born in Ireland, he came to Philadelphia early in life and enlisted his ass into the Civil War. He went straight up the ranks and became the last person to be made a Major General during the war. He was horribly wounded four separate times, each one thought to be a mortal wound. He didn't fuckin' care and kept on fighting. After the war, he became a well-known expert in the field of penology, that is to say, the study of PUNISHMENT. He became Philadelphia chief of police in 1868.

Now that's a beard.
                       In 1869, Mulholland was pissed off about the sorry-ass state of the city's police stations. He went up to then-mayor Daniel Fox, put him in a full nelson, and said, "Build me some better police stations you slimy bastard!!!". Fox was like, "Don't hurt me, General Mulholland!" and had the 1857-built Fifth District Police Shack knocked down and rebuilt in 1870. Back then, the fifth district was in what is now Center City. The new building was built at 215 South Fifteenth Street, then known as the corner of 15th and Brighton.
                    People liked the new police station because it didn't look like shit. The other police shacks soon got demolished and replaced with similarly nice-looking buildings. Mulholland later retired, moved to Paris and became a painter (!!!). The Fifth District Station House stayed in use as a police station for at least 50 years. An addition was tacked on in the very early 20th Century.

15th Street in 1913. You can see the police station's roof just to the upper left of the middle of the image.
                    By the end of the 1920's, the station house was a piece of shit. It was too small for modern needs and was falling apart. It probably would have been demolished if not for the events that occurred next.             
                   Across town in Old City, in the early 1930's, the Bookbinder family gave over their famous seafood restaurant to an organization called the Jewish Federated Charities. The grandsons of the founder of Bookbinder's were like "Fuck that, we'll start our own restaurant!!", and opened the Bookbinder's Seafood House in the old Fifth District Station House in 1935. It became even more famous than the original.

Postcard for the place from The Epoch When Everything Was A Postcard.
                 For the next seven decades, Bookbinder's Seafood House rocked this building while 15th Street went through change after change after change all around. Eventually, the building was caught in a nearly permanent shadow from the taller buildings surrounding it.
                 For most of its life at 15th Street, it was one of the only nice and high quality restaurants in town. In the 90's and 00's, a shitload of new and exciting fine restaurants popped into the city and made business in the old guard of restaurants suffer. There was also a conflict between the owners of the restaurant, which at this point were two Bookbinder brothers that were descended from the original gangstas that started the place.
                In 2004, one of the brothers sued the other. One had agreed to buy out the other in 1989 and 1997 and financed the purchase over a long period of time. When the restaurant's business waned, payments were no longer possible. The lawsuit in 2004 shut down Bookbinders' Seafood House for good. The building then sat there doing nothing, the first time it had been unoccupied since the early 1930's.
                In early 2006, the building became an Applebee's. Restaurant snobs and regular citizens alike were pissed off that this chain, which is known for its suburban banality, pushed its way into Center City in this way... in this building. Personally, I'm just glad the building is occupied. I admit, I've caught a meal or two there just because I was drunk from McGlinchey's and all the other restaurants on the row were too crowded.
              When it comes down to it, the chain signed a 15-year lease on the spot, so get the fuck used to it. Unless something drastic occurs, they'll be there until at least 2021. No trace of its use as a police station still exists and only an image of a lobster in the front door recalls its life as Bookbinder's. Again, at least the 141-year-old building is still in use.