Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dead-Ass Proposal of the Week-- December 22nd

Liberty Landing

1301 Columbus Boulevard

Pier 70 times a million.
                      This thing is kind of cool-looking but would have been severely out-of-place in the location it was proposed. Had it been built, it would've ended up like Waterfront Square, with only one or two of the buildings built and the rest looking like shit. This beast of a complex was billed as the "largest multi-family residential development in the history of the city." The most interesting thing about this huge piece of crazy is that its a Double-Dead-Ass Proposal... it failed in the 80's and then again in the 00's.
                     Back in the skyscraper boom of the late 1980's, shit was going wild in Philadelphia... after years of media craziness over the construction of Liberty Place, tall buildings started popping up out of the skyline every few months. In 1988, Local 19 of the Sheet Metal Worker's Union got in on the nuttiness and combined their powers with an Allentown-based developer and some of their pals in the organized crime business to form Liberty Landing Associates. They proposed a huge mixed-use complex consisting of 140,000 square feet of offices, a 300-room hotel, 35,000 square feet of retail space, 550 luxury apartments, a 280-slip marina and parking for 1,600 cars. Cost: $300 Million. The architect would be the firm of J.K. Roller... I'm sure there's a rendering at the bottom of a landfill somewhere.
                    By the time they got their shit together enough for this thing to be started, the boom was over. Even though they had retail and office tenants lined up, the proposed 1991 completion date came and went like a motherfucker and no one thought they would see this thing again...
                    Until 2002. In that year, the Sheet Metal Workers came roaring back, this time with a MUCH bigger proposal consisting of two 30-storey buildings, a 35-storey building, four 10 storey buildings, five gigantic parking garages, a 340-room hotel, 96,000 square feet of retail, and a 5 storey office building. The cost of this one went up to 1 billion dollars. The new architect would be Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates.

One of the 21st-Century Liberty Landing renderings. Not sure if this is from before or after the one above. 
                  Some progress was made after that... the developer secured a movie theater tenant and the hotel was planned to be a Radisson. After that, the project went caput. The buzz over Foxwoods moving in at the lot next door caused a NIMBY overload at the time so there's no way this thing would have been approved. In addition to that, the Allentown-based developer that was involved got a lot of bad press for other fuck-ups it was associated with in Philly and other cities.
                  We're probably better off. This thing would have been too far south on the waterfront. Something like this belongs on the waterfront up at NoLibs or Fishtown (home to like 500 similar dead-ass proposals to this one). Columbus Boulevard in South Philly is ridiculously gridlocked at all times. Some shit needs to be done down there to alleviate the traffic before any more major projects can go on.
                   Wait a minute... Liberty Landing? What the fuck kind of name is that? Did the Statue of Liberty land on Pier 53? What the fuck does Liberty Landing have to do with anything? It's not even an original name, there's like 800 other places named Liberty Landing. They should have called it Sheet Metal Workers Will Fuck Your Shit Up Plaza or Inflatable Rat Memorial Sloop. Oh well, its not happening, so FUCK IT. Here's some more pictures of this stupid-ass idea:

View from if you were falling out of a helicopter or something.
From inside the crescent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lost Bridge of the Week-- December 21st

Walnut Street Bridge I

Spanning the Schuylkill River at Walnut Street between 24th and 33rd Streets

Twas a cool bridge.
                               Here's an old bridge that doesn't look much different from its replacement. This old girl was yet another bridge over the Schuylkill that proved to be a huge pain in the ass to design and build, but the hard work ended up paying off handsomely.
                             In 1888, the demands of Philly's quickly growing population got the best of it. The bridges that existed over the Schuylkill, though built only a few decades before, were already overcrowded. On Christmas Eve of that year, City Council voted a on a new bridge, this time at Walnut Street. The engineering challenge this presented was the least of their worries. 
                            The Schuylkill River is decidedly deep in this particular spot and the bedrock was 48 feet under the muddy bottom. A shitload of train lines already existed on each side of the river and would need to be spanned. This would require the bridge's length to be 3,448 feet, only 369 feet of which went over the river.  On the Center City side, Walnut Street would have to be widened to accommodate the 60-foot-wide bridge deck. Despite all those challenges, construction was slated to begin on July 1, 1889. 
                            Of course, this is Philadelphia and construction did not begin that day. There was a shortage of stone from the quarries and the bridges initial construction steps were delayed. Such delays plagued the project. Some work started on July 16th so that is considered the official construction start time. 

They were still throwing down coffer dams a year and a half after construction started.
"I swear, we'll finish this thing some time!"
                          The design for the primary section of bridge would be wrought iron that extended 2,408 feet over piers 123 feet apart. All this would be covered with a long plate of concrete with beautiful decorative ironwork railings that no bridge built today is capable of having. 
Look at that shit.
                    The bridge opened on July 16th, 1893, precisely four years from the first day of construction. Amazingly, it came in under its $900,000 budget at $751,921.68  For a bridge that was hastily designed and had so many construction delays, it KICKED ASS. It stayed in continuous use with very little maintenance for 7 whole decades. It wasn't until 1974 that the bridge was closed for repairs. 
                      By the 1980's, the bridge was breaking all kinds of Highway Safety Regulations that didn't previously exist. The beautiful railings were a major concern because those things weren't going to hold back a tractor trailer. Shit, by this point, anyone could probably just kick straight through them. 

The iron railings in 1973.
                 In 1988, the destruction of this first Walnut Street Bridge began... except this is a case where you can really say the new bridge is also the old bridge. PennDOT spent $28 million replacing the bridge one lane at a time. This is probably the reason the current bridge is so similar to the old... it uses the same piers. I guess this bridge is not as lost as we thought.
                 The Philly Inquirer article about the reconstruction/demolition/replacement of the bridge from 1988 states that the iron railings from the old bridge would be donated to the Fairmount Park Association and be used for decoration of the Schuylkill River Banks Park. Well 23 years later that park is looking pretty nice but where are the railings? Where did they end up?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- December 20th

Elemental Intervals by William Freeland

North side of South Street halfway between 10th and 11th Streets.

                     This shit has always bothered me. A whole shitload of limestone rocks needlessly trapped in a wire mesh prison... forever. What did those stones do? I don't remember them being in a trial by jury. I'd rather see the side of that crappy parking garage than the pieces of shit that were tacked on to beautify it. That's pathetic.
                     1986 was not a good year for public art in this city. Some of Philadelphia's most atrocious outdoor art pieces were installed in that year. I could literally take a list of 1986 public artworks and do 13 Butt-Fugly Public Art articles. Of all those crappy art pieces, this one is definitely the worst.
                     In 1985, that the block-long supermarket parking garage behemoth on the 1000 block of South Street needed to satisfy its Percent-for-Art requirement.  John Acciavatti of The South Street Development Company commissioned William Freeland to design a piece of art that would distract your eye away from the fact that there's a gigantic-ass parking garage on South Street.
                    Freeland responded by entrapping four-and-a-half tons of limestone rocks way up in the air, surrounded by a thirty-five by twenty-seven foot area of copper and aluminum shit. The rock-jail was installed in 1986, and has gone unnoticed since then. Add to that the fact that one of the city's greatest pieces of public art is directly across the street and you end up with a 4.5 ton piece of ignored-ass sculpture.
                   If there's ANY meaning to this shit, I don't fucking know it. Maybe these rocks were sitting in a pile in William Freeland's backyard, taunting him. Perhaps he intended to use them for some kind of construction project but the souls of dead criminals inhabited the rocks and harassed him day and night. When the commission for this piece of shit came along, Freeland entrapped the rocks in that wire mesh to make sure they would never bother anyone again.Then he called it Elemental Intervals just to throw people off the scent.
                  Elemental Intervals? Like intervals between elements? If that's what he wanted, he should have illustrated the interval between Beryllium and Boron. How does two rock jail cells illustrate Elemental Intervals? See that metal arrow under the one of the right? It's like it's telling you to look away from it! Good advice. I suggest we all take it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mystery Building of the Week-- December 19th

????!?!?!?!?!!??!?!?! Building

15 South 11th Street

The building is saying "HELP ME YOU BASTARDS!!"
                   Now this is a mysterious-ass building. Beacon of the 11th Street hoopty-store row, this beautiful-ass building has been sitting there for 100 years, getting no goddamn respect. This building was making me feel like a big amateur at this shit, but even legitimate architectural historians can't find its origin.
                  Sources can't agree on WHO the fuck built this thing, WHY, or WHEN. The Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project puts the construction date at 1910 and credits the building is Ralph Bencker, designer of the Horn and Hardart Commissary. The Preservation Alliance, in an article from August 2010, lists the build date as 1912 and two possibilities of architects-- Sauer & Hahn or William Steele & Sons.
                 In my diggings, I've been able to eliminate Sauer & Hahn. All they did for this building was a proposed alteration. Ralph Bencker definitely designed the Horn and Hardart location that was a tenant in one of the storefronts when the building first opened, but that doesn't necessarily mean he designed the whole thing. William Steele & Sons was posited to be the architect based on the fact that Joseph Steele, the guy in charge, owned this building when it was first built. That doesn't really mean they designed it, though.
                Whoever DID design this thing... GOOD FUCKING JOB! This building's facade is beautiful, that crappy picture above doesn't do it justice. Architectural ceramics in bold colors cover this gem. It would look even better if the original Ralph Bencker-designed storefronts were there, the Horn and Hardart one had stained glass windows along with other intricate details.

From the interior, obviously. Pic from the PAB.
                     The history of its many storefronts is mostly known. Horn and Hardart stayed there for at least 5 decades and was responsible for the removal of the stained glass in the 60's. The other fronts have changed too frequently to list. Currently, besides the schlock merchants in most of the fronts, the Sound of Market store, supposedly the largest independent music store in the city, has been rocking the 2nd and 3rd floors for 22 years.
                    Why is it called Sound of Market and not Sound of 11th Street? I guess its because were located on Market Street for 6 years. I hate it when stores that are named after their streets move to a different street and keep the same name. Sound of Market is on 11th Street, Spruce Street Video is on 12th Street, Paper on Pine is on 13th Street. That shit's confusing. Remember 14th Street Audio? That was on Chestnut Street!
                   Anyway, back to the building. The upper floors have been abandoned for decades. There's a ghost sign on the south side of it for a company called the Charles E. Tull Electrical Construction Company, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were located in there. Fun fact: Charles E. Tull invented the word "electrifier".

Here's how it looked in 1965, shortly after H & H mangled up the storefront facade.
                        This building will one day be rehabbed and re-beautified in some future revitalization of Market East. The 11th Street hoopty store row is already feeling the nails in the coffin... the Family Court is moving to a brand-new butt-fugly building by LOVE Park, so the constant yelling-and-fighting-in-the-street operation it creates will move along with it. The Girard Estate shit building is now down to month-to-month leases in preparation for the new five-storey shopping mecca that will be built there. Hopefully this will drive rents up on the rest of 11th Street.
                     The !!!?!?!?!?!??!?! Building would do great as a future residential building... the high ceilings and big-ass windows on the side would create some nice Brundle Fly apartments (they call them "lofts" nowadays). This building (and street) has lots of potential... if only someone knew where the fuck it came from! Anyone out there know!?!?! Did your great-grandfather design it? Do you have an old blueprint in a drawer somewhere? I must know!!!!


                        Hello, this is John McLaughlin and you ahh now reading this is my voice!! Ben Leech, writah of the Presuhvation Alliance aahticle on this building says that the permit for it declares William Steele and Sons as the aahhchitect! BYE BYE!!!