Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Parking Garage of the Week-- July 18th

Convention Center Parking

142 North Broad Street

                  Now here's one of the oldest surviving parking garages in the city. The Convention Center Parking Garage was built by and for the automobile industry. This bitch-bastard has been doing car-related shit for the last 102 years and will probably continue doing so for another 102. Funny how a century-old parking garage is better designed than 99% of all built thereafter. Bollocks.
               This parking garage exists because of one badass car-selling motherfucker-- Percy L. Neel. Neel was the Chop of the late Gilded Age. Not the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, but King of Cars Josh Towbin. Spanish-American War hero Neel got into the relatively new motor car technology field after getting sick of being a high school science teacher. He started a Cadillac dealership called the Quaker City Auto Company in a time when hundreds of burgeoning car companies would start and fail every other year. Quaker City would later become a double-dealership called the Philadelphia Automobile Sales Corporation, selling both Cadillacs and Peerlesses.
             Neel wanted his dealership to be the best in the city, so he leased the building his company's own treasurer commissioned... an $80,000 six-story building on a then-lowrise part of North Broad Street. This building would be a massive car-holding skyscraper with a beautiful facade and luxurious street-level showroom (the mangled-up columns of it still stand). Its opening in the Summer of 1910 was heralded with a gigantic auto show complete with an orchestra and souvenir flower bouquets for the ladies.
When it was first built.
                   The Automobile Sales Corporation did so well that Neel purchased the building in 1913 and then was ready to move out only one year later. Neel sold the garage for $100,000 to the Franklin National Bank in 1914. Another Cadillac dealer leased the space and had the fifth and sixth floors converted to offices (designs by Horace Trumbauer!), renting them out to the Emergency Fleet Corporation, a government agency that was charged with getting the Merchant Marine fleet built. They occupied numerous buildings in the city and was so desperate for more office space that they moved into the top two floors of this parking garage.
           Eventually, the whole Automobile Sales Corp. thing didn't work out and Neel's multiple dealerships became known as Neel-Cadillac. Neel would put his Philadelphia HQ right back into the great building he helped get built. Even though it had only been a decade, scores of much nicer auto-selling garages had been built on North Broad... his was now a dinky piece of shit. After only about a year, Neel moved out and leased the garage to the Pittsburgh Standard Steel Car Company.
           Neel's successor, Scott Smith (his Camden dealership's manager), would sell the company to the Cadillac Corp. in 1925 and start his own legendary dealership on North Broad that would last in some form all the way into the 1970's. The old garage would go on to serve on and off as various car dealerships and parking garages in the following decades.

There it is on the left in 1959. Check out the Scottish Rite Temple.
Here it is in 1983.
                 The garage continues to this day, now officially called Convention Center Parking, now that the Pennsylvania Convention Center's new Broad Street entrance is across the street. What happened to building garages like this? Why must we suffer the ugliness of modern parking garages when one from 1910 has it all figured out? A new parking garage is being built around the corner from this... it will supposedly have an "architectural scrim" covering the facade, electric car charging stations, and a green roof. So far it's just a dark grey skeleton.

                   Pretty pathetic that a brand new parking garage can't outdo a 102-year-old one's design.

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