Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dead-Ass Proposal of the Week-- January 5th

City Tower

Reyburn Plaza

What in the fuck!!?!?!
                        Now don't lose your shit over this one. If it had been built, it would have been made out of concrete. It would be over 50 years old now and browned up as shit. This monstrosity comes from the acid-tripping intelligence of Louis Kahn, with influence from Anne Tyng and a little sprinkling of R. Fuckminster Fuller.
                       This beast was one of Kahn's many insane utopian civic dreams for Philadelphia, like multi-tiered elevated highways running all over Center City intersecting at a downtown Civic Forum that looked like Logan's Run.

Yeah, it looks cool in that picture but it would be browned-up concrete and have a labyrinth of underground tunnels with CHUDs in them and shit by now. Oh, and those cylindrical buildings are parking garages.
                        City Tower was Kahn's vision of a city government building for Philadelphia. His ideas about what Philadelphia should look like were so wild that he makes Edmund Bacon seem like a very sensible motherfucker. Kahn believed that the city should have gigantic monumental civic buildings placed far apart in pedestrian-only zones. He loved the idea of humongous signature government buildings but hated the one that already existed, Philadelphia City Hall.
                        When it came time for proposals for the development of Reyburn Plaza, (which ended up as the MSB) Kahn, with the help of Anne Tyng, imagined that a new monumental city government tower built on the Plaza would make City Hall obsolete enough that it would get knocked down. For this tower, Kahn wanted a tertrahedron-shaped footprint rising 6-700 feet in the air undulating back and forth, made of sidewalk.

Here's a cross-section for ya.
                     The windows would be constructed from a diagonal wiremesh screen that would conduct a shitload of heat from sunlight. Nice during the dead of winter I'm sure, but in the summer that would fuck some shit up. When he proposed the building, he made a bunch of bullshit up about it being wind resistant. Then he said that people would hate it but just get used to it until it became a landmark. It would be like if someone built a 5,000 foot tall model of a sphincter next to your house. You would hate it at first but a few years later you would just describe directions to your house as "next to the sphincter".
                     The scale model built for it is a great wonder of the proposed skyscraper model world. Usually, once a model of a proposed skyscraper is either built or becomes a dead proposal, it becomes extremely hard to find. Either it gets forgotten in storage somewhere, thrown in the trash, or set on fire and pissed on. The model for City Tower has managed to live on, due to the starchitect status of Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng. It was recently on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art:

Yes, the cylinders are parking garages... again. Pic by Jeffrey Bussman.
                       This thing almost makes me glad that the Municipal Services Building got built instead, and that's saying something. There's probably a shitload of Louis Kahn fans out there reading this and getting pissed off for me not kissing his ass... but this thing is just silly. I'd take a shit on Kahn Park in honor of this proposal but many a bum has already taken care of it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lost Bridge of the Week-- January 4th

Newkirk Viaduct

Crossing the Schuylkill at Grays Ferry Avenue

No one ever covers bridges anymore.
                        This thing was crazy... a covered multi-modal bridge 800 feet long from 1838. They called it the Newkirk Viaduct, but most people just called it what the span in the same spot is called today: the Grays Ferry Bridge. In the mid 19th century, if you wanted to travel to all points south of Philly, you had to do it over this motherfucker.
                       It began in 1831. At that time, there was no way to take a train between Philadelphia and anywhere west of the Schuykill and it was becoming a problem. The Philadelphia and Delaware Railroad Company formed in that year with the intention of building a route straight down to the Delaware state line. They got some badass engineers on the case, Samuel Kneass and William Strickland. By the time 1835 rolled around, the line was surveyed and plotted. They wanted the train to cross the mighty Schuylkill at Rope Ferry (which was exactly what it sounds like), currently called Penrose Avenue.
                      Even though the company was chartered in 1831, they didn't have a president until 1836, and that was Matthew Newkirk. This guy was a badass all around town and was pissed off at how much this thing was going to cost and where it was plotted. He suggested that it cross the river at Gray's Ferry and had Kneass re-plan the line accordingly. Then he appealed for a bigger budget to get this fucker done already. The result was the re-naming of the crew to the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Company.  
                     PWB bought the shitbag floating pontoon bridge that people called the Gray's Ferry Bridge at the time and destroyed the fuck out of it on December 31st, 1836. Then they got Kneass and Strickland to design an 800-foot-long covered bridge with two roads: one for carriages and one for trains. Construction began in July of 1837 and opened on Christmas, 1838. 
                     Newkirk was so fucking proud that not only did he give the bridge his name, he built a 30 foot tall monument to himself in marble on the western end of the bridge. 

Drawing of it from 1856.
                       Even more fucking nuts than that is that its still standing at the old western terminus of the bridge, next to the current Septa tracks under the north side of the 49th Street bridge, 174 fucking years later.

As seen in 2009. Pic by Bruce Andersen.
                     The fun thing about the Newkirk Viaduct is that when bad shit occurred and it was destroyed, it was just rebuilt like nothing happened. Only 2 years after opening, it was carried away in a bad flood. The motherfucker was back in action shortly after. It burned the fuck down in 1863 only to be completely rebuilt almost immediately. The 67-foot draw section of the bridge was replaced numerous times, the first being only a year after the bridge opened.
                     After 62 years of rebuilds and alterations, the Newkirk Viaduct was finally put out of its misery in 1900. Rumor has it that some pieces of the approaches to the 1902 railroad bridge that is permanently sitting switched open on the river are remnants of the old Newkirk Viaduct. Who knows? Either way, this bridge was an important link that was the only way to get south of Philly on a train to get your ass blown off in the Civil War. That's something.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Butt-fugly Public Art of the Week-- January 3rd

Dedicated to the American Secretary by Constantino Nivola

400 Market Street

                      Now this is stupid. A big block of steel-reinforced sand and concrete with weird ass shapes on it. Its placement behind a metal railing just makes it looks like its in jail or is in a playpen. This is one of those situations where you see a piece of art, it looks stupid as fuck, and then you find out its ridiculous name: Dedication to the American Secretary. What the fuck kind of dedication is that? This thing looks like a dedication to pinball flippers... the "head" of the "figure" looks like one.
                     It all began when that shitbird 400 Market building was being built. Having to shoehorn some Percent-for-Art action into the design, they got noted Italian sculptor Constantino Nivola on the job. He was the father of sandcasting, making reliefs out of blocks of sand and concrete. People the world over loved the shit so he basically spent most of his life making shit out of sand. The ugly ass sculpture in the picture above was installed in 1970.
                      You want to know the worst part? THE WORST? This piece of shit sculpture has an Extended Edition! In the lobby of 400 Market Street, there's a 42-foot-long steel-reinforced sand and concrete wall relief also dedicated to the American secretary!!! That's crap. I tried to take a picture of it but the security guard was an asshole and went apeshit over me taking pictures in there. That security guard must be pretty tough because the Smithsonian American Art Museum's online inventory of public art doesn't even have a picture of it. Well, fuck yall, I have a crappy black and white photo of the whole thing from 1974:

Eat shit.
                   Once in place, people loved these fucking disasters. Nivola got praise up the ass until he could stop saying "multo bene". Le Corbusier fucked the sculpture from across the street. After that, these pieces of dung have stood there, unnoticed, for 41 years, until this article was written. Security Bull should be thanking me for drawing attention to this sorry-ass motherfucker.
                    Dedicated to the American Secretary? Is there one secretary in the whole goddamn world who would appreciate this? They could have put up a sculpture of a typewriter eating its own ass out and it would have been more appropriate. This sandheap is an insult. There was no reason to go with this Constantino guy. One of his other wall reliefs already existed at a building at UPenn for 9 years at the time this piece of shit was installed. What a crock-a-shit.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mystery Building of the Week-- January 2nd

Crazy Bay Window Building

1208 Chestnut Street

What the shit!?!?!
                   This building has always irked the shit out of me. That crappy storefront with the incredibly ancient-looking bay window that has vistichises growing all over it. Does that bay window hark from ages past on Chestnut East or was it added on sometime later for a cool effect? If so, who the fuck put it there and why?
                  The origins of the building itself is very uncertain. Most likely it is the mangled and re-mangled remains of a building built in the mid-1800's. The earliest record of it is this drawing:

1208 Chestnut in 1880. There's no way to know if this is even the same building. Pic from the PAB.
                    The space has had a looong list of tenants: American Copying House in 1876, Nagle, Cook, and Ewing Printing Company late 1870's to 1880's, Child's Dining Hall Company in the 1900's decade, Alaska Copper River Mining Company had offices there in the 1910's. A number of architects had offices there in 1900 to the early 20's, Tappin's Jewelry Store in 1929, American Loan Company had offices there 1900-1930, Elevator Constructor Monthly was published there in the 1920's, the list goes on and on.
                    The architects that occupied offices in the building 1900-1920's give us a clue to where the fuck that bay window came from. Frank R. Watson, designer of the bay, had an office in the building in 1900. Maybe it was that group of architects that altered the building to have that crazy design on it? Even if that's true, where's the rest of it? Was it only 3 floors then or was it four or was it MORE? The drawing above and the amount of office tenants in the building at the same time implies that the building must have been taller.

Pieces from the Crazy Bay and whatever other parts of the facade are now lost. From the PAB.
                         One major clue I found was from the Commerce Clearing House fire and casualty cases record from 1942. It states that 1208 Chestnut suffered a major fire and states that the building was "eight stories tall". EIGHT!!! It also talks about the imminent removal of five stories, which would explain why its only 3 stories today (the 2nd story is completely covered). Well, that's a great little tidbit to find about the building except that here's a picture of it from a year before that:

There it is on the left and its definitely not 8 stories.
                         WHAT THE FUCK. So in 1942 there was a plan to reduce it in height but the picture from 1941 already has it looking similar to how it does today? ILLOGICAL!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, so let's say that the picture is misdated and the building was eight stories tall with a facade that matched that crazy bay window. Why did no one bother to take a picture of it in its full glory?
                         The Conkling Armstrong Terra Cotta Company, builders of what must have been a kick-ass facade, never bothered to take a picture of it beyond the individual sections in the picture above? That sucks. Usually in a case like this I would look up old aerial photos for clues.. but since much taller buildings exist across the street, I can't get a good pic of the front of the building.
                           One mystery about this motherfucker just leads to another. If the building was 8 stories, when did it get that way? Once it was reduced to three, what was the logic of keeping that remaining little bit of the facade? All records imply that the drawing from 1880 above and the Crazy Bay Window Building as it stands today are one in the same building. Perhaps that is untrue. One day, when Chestnut East is great again (and it WILL happen), someone's gonna want to know what's up with this shit. Maybe someone will even take on the task of restoring the building to eight stories! Does anyone know what happened here? Can anyone find a picture of what the building looked like at its full height?!?! God fucking dammit!!!