Thursday, April 5, 2012

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- April 5th

YWCA Metropolitan Branch Annex

2021 Chestnut Street

Jesus fuck!! That's horrible!!
                  What a fucking pile of junk... further proof that 1950's architecture in this city continues to be the most useless. Before this building gets demolished (soon), it needs to be called out for the butt fugly pile of dogshit that it is. Don't let the blighted nature of the building fool you... it never looked good.
                   Post-WWII Philadelphia was a pretty depressing place... especially in Center City. The beautiful old Victorian structures were dirty and falling apart. The 1920's and 30's boom buildings were outdated. The population was in a continuous migration to the Northeast and the suburbs.
                   Then, all of a sudden, three new institutional buildings came all at once, The Sidney Hillman Medical Center, the Mercantile Library, and this, the YWCA Annex. The three were considered a triumvirate that signaled a new age of urban design that would change things forever. Well, time has proven that these buildings have failed. The Sidney Hillman is now demolished (whoopie!), the Mercantile Library has been vacant for 23 years (but will be renovated by a fan of this crappy style), and the YWCA Annex is about to be demolished.
                   It began in 1949. The YWCA had not seen new construction since 1916. The building they were using on the 2000 block of Chestnut Street was built in 1923 as the Stephen Girard Hotel and it was a pretty crappy facility. The new and modern addition to the old hotel was to be a prototype for a new kind of YWCA, offering activities and services that none other had before. The first architect commissioned was the firm of Sydney Martin. They came up with a design that would be a modern version of the old hotel building.

Makes sense, right?
                         The YWCA motherfuckers were like, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! It looks too much like the old hotel!!!! Fuck youuuuuuu!!!!!!!!" and fired the fuck out of the Martin firm. They then went to the firm of Howell Lewis Shay. Those motherfuckers came up with a design that was thought, at the time, to be the height of urban institutional architecture.

Seriously, it was.
                       The long row of windows was thought to be some kind of magical connection between the building and the street. The stone-clad rectangle window facade toward the top was thought to be a revolutionary design. The YWCA started fundraising for the place in 1950 and was able to break ground in June, 1953. The cost of the building would be $750,000, $9.65 million in today's monies. Once complete in 1954, it was a big fucking deal. The place offered a swimming pool, chapel, women's dormitories, classrooms, courtyards, roofdeck, laundry rooms, and sewing rooms. The ribbon was cut in the swimming pool by a woman diving into it.
                        The building would stay in continuous use for the next 36 years. On August 31st, 1990, the Mid-City YWCA shut its doors, never to be opened again. The piece of shit became the property of the Redevelopment Authority in 1993 and just sat there.

The building in 1991 or 92. Empty but not yet boarded-up.
                      The Girard Hotel would get re-occupied in 1999 by Friere Charter School. The Annex, however, would just sit. And sit. And sit. Eventually, the building's entrance was boarded up, but it was too late. The broken windows allowed birds and weather in. What was originally just a butt-fugly building became a butt-fugly rat, roach, pigeon, and squatter nest. The place actually started to stink from the outside.
                      Once the 2000's progressed, the neighborhood surrounding the building was seeing a resurgence. The YWCA Annex became the most blighted piece of shit on the block and one of the most blighted places in Center City. Check out a photo gallery the Inquirer did of the interior here. Finally, this last December, Aquinas Realty Partners was authorized to purchase the building. They plan to FINALLY demolish the stupid-ass Annex and build a 12 story apartment building with over 100 apartments, retail space, and extra space for Friere Charter School.

From their website.
                   The design is by architect Michael Ytterberg (it must be fun to have to explain how to spell that name 50 times a day) and seems just fine for the area. In February, the Planning Commission shot some NIMBY missiles across Aquinas's bow, complaining about the facade materials to be used. However, they made up for it by being cool with it having no parking garage and for asking that it be taller than the originally planned eight stories. Aquinas should be able to get demolishin' later this year.
                  The loss of the crappy YWCA Annex and the crappier Sidney Hillman Medical Center is the proof that this new urbanism that was all the rage in the 1950's is a complete and utter failure. Sadly, it took 60 years for these shitbird buildings to be replaced, but at least its finally happening. Too bad the Mercantile Library couldn't join them so that all three of these architectural mistakes could be eradicated from memory.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lost Mystery Building of the Week-- April 4th

Herkness Bazaar

129 South Ninth Street

9th and Sansom, 1848. Image from the PAB.
                     This is one of those buildings that stood for so long that when it was demolished, no one could remember when it was built. Even early Philaphiles were stymied as to the origin of this beast. It was the first ever Mystery Building.
                     Most records would have you believe that this funny circular building was put up in 1847. This is wrong. This round piece of ruckus was constructed in a completely unknown time. The first records about it indicate that it was a three-story Cyclorama of biblical Jerusalem. Cycloramas told stories in an artificially-built environments that would immerse the audience. Basically, it was a reverse theatre in the round where the audience would sit or stand in the middle and the stage was in every direction, made to look as much as possible like the real thing. If you want to see one in person, check out the recently restored Cyclorama at Gettysburg.
                     A circular building of equal size, the Fifth Baptist Church (aka Dr. Stoughton's Church), stood next door to the old Cyclorama. Years after it was demolished, people thought that the church and the Cyclorama were the same building. Some historical records will even tell you this, but its bullshit.

Who thought it was a good idea to build two equally-sized circular buildings next to each other?
                      In 1847, auctioneer Alfred Herkness purchased the building and converted it into an auction house for cattle, sheep, horses, carriages, farm equipment, and various other items. It became a famous landmark for the city... and being right behind the Walnut Street Theatre didn't hurt. The business was hugely successful-- ads for it appeared in newspapers all over the country. Herkness' son took over the business after he died and was able to keep it going all the way into 1913. The building was finally demolished in 1915.

This might be a photo of it being demolished. Pic from the PAB.
                          When being demolished, GroJLart of the Gilded Age Frank Hamilton Taylor attempted to find out the history of the building. He was the one who crushed the myth that the Bazaar building was the same as the Fifth Baptist Church- and he was able to do it without the internet! His exact words were:

"This bazaar is supposed by many persons to have been the old Baptist building, erected in 1812 and long popular as "Dr. Stoughton's church," which was also a rotunda in form. There is conclusive evidence, however, to show that the latter stucture was situated in the middle of the block, upon Sansom Street below Ninth Street."

                    Tell 'em, FrankJLart. However, he was unable to figure out where the fuck this building came from. Check out his conjectural-ass illustration of it here. Was it built to be the Jerusalem Cyclorama or was it built for another purpose? Another Jerusalem Cyclorama was built at Broad and Cherry Streets in 1888, but only stood for a short time. This may be a situation where the information pertaining to the creation of this building may be COMPLETELY LOST. No architect, no construction date, no confirmed building usage until 1847, nothing!!!


                          Hello, this is John McLaughlin and you ahh now reading this in my voice. The building that housed the Huuhkness Bazaar was built in 1840 as an exhibition space for panoramas.  It was originally called "The Coliseum."  It opened in Sept, 1840, and the panoramas of Jerusalem and Thebes were the fuhhrst to be displayed.  In 1845, it was puhhchased by George Carter & Co. Auctioneers, renamed "The Coliseum Bazaar," and used fah horse and carriage auctions. BYE BYE!!!

*Thanks to Mike Seneca from the PAB!!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Empty Lot of the Week-- April 3rd

15th Street Desert

Northeast corner of 15th and South Streets

                                This lot has no damn excuse to exist. The other horrible empty lots near it are result of a shitty situation, but this asphalt asshole just a development desert. Its the worst kind-- a combination of adjacent empty lots that come together to be one humongous sea of horseshit. Though once a lively and populated area, it hasn't seen construction in a loooong time.
                              Read more at the Philadelphia Citypaper's Naked City Blog!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- April 2nd

Benevolent and Paternal Order of Elks Philadelphia Lodge Number Two

1320 Arch Street

                          If Philadelphia buildings were contestants in a season of Survivor, this building would make it to the final Tribal Council. Built to compliment one of the city's finest neighborhoods, it ended up spending most of its life surrounded by blight. While literally everything around it has met the wrecking ball, this beast has managed to outwit, outplay and outlast all of its competition.
                          Read more on Hidden City Philadelphia!!!