Thursday, June 14, 2012

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- June 14th

Doubletree Hotel

237 South Broad Street

                         Look at this fucking cement accordion. This shitty-ass building may be pretty nice on the inside, but from the outside it looks stupid as fuck. Its almost like they forgot to finish the top... it just sort of abruptly ends. The worse part is-- this crappy building never needed to be here in the first place. Most of you know what used to stand at this spot but here's a lil reminder just in case:

                            That's right... the butt-fugly Doubletree was built on the ashes of the great Hotel Walton. The story of what we now call the Doubletree started with none other than the Great Wall of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Rumblings of the creation of a large convention center for Philadelphia began in the very early 1980's. To get a jump on the competition, four hotel companies went gangbusters on building new hotels to serve the coming behemoth.
                           One of those four was HERCO, the Hershey Entertainment and Resort Company. Back then, the Hershey Food Company was expanding all around the nation with resorts, amusement parks, even a zoo. Among their grand ideas was to build a luxury hotel for Center City Philadelphia that would kick the shit out of all the competition. All they needed was the perfect location.
                            At the time, the southeast corner of Broad and Locust was a piece of shit. A massive empty lot bounded by Locust, Spruce, Broad, and Watts Streets dominated the area for nearly 20 years. The area just to the east was, at that time, the seediest, shittiest, crime-ridden and shitbag infested spot in the city. The Mumia thing had just happened, bringing unwanted attention to the area. A revitalization plan for the spot had been in full swing for a decade with very little effect. The Hersheyfucks decided that this would be the best possible (and cost-effective) place to drop a super-luxury hotel.
                         They teamed up with a developer called Lobro Associates (sounds made-up) and went to Alesker and Dundon architects for a design. Being that it was the very early 80's, you can't expect much. Well, they managed to create something worse than you would even expect from that time period. They took your standard cement boxitecture and flipped it diagonal, creating great views from the hotel rooms (unless you're on the side facing the Arts Tower) but a crappy accordian-looking facade on the outside. The only redeeming quality of the whole place is the glass atrium at the bottom.
                          This 25-story bastard would include 431 rooms, a shitload of conference and ballroom space, three fancy restaurants, goofy shit like tv speakers in the bathrooms, and to top it all off, a gigantic 428-car parking garage that would reach all the way to Spruce and straddle Watts Street. The dirty motherfucker was built in 1981-1982. The place would officially open on March 8th, 1982 as the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel.

How it looked when it was brand new... like shit.
                        When the big-ass cement-cordian opened, people thought it would gentrify 13th Street and the surrounding area. They were wrong... it wouldn't be until the great Tony Goldman came along many years later for that to happen. Though the hotel got rave reviews, customers were hard to find. Marketing a hotel based around a food company was much more difficult than your standard hotel chain. On top of that, the promised convention center was delayed, delayed, and delayed again. The hotel would operate at a loss the entire time it was under Hershey's name.
                         In 1991, Hershey went crawling to Hilton Inns, Inc to help get some fucking asses in the beds. In September of that year, the hotel was renamed the Philadelphia Hilton Hotel and Towers. Wait a minute...Hotel AND Towers? Where are the fucking towers? Anyway, Hershey would continue to manage the place while using Hilton's humongous branding and reservation abilities.
                       By 1993, it still wasn't working out. Hershey had enough and did everything they could to break their lease, which was supposed to go until 2003. Eventually, the Doubletree folks came along and officially took over on October 1st, 1993. In 1999, Hilton bought up Doubletree's parent company... therefore Hilton is sort of in charge of the hotel once again... its official name is Doubletree by Hilton Philadelphia Center City. Today, the hotel is doing just fine.
                     Despite a shitload of renovations, remodelings, and rebrandings over the years, you can't get away from the fact that this is an ugly motherfucking piece of dogshit. You'd think with all those upgrades that they would do something about the horrendous trench out front that's supposed to be a stairway to the BSL and PATCO. Oh well. Hershey, you should have just stuck to chocolate.

The trench.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lost Building of the Week-- June 13th

Zane Street School

713 Filbert Street

Here it is in 1897, already 56 years old. Image from the PAB.
                   The shitbirdious, overtly corrupt School District of Philadelphia had to have its start somewhere... and this is it. Though not the first HQ of the School District, this was the first buidling that was completely dedicated to it. Now the site of the local Federal Lock-up, this is a building that probably should have been preserved, but wasn't.
                    It all started in 1836. This is when the State Legislature passed the "Act to Consolidate and Amend the Several Acts Relative to a General System of Education by Common Schools", aka the School Law of 1836. This law allowed public schools throughout the state to open their doors to any (white) child, regardless of family wealth. At this point, the School District consisted of 26 primary small primary schools scattered throughout the city with a very limited enrollment. Now that schools were open to (almost) everyone, a shitload of new schools would need to be built.
                   In 1840, contracts to build the many schools required came out. One of these contracts was for a new school on Zane Street, just west of 7th. The school cost $20,952.20 to build, a fucking assload of money at the time. The Zane Street School opened its doors in April of 1841. People thought the school was cool because it had detached toiletS, that is to say, more than one.
                  The school was separated into two separate units, one for boys and one for girls. The first boy's principal was William G. E. Agnew, who would later have a school named after him in his own lifetime. The first principal in the girl's school was Lydia C. Smith. In 1848, the place changed its name to the Washington School, but gave that shit up by 1850. In 1858, when Zane Street was re-named Filbert, the school changed its name accordingly.
                  By 1868, the neighborhood's demographics shifted rapidly and enrollment dwindled so low that the now Filbert Street School closed, all remaining students moving over to the (also lost) Keystone School a few blocks away. By this point, the School District now had a Board which worked out of the Atheneaum Building on Washington Square.
                  In 1875, the school board wanted its own home from which to practice its corruption. They spent $5,842 converting the old Zane Street School into offices, creating the first official stand-alone home of the School District of Philadelphia. The building would continue this service for the next 24 years, until 1899, when the School District offices made a home at City Hall, which back then was designed for every last city office to move into.
                 The old Zane Street School would then become home to another city outfit, the Milk Pasteurization Station and/or Pure Milk Society. Back then, safe drinking milk was such a concern that cities across America had to set up stations like these to make sure people wouldn't die. From drinking fucking milk!!! On October 20th, 1911, the famous Lits Brothers bought the place for $38,000 and rented out the groundfloor as a storefront for $720 a year.
                Shortly after that, the motherfucker was demolished. You'd think that the School District wouldn't let go of their first official HQ so easily, but back then nobody gave a shit about historical preservation. Even in an account from 1897, the building is noted as one of the oldest school buildings still standing in the city, and it was only 56 years old (that picture above is from the same time). Oh well. That's one lost-ass building.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Empty Lot of the Week-- June 12th

Kieth's SansLot

1111-1119 Sansom Street

                        So what's the big deal about this lot? Its behind some Chestnut Street buildings and across from a parking garage on Sansom... nice and hidden. So why is this a problem? Why shouldn't there be an empty lot here?
                       Found out at the Philadelphia Citypaper's Naked City Blog!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- June 11th

Equitable Trust Building

224 South Broad Street

                         Now here's an inspiring building. Horace Trumbauer's Equitable Trust Building is unbelievable. You can't make up the story about this thing...this old bank building has been through a crazy life and is still kicking ass all over South Broad Street.
                      Read more at the Hidden City Daily!