Thursday, July 19, 2012

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- July 19th

Object for Expression by Warren Holzman

Hawthorne Park

                     The Hawthorne neighborhood has sure come a long way in the last 15 years. Once home to the worst public housing project ever built, the neighborhood has finally seen new life after a long dormant period. Part of that renaissance was the construction of the kick-ass awesome Hawthorne Park and an actual non-Mural Arts non-Zagar-related public art piece, Object for Expression. Unfortunately, its a boring piece of horsetrash.
                    First a quick modern history of Hawthorne: In 1960, the neighborhood, full of little interstitial streets and remains of ancient diagonal highways, was torn down in favor of ugly-ass public housing tower...they called the project Hawthorne Square but renamed it Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza in 1970. The project, like others like it, became a crime-infested zoo of scallywags and ne'er-do-wells. Less than four decades after being built, areas to the north were semi-gentrified but Hawthorne was still a piece of shit. By this point, MLK Plaza was falling apart and only half of the 500 units could be considered even slightly livable.

                 In the mid-90's, city officials and other public figures started discussing the total destruction of the project and a revitalization of the neighborhood. Despite protests by people who thought it was a good idea to have a bunch of shitty 1960 ass-towers spread crime for another 40 years, the towers were rightly blown the fuck up on October 17th, 1999. New mixed-income semi-affordable housing started going up almost immediately, though the neighborhood consisted of a sea of empty lots well into the early 2000's. The new stuff was a result of HOPE VI legislation and was developed by a partnership with Kenny Gamble's crooked-ass Universal Companies and some other developer (if Kenny cared that much about the neighborhood, he would do something with the empty lot at 13th and Bainbridge that he's been sitting on for 7 years).
                  Strangely enough, it took 70 years to figure out that affordable housing could look like regular rowhouses, and that's exactly what they built. Walking down 13th street in Hawthorne gives you an idea of what 1890's rowhouses looked like when they were new. Once the new MLK homes were nearly complete, people still found ways to complain about it. There were four main qualms: 1) The new MLK Plaza doesn't have as many units as the crappy towers had, 2) White-owned businesses did the construction (the horror!!!!!!!), 3) The new stuff took too long to build, and 4) the old PHA-owned Hawthorne Community Center and lot at 12th and Catharine, both originally planned to be revitalized, still stood vacant.
               In 2010, the PHA gave up on both spaces. The ugly-ass Community Center, considered historic because Martin Luther King made a speech to 2300 people from its steps in 1965, was knocked down and replaced with market-rate housing. The lot at 12th and Catharine was given over to the city for the purposes of building a $2.15 Million park. This new and kick-ass place called Hawthorne Park would have to satisfy its own Percent-for-Shit requirement, and a competition was held for what it should be. The winner was a crappy piece of junk by artist/blacksmith Warren Holzman called Object for Expression. Ugh, the pretentious-ass naming conventions of public art continues. 

It was included in the renderings of the park, though in a slightly different location. That ghost-person with a backpack is about to fall over.
                    The stainless steel ass-mesh is supposed to be a lectern that's supposed to "encourage impromptu performances and oration" and also honor that time Martin Luther King spoke nearby. Continuing in the tradition of horrible public art dedicated to King, the "lectern" looks more like the Hiller Hovering Platform. The new plaque dedicating King's speech is better looking than this piece of shit. There was a great opportunity for a great piece of public art here, but we're all gonna have to settle for this. What a shame. A 20-foot statue of MLK doing the Vulcan salute with both hands would have been more appropriate.
                     Hawthorne's rebirth has been an extraordinarily awesome step in the right direction for the city, even though people are still finding reasons to whine about it. I wish the neighborhood all the best...sorry the public art there has to be some of the worst.

Is it crooked? I've always loved that mural with the dude screaming in the baby's face.

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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dead-Ass Proposal of the Week-- July 17th

Triangle Redevelopment Plan

Bounded by the Ben Franklin Parkway, Pennsylvania Boulevard (JFK Blvd) and the Schuylkill River

Hey, it was the 40's. Image by the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project.
                    Before the Philadelphia River City and the Century 21 Complex, there was the Triangle Redevelopment Plan by none other than the most ass-kissed starchitect that ever lived, Philly native Louis Kahn! This is yet another Dead-Ass Proposal for the area north of Market near the Schuylkill-- that place must be cursed or something.
                 Read more at the Philadelphia Citypaper's Naked City Blog!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mystery Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- July 16th

Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center

1415 North Broad Street

               Goddamn, this building sucks. A little squat building way the fuck back on a huge dirty-ass lawn. The origin of this building isn't exactly a mystery... but the architect and motivation behind the shitty layout of it are. The only good thing about this piece of shit is that maybe one day someone will construct a cool building in front of it.
             The origin of the Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center begins with Leon H. Sullivan (duh). He was a badass local reverend and civil rights activist. His philosophy on solving poverty in the black community was logical instead of emotional-- education, job training, entrepreneurship, employment, and general health. The "general health" and "employment" parts were the motivation behind creating this shitty building, a centralized location for health and unemployment services.
           The location of this and his one of his other big ventures-- the recently rebuilt Progress Plaza, would have to be in a prominent location for the mid-20th Century Philadelphia black community-- the 1400 and 1500 blocks of North Broad. Unfortunately, this would mean knocking the fuck out of a prominent location for the Gilded Age rich motherfuckers community, the 1400 and 1500 blocks of North Broad. The Human Services Center would take the space of two kick-ass churches, one apartment building, and no less than 4 rows of Robber Baron Mega-Mansions.
Broad an Master in 1924. The Memorial Baptist Church is probably the most bad-ass looking lost church there is.
                 To be fair, at the time the Human Services Center was set to be built (1966), that kick-ass Gilded Age architecture was in pretty shitty shape-- most of the houses were fucked up and some had already been replaced with 1940's-era shitboxes. Nonetheless...whomever designed the Human Services Center thought it would be a good idea to place it set way the fuck back on the lot behind a big lawn and a crappy concrete plaza. Its so set back that its address should be 1417 North Watts Street, one of the blocks behind Broad that got eliminated for this boxy pile of shitballs.
               As I stated earlier, the architect and layout choices are a mystery. The reasoning behind placing the building so far back on the lot is probably rooted in the 1960's philosophy of urban design: suburban design. Even so, this shitty building looks worse than the crappiest 1960's suburban office park. Maybe I wouldn't mind so much if they picked up the incredible amount of trash that lawn collects on a daily basis... it IS the only green space for blocks around (in the Gilded Age, Ontario Park was a block away-- it was eliminated to create William Penn High).
               There is hope on the horizon... nearly all the blocks surrounding this shitty building are seeing or about to see change. Progress Plaza has been nicely redone, an 8-story boutique hotel is proposed for the Blue Horizon/Freedom Theatre block, the failed William Penn High School (the original School of the Future) has been closed, and Temple University's influence continues to move south. It is inevitable that the 46-year-old Leon H. Sullivan Human Services Center will probably be altered or destroyed in the near future. Its lot is zoned C-2 so that'll have to be changed to get something cool built here.
               So does anyone know what idiot architect designed this thing or why the fuck they placed it so far back on the lot? When the fuck will someone wake up and properly utilize this block for modern needs? and What the FUCK?