Wednesday, December 17, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of December, 1915

Big Fucking Snowstorm Hits Philadelphia, Worse in Other Cities

Picture taken at the height of the storm, somewhere on Market just west of City Hall.
            On December 13, 1915, Philadelphia was hit with a huge, unexpected snow storm that had been predicted by weathermen to be nothing but slush. It started out as just a little over an inch of snow all morning and appeared to have stopped completely. Then, all of a sudden, another 4 inches fell in blizzard form around noon and was done in a very short period of time.

The yards on top of the old "Chinese Wall" leading to Broad Street Station during the storm
               That's right, it was only a total of 5 inches. Nonetheless, the city was crippled. However, the effect in Philly was nothing compared to other northeastern cities. Trains were stuck all over the coast with passengers trapped inside. In the end, $2.5 million of damage was done. Telegraph and phone wires were down all over the northeast-- there was zero service of each kind between Albany and Philadelphia for days. Milk deliveries to Philly were suspended for at least one day-- all reserve milk was sent to hospitals and public institutions.
          It makes you wonder how these 1915 folks would have handled the badass winter Philly had last year.

View of Market East getting its ass kicked by the storm from City Hall

The Spirit of Giving, Kensington Style

The scene of Christmas Spirit from
            Hugh McCrane was a bum that primarily hung out at the corner of Front and York in Kensington who apparently loved himself some Christmas. Upon passing a store that had a large stuffed Santa Claus on display, he ripped the beard off of it and somehow stuck it to his own face. He then stole a bunch of baskets of apples from a nearby grocer and started handing the apples out to all the children on the street.
            The grocer himself was understandably pissed off by this and contacted his friend, Officer McClusker, who took McCrane into custody. Santa Bum was sentenced by Magistrate Glenn to 30 days at the House of Corrections. McCrane responded with an endless tirade of bad language.

Front and York today thanks to Google Streetview. Yes, that is the same building.

The Great Trunk Murder Caper

        In the basement of 4062 Frankford Avenue, the demolition of an old house lead to the discovery of a gruesome scene. One of the demolition workers, Louis Dehman, was digging up the cellar of the place when he found a wooden box containing a steamer trunk that contained a body that was completely covered in Quicklime aka Calcium Oxide.
       What came to be known as the "Trunk Murder" or "Box Murder" became big news over the next six months. The victim was 23-year-old Daniel J. McNichol, cousin of a State Senator. He had disappeared 20 months before and just happened to be carrying $2000 on his person at the time. 
          Edward F. Keller, partner of McNichol in a failed leather company, cooperated with police the day the trunk was found but soon became the prime suspect and was arrested the day after. Keller's story changed constantly thereafter but the circumstantial evidence against him piled up like a motherfucker. They found Quicklime at his house (which also happened to be the same kind of quicklime used at the leather plant), he told McNichol's pregnant fiance that he had abandoned her and moved to NYC, Norristown, and/or Detroit the day after he disappeared, Keller owned the commercial laundry business that had been using the building in which the trunk body was found (under a fake name) , and he was witnessed digging a hole in the basement. 
          Keller tried to claim that the man in the trunk was not McNichol at all and that McNichol was not only still alive, but in contact with him, claiming that he had become a bum in New York. This was all disproved pretty quickly using some science revolutionary to the period, aka checking the gold fillings in the corpses' teeth versus dental records. Keller also claimed that the laundry was located in a shitty neighborhood (it was) and didn't have locks on the doors (it didn't), so anyone could have buried that body there. In May, 1916, Keller was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10-12 years at Eastern State Penitentiary.
          After spending 8 years at Eastern State, Keller was released and found a job as a night watchman at the Corn Exchange Bank (this guy was such a pimp that he was able to get meet a woman and get married while in prison, who got him the job). On December 20th, 1925, he proceeded to steal $20,000 in cash from the bank. He fled from his home to the Lorraine Hotel (you know, the Divine Lorraine!) but then panicked and wanted to leave town. He hailed a cab and set about escaping Philadelphia forever. He opened his suitcase to admire the pile of money and died of heart failure, lying in the money he just stole. The same detective who solved the McNichol case (Detective Belshaw) was called to investigate the death of Keller. How ironic.
        The detective work connecting Keller to the McNichol murder was unprecedented in its use of science and forensics. The story still pops up every now and then, including a shitty 1991 MS-DOS video game called Murder!  and has appeared in detective training literature as recently as 2007.

Edward Keller

Fake Buttermilk and Other Offenses to Food Are Being Sold All Over The City!

             Special Agent Robert M. Simmons of the Pennsylvania State Dairy and Food Commission has made a disturbing discovery: 85% of the buttermilk being sold in Philadelphia is not real! In case you didn't know, back in 1915, people drank buttermilk, the by-product left over from the churning of butter out of cream, because it was believed that the shit made you into a super-healthy Stanless Steelsque mega-monster. 
             Special Agent Simmons discovered that some shady company was selling a specially-made powdered skim milk to most Philadelphia grocers that, when mixed with lactic acid, created an artificial buttermilk that tasted better than the real thing but had no nutritional value. Simmons also busted a bunch of stores for selling rotten "canned eggs", selling goat meat as lamb, and adding sulfer dioxide to cherries.
              Not a damn thing was ever done about it.

Those sulfer dioxide cherries are quite common today. Pic from

Monday, December 15, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Bell Telephone Diamond Exchange

1632 Diamond Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
                  Norf Philly has lots of architectural treasures to talk about but few seem to know about this old phone exchange... except me! Read it all at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fill This Front: 1208 Chestnut

1208 Chestnut Street

                Here I am, back on Chestnut Beast, to re-visit a building I've written about before. Not because it was once a Frank Watson-designed Cathedral of Ultimate Kick-Ass, but because its storefront has been empty for 2 and a half fucking years! How the hell are we supposed to bring back Chestnut East with this old bastard still sitting empty?
               The old Hamilton and Diesinger Building was an 8-story commercial building that had a humongous store space on its first floor that came with a cool mezzanine.

Special thanks to Philaphile Kevin McMahon for finding this photo for me.
         In about 1942 the building went up in flames and the top 5 floors had to be removed, leaving just one floor with its awesome rounded terra cotta bay window. Ever since, the building has existed as a single retail floor that goes all the way back to Sansom Street with miniscule 1250 square foot second and third floors.
       Many many stores have come and gone through this space-- restaurants, photo processors, bookstores, linen stores, several different shoe stores, you name it. Listing them all in order would be foolish. The latest store to inhabit this space was one of many Philly locations of the Brooklyn-based discount clothier Rainbow, who came along in 1998 or so and lasted until 2012.

Rainbow in January 2012, right before it closed.
        The ownership of the building seems a bit shady-- it was purchased in 1988 for $700,000 by a group of people based in some random office in NYC that is now some kind of management firm for writers or some such shit. Obviously, the info the city has about the owners of this building is out of date.
       Last February, L & I came after the place, citing the awesome terra cotta bay window as something unsafe. Pieces looked like they were about to fall off, I guess. The place got gated up and the bottom of the bay window was lathed and stuccoed over. The windows in the bay were also [kind of] restored Therefore, whomever manages or owns this building is still taking care of it to some extent. Ever since that repair, the place seems to be looking shittier and shittier by the day. Someone needs to come along and save this bastard.
       This space is a total of 7,750 square feet, 5,750 of which are on the first floor alone. That first floor is 25 feet wide on Chestnut Street and runs the entire 230 feet back to the 1200 block of Sansom Street, which is also somewhat retailed-up. If you were a real badass, you could open two different storefronts on either side of this thing, or be like my boys down at Cella Luxuria and have front and back entrances to the same store!
       This storefront is in a prime location on the re-emergent Chestnut East corridor. Some of our best bus lines run directly in front of this place and our highest use bus line, the 23, runs both east and west of it. One block away from an EL stop, not too far from the Broad Street Line, a few blocks from Regional Rail, this place has it all!!! I would try to hook you up with whomever manages or owns this place, but it seems no such information exists. There hasn't been a "for sale" or "for lease" sign in the two years its been empty, so I don't know what to tell you. The only listing I've found to rent the place has no contact info on it.
      This place may be the last piece of the Chestnut East puzzle to change. Add yourself to the list of heroes that are changing Chestnut East for the better. FILL THIS FRONT!!
Bad photo of the Sansom Street side.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Wholesale Diamond Exchange

800 Chestnut St

             Dammit, 8th and Chestnut, why do you suck so much!?!? This was once the goddamn nexus of the city, where commerce, the press, and our finest hotels all met at one kick-ass corner. Nowadays, not only does it look like crap, it has looked like crap for half a goddamn century! The Northwest corner has had a surface parking lot on it for over 60 years. The Northeast corner has had a shitty parking garage on it for over 50 years. The Southeast corner has a bad alteration of a 1850's commercial building. Then there's this, the Southwest corner, worst of them all!
        Back when this corner kicked ass, this location was home to the Times Building. What building? THIS BUILDING:

Oh my gooooooooooood Image from the PAB.
                This building actually managed to survive all the way into the 1960s despite a series of fires and having its top floors chopped off. Even in its final form, it looked better than anything else at the corner.

See? Not as good but still not that bad. Image from the PAB.
              In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Public Federal Savings & Loan Association went on a crazy building spree, throwing up new branch offices all over the region. Included with this would be a brand new main branch. The location? This corner, 8th and Chestnut... probably chosen because of its proximity to their old office at 705 Chestnut. Luckily, the Annex of the old Times Building still stands.
             The architect for this and the majority of the other branch buildings put up during this building spree was Steven J. Matthews. This one was proposed in 1969 and was banking away by the time the 1970s began. Public Federal Savings & Loan was done with this spot by the early 1980s and a law firm later took over the place.
             In 1986, the Hyde-Pride Investment & Development Company of Los Angeles came along and wanted to open a Wholesale Jewelers Exchange in this location. It would be their third such spot like this and their first on the East Coast. The model was to get small-time jewelers who could never afford a whole storefront in the Jeweler's Row district to be able to rent a small space in the Exchange and therefore be able to represent in the city's main jewelry-buying location-- a Jeweler's Row within Jeweler's Row. The place opened in March of 1986 as the Sansom Wholesale Jewelers Exchange (though not location on Sansom Street) with only 6 out of the 45 booths open, but leases were already signed for many of them. It didn't take too long for the place to fill right up. 
            Jeweler's Row old timers were PISSED about this existence of this place, thinking it would force the prices of jewelry in the other stores to get slashed (jewelry is artificially scarce anyway) and that the place signaled the beginning of the end of Jeweler's Row. Well, its nearly 30 years later and this place and Jeweler's Row are still going strong. The same dudes who were complaining about this place are still in business, by the way. The exchange changed its name to the Wholesale Diamond Exchange and did a renovation of the exterior of the ugly building they're in around 2008.
            I advocate the destruction of this building in the name of re-engaging the corner of 8th and Chestnut. This corner is 2 goddamn blocks away from Independence Hall and one block away from the huge transit nexus at 8th and Market. Its has such massive potential but is held back by the mistakes of the mid-20th Century. If this and the huge parking garage catercorner to it were taken out, that would give 3 out of the 4 corners here prime for awesome development. This is a fantasy of course, its not like the owners of these buildings, who are no doubt making mucho $$$ off of them, will sell just because I said so.. but one can dream.
           However, consider this: there will eventually come a time when there will be preservationists who want to save shitty 1970s urban architecture. Its already begun regarding obsolete urban buildings from the 1940s and 50s, which no one ever cared about until they were endangered. Even an ugly, obsolete 1951-built Public Federal Savings and Loan building in Wynnewood has people going nuts over its possible destruction.
          Therefore, if this building doesn't get replaced now, people will be diving in front of the wrecking ball when the time actually comes. This corner needs HELP and NOW is the time to make it happen.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why You Need to Support Hidden City Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

              Wow, that's a pretty nice video. They should have asked me to provide narration using Monster Voice. Meh, maybe not. Look, I'm not just saying this shit because I write and do tours for these folks. Hidden City Philadelphia is the most important publication in the city right now. It documents and disseminates stories and information about all that Philadelphia-related shit that would otherwise be lost forever.
                Hidden City assembles all the... shall we say... not-so-neurotypical whackos around our city that have boatloads of knowledge about the history, people, neighborhoods, and both the natural and built environments of Philadelphia and spreads that shit around so that you, the humans, can experience the same wonder and joy that our modest and underrated city gives to them (includes me).

              I bring this up because Hidden City is now engaged in their annual campaign to raise enough scrilla to keep that shit going. Without that dough, Hidden City won't be able to bring you all the great content it throws down every week and all the great tours/events it does throughout the year. After all, these guys deserve it. They took a chance on me, GroJLart, a random anonymous bum who knows about Philadelphia shit, and let me go nuts writing and giving tours about the kind of things I like to learn about.
              Even though it sounds like a strip club Christopher Columbus opened in the Dominican Republic, Indiegogo is where you have to go to contribute to Hidden City. Click on the link above and send these folks some currency. Help bring Hidden City into 2015 and beyond!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fill This Front: Warner Bros. Studio Store

1625 Chestnut Space 240

Where the crappy arrows are pointing

              Whoa whoa whoa wait a minute here! It has come to my attention, though not totally confirmed, that this space at the Shops at Liberty Place hasn't had a permanent lessee in 13 years!!  HOLY FUCK. If true, that's a goddamn travesty! What the fuck is going on here? From what I can tell, the last thing to occupy this space in any kind of long-term way was the goddamn WB Studios Store!
               For those of you that don't remember, the Warner Bros. Studio Store was a crappy mall store where you could by Warner Brothers-related merchandise. They started out with only a few locations in 1993, the nearest one being at the Cherry Hill Mall. They later decided to pop up in every fucking mall you could think of in the next couple of years. Even shit-ass Quaker Bridge Mall had one.
            The WB Studio Store came to Center City Philadelphia in the 1994 Christmas Shopping season. The spot they chose? Space 240 at the Shops at Liberty Place. The place did just fine... it stayed open all the way until 2001, when the franchise quit the U.S. Ever since, the spot has stayed empty as fuck save for a few seasonal spots, if my sources are correct. Not only is it empty, but the place itself is in disguise!

Its behind this crap.
And this shit on the other side of the escalator
               A person who does not know the mall very well may not notice that when coming up the escalator on the southwest side, all the windows are covered with ads for the Shops at Liberty Place and a small hallway directs you into the second floor of the mall. This used to be part of that store space! Over the years, Liberty Place has managed to stay pretty nice but the emptiness of this space sticks out like a sore thumb, no matter how much they may cover it up with bullshit. Let's try to fill this fucker once and for all!
              This space is advantageous because it has window frontage on the second floor facing both 17th and Chestnut Streets. The space itself is 12,000 square feet (when the hallway is deleted), one of the largest single spaces you can get in the whole place. It also has a large skylight on its south frontage with a balcony that looks over the southwestern entrance to the mall! Its not like this thing can't hold on to a tenant-- as noted above, it held the same one for 6 straight years!

Skylight and balcony section of the southeast side of the space.
              Do I even have to tell you how much foot traffic and transit shit passes this space!?!? Nearly limitless. On top of that, directly above this space is one building full of high-paid employees, one tower that is half rich-as-fuck residents, and another building with an expensive-ass hotel that connects directly to the same mall! What the fuck are you waiting for!?!?!?
              Unfortunately, I can't find a listing out there for this one. Even if you want it, you'll have a hard time getting it! Well, fuck that. Cushman Wakefield leases the rest of the spaces so I'm sure if you call those folks up you can make a deal. Maybe you can lease one of the two separated sides! Either way, this space needs filling. Be the hero that will FILL THIS FRONT!!!!

17th Street-facing windows. There's more facing Chestnut.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Brown Sisters Building

115-117 South 19th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler

            You've never even noticed this building, have you? This little bitch-bastard is a block off of Rittenhouse Square and is holding in some history. Find out all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fill This Front: V O G

123 South 19th Street

Yeah, its a Google Streetview image. Didn't have a chance to photograph it for real. Dang early sunsets!
                I don't like it when stuff near Rittenhouse Square stays empty. After all, this is touted as our most badass neighborhood and has been named one of the best city neighborhoods in the goddamn nation! Though its only been empty for 6 months, its sadness is compounded by the fact that its previous occupant was there 22 years!
                This space has been a lot of stuff since this building was constructed in 1925... its been split into two and three spaces at different points over the decades and even went for a long time as just a ground floor office space. In about 1986 it became some kind of health spa space and in 1992 became the Philadelphia location of VOG International Salon.
                See that ugly-ass 1990s-ish signage? The salon went back and forth with Zoning, the CCRA, and the Art Commission between 1996 and 1998 to get it done. For awhile, the VOG had to be left out until it got approved.
                VOG moved to a new place called 21M in April and the space they were in for over 20 years has stayed empty since. Let's try to get it filled. This is a 1,384 square foot space at the Southeast corner of 19th and Sansom. Not only is it one block off of Rittenhouse Square, its surrounded by buildings that are home to thousands of people with shit-tons of disposable income! Also nearby are thousands and thousands of offices where people make tons of dough.
                 The location gets tons of foot traffic and is served by a buttload of public transit (just like all the other Fill This Fronts I've featured). You'd have to work pretty hard to fail at this space. Here's the listing. Take that leap and FILL THIS FRONT!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: 2nd and Bainbridge

624-26 South 2nd Street

              Jesus, look at this place. Ah, beautiful Queen Village-- a neighborhood that's been through thick and thin over the years but has managed to become a much sought-after enclave. However it still needs to get over a few little things to live up to its full potential. One of those little things is to take care of what is arguably its ugliest and most shitty-looking building, 624-26 Bainbridge Street, which is now in its 40th year of marring the corner of 2nd and Bainbridge.
            Though this place has been associated with Ulana Mazurkevich, Realtor/Celebrated Activist of the Ukrainian-American Community for the last 30+ years, she's not the one who got it built. It was Christaldi Builders who commissioned John Burris in 1973 to design a two story restaurant-club structure to be built on a lot they owned at 2nd and Bainbridge. After getting a Zoning Variance in December of that year, the building was finished in 1974.
           I'm not sure what was going on there the next 3 years but from what I can tell, Stephen Starr took ownership of the place in 1977 or so and opened his second-ever enterprise, Stars (which some people call Starz or Starr's). Into the early 80s, this became a hot venue where some legendary folks performed. Bob Saget credits Stars with starting his stand up career, which to me is enough to re-name this place the Bob Saget Center.
           In 1982, Zenon and Ulana Mazurkevich, who was already running the place next door since 1970, took ownership of the building. In 1990, the building was combined with Ulana's at 205 Bainbridge to become one massive place called Ulana's Restaurant & Club.
           In 1991 it became a nightclub/venue called U2 Club, run by club promoter Bill Poole.  In 1992, it became Club Safari. It was also at one point called Club 2B (Get it? 2nd and Bainbridge) and by 1996 was known as Ulana's Downtown Rock Lounge. In 1997, a third story apartment above the building was proposed and designed by Zenon himself, but it never happened.

Drawing of the building in an alternate universe.
                In more recent years, the club hosted goth and industrial stuff on certain nights, making it pretty much the only place in the area to go for that shit. Other than that, the place appears closed now. Of course, with places like this, its hard to tell. So, not only is this a nasty pile of shit; it may be a Fill This Front as well!
              Anyway, this building is ugly as fuck and makes Queen Village look like Schlocktown USA. Its about time this thing was put out of its misery-- its been 40 fucking years, for fuck's sake. Demolition wouldn't even be required... just a really creative re-facade or something. Queen Village deserves not to have a such a shitbird-looking building as this. Who's up to the physical challenge of making it better?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fill This Front: General Accident

400-414 Walnut Street

            This beautiful bitch-bastard of a storefront has been empty for almost six years! What the hell could be wrong with it? Great location, huge size available, divisible all you want, foot traffic, transit, tourists, you name it! It even has giant medallions along the top! Well, guess what? Its been off the market now for 6 months, so even if you suddenly want it and call that phone number on the signs, you can't have it!!
            From what I can tell, this retail space was just the ground floor office floor of the second General Accident Insurance Company building (400-02 was built 1906, 404-414 is a 1924 addition), which later became the Green Tree aka Mutual Assistance Company. The building became residential in 2003 (despite efforts by the Society Hill Civic to shut it down over parking) and was named after old Green Tree company. It was then that the 5,043 square foot ground floor space was made retail. It became spa and fitness center called Li'Joanna but closed as a similar place called Ananda.

As Ananda in 2007. Thanks again, Google Streetview time machine!
                   Ananda closed on January 31, 2009, meaning that this space has been empty for almost as long as it was filled. Is it haunted? What's wrong with this place? I don't know where else you can get a 5,000 sq ft space with awesome columns and big-ass sculptures depicting symbols of the countries General Accident Insurance operated in.

The blueprint from Partridge Associates
                Tell me you couldn't fit an awesom restaurant in here called "General Accident"!?!? There's even a 50' x 19' room in the back that you could use as a private party space! Think about it-- if you call it General Accident you wouldn't even have to cover the old signage up top OR have to deal with some retail signage NIMBYs like other businesses do! Can't do a restaurant here? Ok, its also available as office space! Say you're a company renting a 4,000 sq ft space on the 11th floor of some obscure building. You can rent this spot and be seen by everyone walking by! Instead of telling client "11th floor of the Shitbird Building", you can say, "Ground floor of General Accident, under the kick-ass medallions! That's right!!"
              The space can be divided into a 2,100 sq ft segment if 5,000 is too much for ya. Good old-fashioned high-end retail could work here too. You have a whole building full of expensive-ass homes above along with some brand new ones on the 300 block. The rest of the surrounding buildings are offices with high-paying jobs and a rich people's building is about to be built a block away!
           Did I mention the tourists? This place is directly across the street from the Independence National Historical Park! You put the right thing in here and it would only have to do well in the Summer months to stay open all year! Then there's the transit access. Not only is this place accessible from countless bus lines and has the EL not too far away- it gets passed by the stinky horse carriages! Make sure you employ someone to pick up the horseshit out front!
          So, you want the place now, eh? Well, you can't even have it. The listing for this went "Off Market" six months ago which either means that someone has been leasing it all this time (without doing shit with it) or they just gave the fuck up.
          Don't let this one die! Contact Mallin Panchelli Nadel Realty and see what the fuck is up with this place. If that doesn't work, get Turchi Properties, the people who manage the building, on the phone and tell them you want to FILL THIS FRONT!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Old Ass Building(s): Wagner Free Insitiute and Marine Corps Depot Schuylkill Warehouse

1700 West Montgomery Avenue, 730 Schuylkill Avenue

Photo by Michael Bixler
              Two very different buildings, two very different destinies. The Wagner Free Institute and the Marine Corps Depot Schuylkill Warehouse. What's the story? Found at the Hidden City Daily!

Photo by Michael Bixler

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fill This Front: 31 South 2nd

31 South Second Street

        This shitbird storefront is located in a semi-blighted Old City building that has been tied up in legal shit for years. I wish it was the only one of its kind on this block, but it isn't. Nonetheless, since this is the only one technically available for lease and/or sale, let's try to get it filled.
        The building this is located in is part of a conglomeration of half-renovated buildings that face both 2nd and Letitia Streets. In the documents in the legal shit related to this property, the group of buildings is called the "EFL V Property". Since this is an Old City building, I'm not going to bore you with the long long LONG list of occupants this storefront has had... however I can tell you about its most recent history.
         In 1947, it was combined with the storefront next door to become Waldman Furniture. The signage for this store has been re-exposed on the 33 South Second side of the front. Whatever happened there, it didn't work out and the storefronts were re-separated by 1953, when it became a lighting store called Lamp Exchange that stayed open for nearly 3 decades.

As Lamp Exchange in 1972.
             In 1982, the front began under its final purpose, a series of dry cleaning establishments that lasted well into the 21st Century. In this picture from 2005, you'll see that the storefront was relatively new-looking and up for lease by a real estate agency.

31 and 33's storefronts look a lot better in this picture, if you're wondering about how 27 and 29 got like that, read this. They're doing a lot better now.
                 In 2006, EFL Partners started a renovation of the place in connection with bunch of other adjacent buildings they also own. I'm bad at reading legalese but from what I can tell, they got the place partially redone at best. Ever since, the storefront has been boarded up and has been looking like shit. However, in 2012, a sign suddenly appeared reading "COMMERCIAL SPACE AVAILABLE". Though I can't tell if the sign means the storefront or the upper floors, I'm going to assume that the store space must be available. The phone number on the sign traces back to some dude's house in Staten Island, but whatever. Call him up.
              This is a ~945 square foot space with a 13'6" frontage on the unit block of South 2nd Street. This is a prime location for a business owner, since this block is rife with tourists during the day and covered with drunk out-of-towners (and out-of-neighborhooders) at night. Despite the look of this building and some others nearby, the surrounding 3-4 block radius is home to thousands of people with lots and lots of disposable income. In addition to that, there is an EL Stop half a block away and a bus transit hub nearby that serves a whole shit-ton of lines.
            Be a hero. Save a storefront that hasn't been in use for over a decade. Make lots of dough while contributing to society. Its all right there, ready for you. FILL THIS FRONT!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Free Library of Philadelphia Charles Santore Branch

932 South 7th Street

             Fuck this bomb-shelter looking piece of shit right here. I don't care how much people might like it. This 51-year-old asspile is just yet another mid-century building in the city that proves, like many others, that these type of designs don't stand the test of time-- not in Philadelphia, anyway.
            There isn't much to say on the history of this place. It is the sequel to a much nicer 1911-built building that still stands at 5th and Ellsworth. This uglier one was proposed and designed in 1960 under designs from a crap firm called Eshbach, Pullinger, Stevens, Bruder. This firm did a lot of fucking damage to this city. Their other masterpieces include the 9th District Police Station/Rodin Place shopping center/parking garage at 20th and Hamiltion, the Orlowitz Residence Hall at 10th and Locust, and all of the UGLIEST 1960s/70s buildings on the Penn campus, which is saying something.

 Pic by Austin Murphy, Creative Commons License etc etc
            Talk about a building that doesn't fit with its surroundings. Great old brick rowhouses, churches, and schools as you walk around this hood, then you happen upon this goddamn concrete bunker and just yell "WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK!?!?!?" to the sky. It fits less into the neighborhood than the bright red awning of the pizza place across the street. What the fuck were they thinking with this design? It seems to be this common institutional theme from the mid 20th Century where they would make this pentagon shape like when a 5-year-old draws and house and run it over and over again down the street.

The logo of the Capital Area Head Start program looks mysteriously like the Charles Santore Branch

                You can also find this architectural theme in the design of some of the Rec Centers around the parts of the city the vast majority of you will never go. What a bunch of garbage. This 7,700 square foot Free Library branch broke ground on July 11th, 1962 and opened on November 1, 1963 as the Southwark Branch, again the sequel to a much awesomer building of the same name. Oh, did I mention what they demolished to build this piece of shit here?

Early 1962 pic of the awesome fire/police station destroyed to make way for this mess. 
The short time between the demolition of the old and the building of the new. If only they knew.
             The library went through a major renovation in 1998 when all 52 library branches were cleaned up and given internet access. On March 26, 2004, they insulted the shit out of the memory of Charles Santore, former boxer, Republican Ward Leader, and union local founder by naming the ugliest building in his whole neighborhood after him. There was another small renovation in 2010.
              I'm sure the community likes this place and that the library itself is just fine, but what a piece of fuck architecturally. Why the white walls at the corner? All the oddly-shaped rooms on the inside? I feel bad for the residents of Beulah Street who have the back of this shitty building across the street from their front doors.

The original blueprint via the Free Library of Philadelphia. In the 60s they thought having a bunch of slanted walls everywhere was the way to go.
                Look, the predecessor of this library was 52 year old when this place was built. This one is 51 years old now. That means, if we're going to follow to same pattern, a replacement of this building is due. Not that the city will be building new library buildings any time soon. Do this motherfucker a favor and put it out of its goddamn misery. Harrumph.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mr. GroJLart Goes To Washington

Washington, District of Columbia

            I have been to D.C. exactly 3 times including this latest visit a couple of weeks ago. The first time was to go to the Superbowl of Hardcore 2001 (while trying to remember the name of this show I found myself in a video from it!) where I didn't really see the rest of the city, the second time was in the Summer of 2002 when it was like 100 degrees there and it sucked, and this, the third time, was my first REAL visit where I got to see the most of downtown from a GroJLartian perspective. Though I'm sure some people who've been to DC a lot are going to think my impression of it is going to be pretty stupid, I present it to you anyway:

Architecture  & Development 

         The architecture in DC is more or less pretty good... lots and lots of new buildings with pretty decent designs interspersed with tons of old stuff that looks awesome-- up to and including some old shit from Philly architects!

A building by John Fraser, Frank Furness's mentor who moved to DC. Same dude who did the Union League!

Kick-ass building by Philly's James Hamilton Windrim
             Development there seems to be going bonkers. Almost every block has either a renovation, an infill, or a crane on it. Like many have noted before, the height limit on buildings works to spread development out and created nice building canyons along the streets. With no really tall buildings around, they don't seem so short anyway.

              THAT BEING SAID (I hate that expression), DC also has a buttload of buildings from the worst periods of architectural history. In almost every direction, one can observe a garbage piece of brutalism or a very badly designed bit of modernism.

The Australian Embassy by Sir Walter Paul Osborn McCutcheon. Shrimp on the Barbie, G'Day Mate, etc etc
                    The height limit, while nice for some areas of the city, caused some gigantic super-block monster buildings to be built, especially in the area surrounding the National Mall. The 2 million+ square foot USDA complex should have just been a proper skyscraper

Look at that shit. It was designed by Philly's own Rankin & Kellogg, the same dudes who did the 30th Street Post Office/IRS Building.
Pedestrian Perspective

          In Philly, I use SEPTA when I need to get somewhere fast but most of the time I walk. Though DC has one kick-ass subway system, I'm sad to say that I didn't even use it when I was there.. I walked EVERYWHERE. I didn't even try the Capital Bikeshare bikes, which were all over the place. Most of the time, walking around was pretty nice. The weather was good so I got to enjoy most of what the downtown has to offer besides all the historical shit. I got to check out the commercial districts and even the U Street Corridor, which is cool because, though generally gentrified, has still hung on to some of its old school stuff.
        Something I didn't really like were those fucking circles. Its nice how they create patches of green space in the city but they're goddamn pedestrian nightmares--- there's like 20 crosswalks to traverse just to get around them!

Thomas Circle, the one I passed the most.
             At this time, I must touch on one sensitive subject: the bums. I know this is probably gonna cheese some people off, but there were homeless folks everywhere I went in DC. Every green space I passed had some hanging about and several were practically shanty towns. One of them rode a bike toward me, threw it down in front of my feet, and started doing karate moves in my direction. Having had many odd encounters with street friends in Philly, I just walked away from the dude. He went walking into the heavy traffic, leaving the bike on the sidewalk.
            I thought maybe I was just noticing the homeless because I was in a different city, but later I found out that DC has about 7,750 homeless versus Philly's roughly 650. More than 10 times the amount! Holy crap!! Something obviously needs to be done to help these folks.

Speaking of Sensitive Subjects...

         So I went to the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the White House because the only other time I had seen it in person was from the other side. Well, it was disappointing. Why? They weren't letting people cross Pennsylvania Avenue and all the streets for a few blocks around were blocked off for no given reason. On the White House roof, there were snipers. Snipers? What the fuck, man? I know there's been all these incidents of people running down the White House lawn, but I have to live in a country now where our executive mansion has fucking snipers on it?

Maybe they weren't snipers-- perhaps they were just decorative eagle statues that lost their wings.
          For the next few hours afterward I annoyed the shit out of my wife doing my best Alex Jones impression, going "ITS A HELLHOLE OF SURVEILLANCE AND POLICE STATE AND THE BILL OF RIGHTS BEING TORCHED! BEING DESTROYED!!" and "THE GLOBALISTS SET UP THE DEMISE OF OUR SOCIETY AND OUR CIVILIZATION!" I never thought I would live in a world where I would think this dude was right about something, even for a second. I pictured myself getting thrown into a volcano one day screaming "FUUUUCK!! HE WAS RIGHT!! ALEX JONES WAS RIIIIIiiiiiiiighhht!!!"
        Anyway, that's my impression of DC. I'm sure any DC natives or residents reading this have already puked all over themselves in disgust of my ignorance of their city, but oh well. Pretty nice place over all, but, as predicted, I prefer Philly. One last thing: PREIT needs to get off its ass and visit Union Station in DC to see what the Gallery is supposed to look like. That is all I'm going to say about that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fill This Front: Crappy Jefferson 10th Street Building

137 South 10th Street

         This one right here is a real pisser. I've been doing these Fill This Front rants for awhile now and totally overlooked this little shitbird I've walked by a thousand times until a reader brought it up to me on Shitter. Believe it or not, this little piece of shit is actually kind of an historic building... too bad it now just sits there, underutilized as fuck. While this Front is technically Filled and will be changing soon, it still needs to be called out for it suckquiousness.
        Its unknown exactly when this little building was built but the storefront came into prominence in 1850 when Otto Eisenlohr started his tobacco business right there, in one little room on the first floor. The company would, by 1920, be the third largest cigar manufacturer in the United States with an income of $250 million per year. So how do we honor the origin point of this great company? With a shitbird stone-over-brick facade and a bunch of display windows being used as an advertisement for Jefferson's media center.
        This location has seen countless stores come and go: Boon and Sample plumbing at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries, a bunch of stationary stores in the 1920s an 30s, a pottery shop in the 1950s (they were the bastards who had the Rock Craft Company out of Cobb's Creek apply that garbage facade in 1957), jewelry supplies in the 1960s, and then finally a printing and graphics shop in 1982. Jefferson bought the place on February 25th, 1988 for over $1 Million and has used it for various purposes over the years. Currently (or most recently), it houses/housed the Video & Audio Production Services wing of Jeffline Medical Media Services. Jefferson's Master Plan from 2006 had this entire block wiped out, but that's probably never going to happen at this point considering Jefferson still doesn't own 3 of the properties on the block.

2006 Master Plan for 10th and Walnut
             However, there is a small, small glimmer of hope for this little storefront. The Sign Committee of the Philadelphia Art Commission has an agenda item for their October 24th meeting  labeled "Jefferson Accelerator Zone, 137 South 10th Street". This, of course, could mean anything.  However, there is a new construction permit for the space stating this:


          There's another new permit about interior demolition. Upon recent inspection of the place, it seems construction has already begun (the WORK IN PROGRESS sign ain't lying). So at least SOMETHING is planned for action on this shitty little space. Good. This means that Jefferson is on its way to get off its ass and FILL THIS FRONT!

UPDATE:  Philaphile Colin Weir sent me some recent interior pics of this place over the Shitter. He tells me the space is to be an "Innovation Center"