Monday, May 19, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week: 2400 Chestnut

2400 Chestnut Street

"I am Skyline Blocker! Destroyer of Worlds!!"
                 Talk about a White Elephant. This big white bastard has been standing like the 337 foot tombstone it is for the last 35 years, uglying-up what should otherwise be a kick-ass address. This monument to Guano stinks up the Schuylkill River trail, Chestnut Street, and history itself... especially when you consider what once stood here and what could have been in its place.
                 This motherfucker fails in a lot of ways. It meets the street with a big white wall and a driveway. It has a stairway down to 24th Street that's basically just a vertical bum bathroom. The office space is below street level. The numbers at the top are in Star Trek movie ship registry numbers font (officially called Final Frontier Shipside). Also, the building is named after its address, which is a huge pet peeve of mine.

These are cutting-edge stairs in that you will cut your head on the edges of if you stumble while going down.
              24th and Chestnut used to be one of the better looking corners in the whole city. Between 1888 and 1963, the Furness masterpiece Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station stood in this very location.

In case you forgot
                         The year it came down, 1963, was a big planning year for Philadelphia. Almost every part of Center City had an ironclad master plan at the time, and this spot was slated for greatness. This butt-ass awesome building was cleared out so that something just as butt-ass awesome (for the 60s) could be built. Though its hard to conjure up a rendering from that time period, your old pal GroJLart went back in time 51 years just to find you this nice color image, depicting what the plans were for this once-mighty address:

Not bad, considering the year.
               Though this project went to total shit, I can't be that mad. There was such a high amount of construction in this city over the following few years that we wouldn't see again until the late 80s. However, what I can be mad about is how the space did get filled!

Pedestrian Friendly by 1970s standards.
             It goes like this: Way back in 1976, a new resurgence in highrise residency was taking place in Center City. The relatively successful Penn Center brought lots of workers into CC and many of them were sick of driving back and forth from the burbs to get there. Most of the existing residential in the city at the time was pretty crappy (by 20th Century standards) and very little of it that was available was modern enough to keep up with your average 1970s go-getter (which mostly meant not auto-centric enough). 1500 Locust and Center City One, some of the first to target this demographic, did so well that other similar apartment buildings started getting proposed left and right.
              Meanwhile, you had this big empty lot on 24th Street between Walnut and Chestnut, cleared for that 1960s shit that never happened. It was at this point that the Arthur A. Kober construction company teamed up with developer Morton Berman and formed 2400 Chestnut Associates, a concern that would aim to build a mixed use apartment/office/parking superplex that could bring this spot into the next decade. Armed with some Section 221(d)(4) mortgage insurance from HUD, they commissioned Thomas Mangan's firm out of Fort Washington to design this 1970s Ass Party of Concrete Lego Cloaca Cream.
             As with most construction in Philadelphia, the city gave them shit over every last design decision. Not enough handicapped access. Not fire safe enough. Parking garage no good. Even after construction began, the developer kept getting shit from the city over what they were doing. After several YEARS of back-and-forth with the Zoning Board of Adjustments, they were finally granted all their variances in February 1979 so that construction could FINALLY get overwith. They officially opened the building later that same year.

There goes that Final Frontier Shipside
          At first, the building was considered quite the modern location. Life sucked so much back then that a giant white concrete rectangle was some cutting-edge shit. The office space in the building saw some wicked tenants over the next few years, including a division of ABC News and Teddy Pendergrass's production company. Several of the old buildings nearby got re-invigorated as well. After the 80s rolled by, 2400 Chestnut fell into obscurity and became home to Penn grad students and shit like that.
         Fast forward 20 years, when the Schuylkill River Trail came into being. Suddenly, 2400 Chestnut was getting noticed again (besides that 1999 incident about that guy amassing a huge weapons stockpile inside). While before only Penn students and office workers in that part of Center City would even walk by this thing, it was now getting inundated with onlookers from the heavily-used trail below while still rocking its 1979-built street level presence. In 2009, Brett Webber architects designed for them a new lobby and changed some of the street level signage to a more modern look. The same firm has offices in the building. At the time, the mega-kickass Mandeville Place was about to begin construction next door, but never happened.

You're DRIVING me crazy, auto-centric building!!
             Nowadays, lots near the Schuylkill River Trail are hot as shit. Almost every empty space near it has a plan. 23rd/JFK is slated for a huge-ass complex of buildings, Dranoff plans One Riverside near the Locust Street entrance, and PMC Property Group plans to build on top of the Marketplace Design Center. This is 2400 Chestnut's only hope-- that these new buildings will be so ugly that no one will ever notice its blank white ass ever again. After seeing PMC's track record of decidedly ugly shit, that hope may just come to fruition.
24th Street side... It sucks!


1 comment:

  1. Hate this building mostly for the way it faces the street, but do we really need to have every single HVAC vent so carefully articulated and visibly for miles? Creative use of the word cloaca. Hats off to you.