Monday, August 25, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Barclay Bros Building

1510-12 Sansom Street

                Kind of a short one today because this building right here doesn't have much of a history, save for its ugly-ass design. Nonetheless, it shall be called out.
                 Ya know, I really love the 1500 block of Sansom Street... its one of the only streets left in Center City that harkens back to the city's early-mid 20th Century look, when small formerly residential and commercial buildings would get stuffed to the gills with retail stores and offices, each putting up signs that stuck out into the street. This block is one of the only blocks left that carries that old spirit. However, this building right here fucks up the rhythm of the whole thing. A mid-century shitpile with late 80s alterations. Two horrible time periods in architectural design combine for one ugly-ass building.
                It started in 1960 when the Barclay Brothers printing firm, makers of blueprints and photostats, decided that their little workspace at 1516 Sansom wasn't enough. They purchased 1510-1512 Sansom Street and kicked all the tenants out. That November, they proposed a new 9,300 square foot reinforced concrete facility designed by W.F. Silliman, a silly man who did a lot of architectural design work in Philly but, from what I can tell, only has one other surviving structure in town (and it sucks too).
                The design got rejected by zoning-- not because it was going to be ugly, but because it had no outdoor space. The code of the time required 5% for this particular parcel. After 4 months of going back and forth with the ZBA, the Barclay Brothers firm's ugly new building was approved. Demolition and construction started in March 1961 and was over by the end of the year.
               Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a photo of the 1961 configuration of the building's facade (it must have been so bad that no one wanted to take a picture of it) but the windows were all in the same places so you get the idea. So what happened that makes it different today? Well, Barclay Brothers got bought out in early 1986 and the building sat vacant for three whole years after that.
               In 1989, the dentist that still works on the third floor of the building today took ownership of the place and gave it a head-to-toe renovation. Included in this was a whole new facade designed by a firm called the Kwait Organization, which sounds like it was named after a Klingon. I'm not sure exactly how much they changed but the construction permit issued September 20th, 1989 states in part:


             Whatever they did, they fucked up. Look at that piece of shit. Dirty-ass cement/fake stone-looking crap for a facade, glass blocks, ribbon windows. Ass! There's nothing much else to say about this place other than IT SUCKS! Fuck it, I'm done.

The crap Barclay Bros Building next to its much better-looking 1890s-built predecessor to the right. Pitifully enough, this was almost the last picture I would ever take. About 15 seconds after I shot this, a car coming out of the parking garage across the street almost ran me over.

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