Monday, August 11, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: The Stein Bellet Building

1624 Locust Street

                Holy fuck, what the hell went wrong here? There aren't a lot of Center City buildings from the 1940s... based on this building, we should be happy about that. This boxy piece of trash is made even more awful by the fact that its located on one of the most architecturally important blocks in the whole city.
            The origins of this building go all the way back to December 6th, 1910. In that year, the R.W. Downing Residence at 1624-26 Locust Street burned down, creating an empty lot that would become surface parking for the next 3 decades. In 1946, a fraternal organization called the Towne Club bought the lot and the house next door (1628 Locust), and started construction on what would become their new clubhouse. After putting up three stories of steel frame, the clubhouse plans fell through, creating a huge piece of blight on one of the city's most beautiful blocks.
            In 1947, the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company bought the half-constructed mess and commissioned the same architects, Thalheimer and Weitz, to design a six-story office building suited to the needs of their already-acquired tenant, the Remington Rand Corporation. That's right-- this robot-looking box of ass-trash was designed by the normally-badass firm of Thalheimer and Weitz.
            How could this be? These are the same guys who did the North City Trust Company I wrote about for Hidden City a few weeks ago! These guys were Philly natives from Strawberry Mansion who were both proteges of John Torrey Windrim, one of the most badass architects that ever lived! How did they fuck up so badly on this one? The only excuse I can think of for them executing this atrocity is that their tenant was going to be the Remington Rand Corporation, the guys who created UNIVAC and pretty much changed the world as we know it. They are still around and are based in Blue Bell, PA as UNISYS. Maybe they were trying to make the building look modernish to match the shit Remington Rand was doing at the time.
            The building was completed in 1948 and became known as the "Remington Rand Building", one of many with the same name they worked out of in almost every major city. The other ones in other cities from the same era were also very modernist, but were way better looking than the Philadelphia branch. Remington Rand/Sperry Rand stayed there into the 1960s.

As the Remington Rand Building in 1952
                    By 1970, mega-developer Strouse Greenberg and Company took over the place and made it their headquarters, renaming it the Stouse Greenberg Office Building. They renovated the building and altered the first floor to its current configuration, making separate entrances with separate addresses. Here's a photo of it from 1976. During this period, they rented out offices in the upper floors to all different kinds of occupants, including some architects! They had architects working in THIS building? That's a shame. Strouse Greenberg was a great developer that constructed all kinds of shit all through the region and restored a number of old Philadelphia buildings that were falling apart. They stuck around in this shitty building until 1995.
                  By 1996, the building's current headliner, the American Cancer Society Pennsylvania Division, was in there and doing the good works they do there to this day. The building was named Stein/Bellet Building around this time. The Stein/Bellet Foundation is a philanthropic organization that contributes heavily to the American Cancer Society. The Society was able to buy the building for $1.48 Million in 1998. I'm not sure exactly when, but that big-ass ostentatious sign bearing the building's current name was installed around that time.
                 How the hell did that sign get a permit? Its fucking gigantic and is not very original to the building's configuration. Did I mention that this building is historically registered with the city? Why the fuck does the sign say "THE Stein Bellet Building" on it? The "THE" is necessary?
               Anyway, fuck this building. I'm aware all this good shit has happened inside, but its ugliness tarnishes all that. This block has buildings by John Notman, Horace Trumbauer, and Cope-Stewardson-- architectural badasses that could design a building better-looking than this using pencils held in their dickholes. Even the newest building on the street, Lenfest Hall, designed by the same firm as the fucking Guild House, respected the street's architecture and saved a couple of old facades. Plerff!!!
The T's crooked.

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