Monday, September 8, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross

2213 Chestnut Street

              Oh here we go... another concrete box from the glorious architectural era of the early 1970s, fucking up what should be a much nicer corner in Center City. Look, I understand that the American Red Cross does a lot of great things and they support themselves entirely with donations and volunteer work. Good for them, I applaud it. If only the local chapter's headquarters building was built in a different era. ANY other era, really. What a shame. This organization deserves better.
             They should have left the original building here. What was the original building, you ask? It was a nice little structure called Philadelphia School of Nurses and Central Hospital of Philadelphia, which had a lawn that extended out to the corner of 23rd and Chestnut.

Corner of 23rd and Chestnut looking east, 1911.
                  It was the only place in town that offered the Abrams Electronic Treatment. This treatment was one of many forms of quackery under the category of "Radionics" whereby the patient would have a small amount of blood, a lock of hair, or even a photograph placed into Abrams' Reflexophone. According to the read-out from the device, the patient could be diagnosed with lung cancer, strep throat, tuberculosis, you name it. Dr. Abrams himself was convinced that syphilis passed from generation to generation, and that only his machine could detect it in newborn infants. Once the patient was diagnosed, they'd be hooked up to another machine called the Oscillocast which would deliver a series of electric shocks that supposedly lead to a cure.
          Regardless of all that bullshit (irregardless?), the building they were in looked cool. So cool, in fact, that even after the hospital/nurses' school went kaput, the building was covered in stucco, new facade details were added, and the lawn was enclosed behind a nice wall for its next job as the Spanish Embassy.

Yes, this is the same building. The front of it was lobbed off for the widening of the Chestnut Street Bridge in 1911/12.
                By the 1960s, it had become an apartment building. In 1969, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross created a building committee with the aim of building a new headquarters in Philadelphia. In 1970 they has raised enough money to purchase the old Central Hospital property and put the then 80+ year old building out of its misery. They commissioned the firm of Ewing Cole Erdman & Eubank for a design, the same motherfuckers who would design Giants Stadium a year later.
               Being that it was 1970, the most cutting edge bad ass design anyone could think of was a squat concrete monolith with rows of windows and an indentation on one side of the facade. They made sure to make the thing as anti-pedestrian as possible by including a below-grade surface parking lot and a wide driveway on the 23rd Street side. I will give them a small bit of credit for the plaza at the 23rd/Chestnut corner, only because it sets the building back just about as far as the Central Hospital's lawn was.

Pedestrian-friendly street level presence by early 70s standards
                   The new ugly-ass Red Cross building officially opened on November 3rd, 1972. There was a ceremony where the cornerstone was filled with "historical items", whatever that may mean. Maybe they threw one of those Abrams devices in there.

A surviving Oscillocast from The Lindan Collection of Medical Devices.


  1. "Irregardless" is not a real word. It is reflexively redundant double negative. "Irresponsible" is the lack of responsibility, "irrational" is the lack of rationality, but "regardless" means the lack of regard so "irregardless" would mean lacking the lack of regard. In other news, butt-fugly is totally legit. Keep up the great posts; reading them is the highlight of my day at my boring job!

  2. The building construction of the American Red Cross is great. I have visited this building during my philadelphia to Vermont. It was established in 1881.The behaviors of American Red Cross employees are polite. The services of this organization are good and I appreciate the work of management.