Thursday, May 15, 2014

99 Years Ago In Philadelphia-- Third Week of May, 1915

Big-Ass Fire on Chestnut East

         A huge-ass fire consumed 1016-1018 Chestnut, the former Blasius & Sons Piano Building. It was then leased to the Banks Business College, where it was apparently perfectly acceptable for students to smoke cigarettes during class in a low-ventilation room full of typewriters mounted to 200 wooden tables. A student flicked his cigarette in the wrong direction and a 3-Alarm fire was the result. The orange glow of the fire was visible from West Philly.
           At Jefferson Hospital, then located in a bunch of lost buildings (one of them still stands at 10th/Sansom), patients started freaking out when they saw and smelled the fire coming from the building whose back faced across the street. The ceiling and third floor of Banks Business College eventually collapsed, injuring a firefighter. The total damage to the building and businesses nearby totaled $130,000, about $18 million today. $75,000 of that damage was to Banks Business College alone. They had just re-done their classrooms in full mahogany, so it was a bummer.
          Despite all this, the building itself did fine. The exterior walls and metal skeleton of the place was completely undamaged. It survived all the way until the 1950's when it was demolished to make way for Jefferson Hospital's Gibbon Building.

The building right before going down. That's-a nice-a building. Photo from the Philadelphia Historical Commission via the PAB.

Demonic Street Art Pops Up in Kensington

           In the third week of May, 1915, mysterious green graffiti starting being sighted all around Kensington. If this happened today, we'd think it was some kind of wannabe Bansky or Resurrect Dead type. Back then, people thought it was Satan!!! Upon viewing of these green images, many early 20th Century Kenzos panicked and called the cops, claiming that they must be demonic in nature, and if not, a system of symbols used by revolutionaries trying to overthrow the government (from Kensington).
           The cops investigated the symbols, trying to crack the code. Some of the symbols appeared to be Asian-inspired in nature, others resembled Greek letters. An Officer Phillips, while investigating the grafitti, happened upon a gentleman named Johnny Coogan carrying around an open can of green paint. Phillips followed Coogan around until he started painting mysterious symbols on a fence. He was arrested and taken to the 26th Precinct Police Station.
           When faced with Magistrate McCleary's court, Mr. Coogan explained that he'd been recently hired as a sign painter and was practicing painting lettering in order to be better qualified for this job, which he obviously wasn't qualified for. Of course, Coogan was also getting wasted as shit right before he was would practice, causing the fucked up lettering being spotted around town. McCleary sentenced him to 5 days in the County lock-up, where there were several signs in need of re-painting.

The station where Coogan was booked. Photo from Naked Philly.

Italian-Americans Getting Blown Up In South Philly

          At 3:45 AM on May 17th, 1915, a bomb exploded on the steps of 1621 South Franklin Street.  Mr. Corso, a baker, wasn't home. However, his wife and four children were. The explosion was forceful enough to knock the family out of their beds and knock over everything at the Beckman family residence on the second floor.
         This was the second time someone tried to blow up 1621 South Franklin. Three months earlier, a mystery assailant drove a horse and carriage swiftly down the narrow street and threw an explosive device at the same spot. The device exploded but caused no damage. Neighbors say that there are racial tensions on the street between Jewish- and Italian-Americans. Back then, these ethnicities were considered a race. Three detectives from Police HQ at City Hall and one from the local station were sent to investigate.

1621 South Franklin as it appears in Google Streetview

No More Mashers in Fairmount Park!

              Oh, so you thought it would be fun to whistle at young women and girls in Fairmount Park, eh? Well, you're fucked now. Captain Hayes Duncan of the Fairmount Park guards has declared war on "Mashers", an old-timey term for cat-callers and/or street-harassers. Magistrate Boyle joined in on the cause, declaring anyone accused of "mashing" would face a swift trial at the Woodford Guard House.
               Anyone found guilty would then be faced with a HARSH punishment: a $5 fine. Don't have $5 but still aching to do some mashing? The alternative was 10 days in the County lock-up. This, of course, ended mashing in Philadelphia for all time. Oh wait, no it didn't. There's currently an ad campaign running in the city that discourages mashing today.

One of the ads.
                  After 99 Years, all that has been done to prevent street harassment are two City Council hearings that discussed the issue. Therefore, in an era when women couldn't even vote, there was a harsher punishment for street harassment than there is now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fill this Front: Broad & Spruce

260 South Broad Street, Suite 1

                     Talk about a cursed storefront-- not one as particularly chronically empty like some of the others I've talked about, but still sad. Even when it manages to get tenants, they still kinda suck. This, of course, is the space at the northwest corner of Broad and Spruce in the old Atlantic Building. Time after time, this place gets filled with crap after crap. The other storefront on the ground floor of this great building has managed to hold Ruth's Chris Steak House for nearly 30 years, but as for the other...its been empty for 3 years. However, it need not be. Let's talk about it.
            This storefront has been here for 90 years, but spent many of those decades doing mostly nothing. Records are spotty about things other than Atlantic-Richfield/Arco-related stuff that inhabited this space. In the late 1920s, it held the Hamburg-American Line Ticket Office. In the 1930s, two of the window bays had big wooden covers on them.

???? Pic from the James Dillon Collection at the PAB
                Other than that, no record of any other leasee of this space appears until December of 1997, when Italian Market native Joseph Tucker threw down $1 million on a super-fancy 82-seat Italian restaurant called Joseph's On the Avenue. The place had chef's tables, a cigar lounge, the works. The first week they opened, they offered free dinners for invited guests! Nonetheless, the place was gone less than a year later.
                 In May of 1998, it was given over into a French restaurant called Bonaparte. They moved from another location on Locust Street(where Fado is now) that got ruined by construction of the elevator down to the PATCO. The managers and staff moved themselves to the Broad and Spruce location to rebuild the disaster that was Joseph's on the Avenue. This time, they cleared out some shit so that they could seat 180, and added chef Michael Sheel. It didn't help. They were gone pretty quickly after that.
               The next year, the building itself was stuck in troubles. Ends up the Illinois-based developer that bought the place in 1994 didn't intend on ever paying for it. After a bunch of legal shit, the building was sold to new owners and with those new owners, the storefront went up for lease again.
                At the time, the Kimmel Center was under construction and hopes that a restaurant that could attract its many expected patrons would do well right across the street. In November of 2000, Neil Stein's Avenue B opened here, armed with chef Fransisco Martorella. Duck breast proscuitto, ox tail ragu, homemade gelato, this was the kind of shit you could get there. Besides being named after a street in fucking NYC, the place was pretty good.
              Of course, it WOULD HAVE been pretty good if anyone actually showed up to the Kimmel Center. Without the expected traffic, its amazing that Stein managed to get that $40,000/month lease paid for almost three years before calling it quits. By the end of 2003, the place went kaput.
              In 2004, when it went back up for lease, it was already being called a "cursed storefront". This didn't stop the then-new national chain, Ted's Montana Grill, from coming along and taking over the space. This was the kind of place that might be ok here, even if no one showed up, the financial advantage of being both a national chain and being connected to one of the richest motherfuckers anywhere could keep them here for awhile.

As Ted's Montana Grill in 2009 from Google Streetview
                 ... And it did. Despite mixed reviews, only one bell from Craig LaBan, and a stench that made Broad and Spruce smell like shit 24 hours a day, the bison meat-featuring chain did well enough to stay open until 2011. After they finally moved out (don't worry, Ted's fans, there's a location in Warrington), the word on the street was that the recently-ousted-from-their-space Italian Eatery was going to take over.
                Then something strange happened. The Post Brothers Company, who were in the middle of  getting bullied by a bunch of corrupt obsolete bastards over their residential conversion of the Goldtex Building, purchased the old Atlantic Building and proposed not only a residential conversion, but a major retail enterprise whereby the first seven floors of the building would be offered up with hopes to attract a big box retailer or a department store. I guess no one told them that every other attempt to attract such things in Center City has failed miserably. Oh well, it was worth a try.
                After that, the storefront stayed empty save for a big sign begging for someone out there to take a big risk and lease 110,000 square feet of retail space. The residential part of the project was to be designed by Rafael Vinoly, the same firm that did the Kimmel Center across the street. They called it 1401 Spruce, even thought the place's real address is 258-262 South Broad. About a year later, Post Brothers said "fuck that shit" and reduced it down to the corner ground floor, the mezzanine, and the basement. That's great and all, but they didn't bother taking down the big sign that's trying to sell the 7-floor retail space.

This the rendering on the loopnet listing for the spot.
               The Post Brothers were about to make a deal to sell the building a few months ago, but it fell through. They've told the media that they will now continue with plans to residentialize the building. While all of this was going on, the Kimmel Center managed to open their own restaurant across the street. If anything, the success of that restaurant (Volver) will make this storefront now more desirable than ever. So here's how it goes:

                The current offer for this space is the continuous 14,000 square feet that includes the first floor, mezzanine, and basement. It is also splittable into three spaces, the first floor being 6,000 square feet, the basement being 5,500, and the mezzanine being 2,500. The location is pretty fucking awesome, stuck between three major theater venues-- the Merriam Theater, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and the Wilma Theater. The same building has housed a location of the Louisiana-based Ruth's Chris Steak House since 1988. The spot is located close to countless nodes of public transportation, too many to list here. Let's just say two subway lines and multiple buses pass by this area every day and through the night. It even has a bike lane running right next to it!
                The spot also boasts super-high ceilings and window coverage that dominates the entire corner. Three big-ass hotels are nearby, giving you a buttload of extra customers that don't know where they're going or what to do while in town. They should be coming to your store/restaurant! This space is located in the iconic Atlantic Refining Company Building, built in 1922, a kick-ass old building that was the first real highrise on this corner. What the fuck are you waiting for? Now that you know this, what other excuse do you have? The rent being offered is listed as "negotiable", so call up Post Brothers and make a fucking deal!!! FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Note to Post Brothers: Update your fucking sign!!!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Old-Ass Building of the Week: Beates Residence

1421 West Girard

Pic by Brad Maule
               Check this sexy motherfucker out. Despite how awesome it is, its construction date and architect are unknown as fuck. Could it be considered an honorary Willis G. Hale work? Find out at the Hidden City Daily!