Thursday, May 22, 2014

GroJLartitorial-- Screw Party Walls, Let's Pretty-up Our Parking Garages

               Everyone hates parking garages... but where the hell else are you gonna put all those cars? I hate them like a vegan hates a Brauhaus Schmitz's Schweinshaxen, but I get why they exist, even when they're above ground. So if they have to exist, can we at least make them look nice?
              Back when I was doing Parking Garage of the Week, I highlighted the Lift at Sansom/Juniper/Drury because at least someone had a little forethought to see that maybe people don't want to look at a big pile of concrete holding cars up and instead would like to see something that looks at least a little bit like it belongs. 

See what I mean?
                However, just making the garage blend in is just one way to make these ugly fuckers better. How about making them look good-- making them another piece of art to add to the built environment or whatever the fuck the intellectuals call it? Even murals would help.
                Think about it-- the Mural Arts Program gets its ass kissed from here to Kalamazoo for prettying-up ugly party walls, yet I can only think of a few instances when they painted a mural on a parking garage. The airport one being the most obvious-- there's a whole damn website about it for fuck's sake. In my opinion, big-ass parking garages are worse to have around than empty party walls, yet only a handful of muraled-up parking garages exist.
                But again, there's an even better solution. New facades. I write this, of course, knowing that the PPA is already making over the facade of the shitbird garage at 8th and Filbert/Arch with a badass design by WRT, who knows what the fuck they're doing. They also plan to get on the shitty 10th Street/Chestnut garage.

               Now THIS is how parking garages can look better. New modern facades that act as art pieces. You could even make facades that would be waaay too impractical for a regular building work well for a parking garage. One of the things people love about Philadelphia is how we have those goddamn murals everywhere. Love them or hate them, they do help spur appreciation of our city's massively over-saturated arts scene. Well here's the new Mural Arts Program. The Make Parking Garages Look Less Like a Pile of Fucking Dogshit Program, or the MPGLLLPFDP!
              Of course, I must now honor the garage that inspired me to write this GroJLartitorial, Parkway Corp's 12th & Walnut garage, as seen at the top of this post. This garage is such a mindfuck. Its a 50+ year old, 35,000 square foot, 616-car garage with a whole shitload of storefronts facing every direction that are usually filled and don't stay empty very long when they're not. This is the home of Jake's Sandwich Board, Eat-a-Pita, Rice & Mix, and Marabella Meatball Company, all small local businesses that make kick-ass nom noms. The location for it is perfect because there's a lot of shit to do in the immediate area but barely anywhere to park. The place is also high-tech as shit. Back when the Philaphiliamobile was stolen, the security dude at this garage was able to check in five seconds whether or not my car had ever been in that garage. The fucking garage can read your license plate!

            It really is a mindfuck-- great garage, shitty looking. It even fucks your mind when viewed from blocks away... the slanted nature of the decks cause an optical illusion that makes 12th Street look like its going downhill or something. 

See what I mean? You don't? Well fuck you then.
                   THIS is my primary candidate for a parking garage facade makeover. Almost anything would be better.

Here's a whacky concept I came up with for the 12th/Walnut garage. Don't like it? Good. Make a better one and get it done!!
                Other candidates for makeovers include the Pigeonhole Parking shitgarage on Broad Street, Five Star's 7th and Market garage (which already has murals on it), and the super-gigantic Wood Street Garage. Now make it happen, you fucks!!! You'll thank me later.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fill This Front: The Witherspoon Building

1319-1323 Walnut Street

               This is a goddamn disgrace. After spending well over a decade as a totally unavailable ground-floor office, this spot finally gets re-born into retail availability, only to sit there empty for another 2 years! What a shame. This, of course, is the ground floor retail of the iconic Witherspoon Building at the northwest corner of Walnut and Juniper Streets. Ok, so the same bum has been standing in front of this place for over a decade-- who cares? If it was filled, things would be different. Its not like retail is foreign to this corner, block, or even building... this particular spot was once filled with retail for 80 straight years! 
              To list all the crap that has been in this front over that time would be foolhardy, but I'll try to break it down as succinctly as possible. The first retail tenant in the building, built, owned, and operated by the Presbyterian Church, was the Presbyterian Book Store. It opened on the ground floor in 1898.
Full page ad announcing the opening of the store in the Red & Blue, UPenn's periodical of the day.
             Meanwhile, the mezzanine of the building was a huge auditorium that was built to hold lectures and events. It didn't do very well, so by 1900, it got rented out as a retail space. The Book-Lover's Library Company, a private lending library that had offices in the Witherspoon Building, made it their Library Centre, starting a chain that would reach across the country and Canada over the next several years. The Witherspoon Building has been internally altered so many times that its difficult to determine how the mezzanine was accessed, but I believe it may have been from the 1321 Walnut door, the one that looks like its the front door, but isn't. The Juniper Street side of the building once and has always been the intended front the building. The I.C & Brothers Typewriter Company held down the western storefront at 1323 Walnut during this time.

The storefronts in 1898. Image from the PAB.

             By the mid 1910s, the Book-Lover's Library was done for. The Presbyterian Book Store then moved up into the mezzanine and the two ground-floor storefronts became the Rittenhouse Trust Company and the International Merchant Marine Freight Office. 
             Over the next few decades, the ground floor shit switched out numerous times but the mezzanine stayed the Presbyterian Book Store  (except when briefly re-made into an auditorium in the 1920s and 1930s). In the 1940s, Westminster Press, a publisher of Christian-themed/Christian-friendly books that had offices in the Witherspoon Building, opened a bookstore as well. They would stick around for almost three decades, moving to different parts of the building at different times, finally settling into the 1323 Walnut space in 1955.

1956. Check out that awesome Mid-Century signage. At this point the other storefront had an un-named housewares store. Image from
                   In 1963, the hall on the mezzanine was given up yet again and converted into the offices it is today. On July 31, 1972, the Westminster Book Store closed, right before the Presbyterian Church sold the building. There is a store with the same name and theme today at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA. That Seminary was founded and once entirely existed within the Witherspoon Building. In the 1980s, a chain print shop and a small book store inhabited the ground floor. At some point in time after that, the whole first floor frontage was made into offices.
               Fast forward to the start of the 21st Century. After years of neglect, the immediate area was re-born with regard to retail. Then came Tony Goldman's Midtown Village revolution. Suddenly, nearby storefronts that had either been empty or drastically under-utilized for years were now coming into play. Even suburban chains, like the IHOP catercorner to this space, made their way in. Now was the time for retail to return to the Witherspoon Building!
              In 2010, the choice was made to put the space up on the market, along with the whole rest of the building, which has emptied out due to Wells Fargo, who has a lease on the place until 2020, adjusting some shit. In 2012, the ground floor retail space was separated out as a different kind of listing, pushing for a restaurant space.
The space on the right. The other two spaces would only ever be accessible from the lobby. Image by FameCo via Naked Philly.
                    It appears that in its office conversion, the 1319, 1321, and 1323 spaces were all combined into one 7,767 square foot space. Therefore, any retail put here would be accessed by the big decorated door out front. So how the fuck has this thing stayed empty? Let me help.

                 This is the Walnut Street-facing retail space at 1319-1323 Walnut Street. As stated above, this space in 7,767 square feet. It gets a full 75 feet of street frontage at the heavily-trafficked corner of Walnut and South Juniper Streets. This location has full retail at every other corner but this one, sharing it with a Dunkin Donuts, Potito's Bakery, and IHOP. Going further from the corner, everything from eyeglasses to porn to mixed nuts is available! Don't be discerned by the empty retail across the street. Almost all of it has big plans!
                This location is extremely close to the Broad Street Line subway and is walkable from the Market-Frankford Line, the PATCO, and all the Subway-Surface trolleys. So many buses pass this location that it would take 200 years to read a list of them all. Countless pedestrians pass this spot each day. Thousands of people work nearby, stay in the nearby hotels, and make residence in this area. YOU CAN'T FUCKING LOSE!
                 Its hard to tell who exactly is in charge of leasing this space, so even if you want it, good luck figuring it all out. CBRE/Fameco once listed the space in 2012 when it was first separated out, but that listing is now gone. Newmark Grubb Knight Frank seems to be currently handling the leasing of everything in the building that isn't this particular retail space. I don't get, probably due to being a dumbass. Either way, this storefront is the shit... in the time that its been available, a whole mess of new restaurants and retail have come and gone through the surrounding blocks. One storefront, further down Walnut Street, was an empty shell for well over a decade and re-made into a restaurant during that time. Obviously, the potential for greatness is here.
                Contact both NGFK and CBRE and try to find out how to lease this space-- its been empty so long that you could probably offer like 75 cents a year and you'll get in. FILL THIS FUCKING FRONT!!

Here it is in 1899, more filled than it is today. Image from the PAB

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!