Thursday, June 12, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of June, 1915

Hero Gives His Life to Save Children, Can't Stop Joking About It

           Early on a Wednesday morning, 42-year-old William H. McClellan was about to start hauling a bunch of shit for Peter Coyle's operation at 16th and Sansom Streets when he heard the ruckus from two runaway horses-- panicked and careening down 16th Street. McClellan then noticed that a large group of little kids were crossing 16th at Locust on their way to the Hollingsworth School at 15th and Locust. McClellan then jumped from his wagon and grabbed the bits of the horses, only to get trampled by them.
           Despite them stepping on his chest and FACE, he got back up, ran after the horses, grabbed their bits, and stopped them in their tracks. When police arrived, McClellan was laughing his ass off about the whole situation, wiping blood from his eyes and asking if anyone was hurt. They carried him into a patrol car and brought him to Hahnemann Hospital. He continued to joke with the officers about losing an eye in the ordeal shortly before dying on his hospital bed.

The Hollingsworth School, where the children were headed.

"Cleaner" Disposes of Body, Gets Caught By Bragging About It

               Off-duty cop W.C. Miller was just trying to get drunk at his favorite bar when he started getting annoyed at the boasting of one John Allen, who kept going on and on about how he could get rid of any dead body without anyone finding out. Miller then realized that a 28-year-old woman named Frances Carter had been missing for 6 months and was last seen in that neighborhood.
              Miller struck up a conversation with Allen's drunk ass and figured out that he had disposed of Frances Carter's body. Allen was arrested the next day. He did not admit to disposing of Frances Carter, but did admit that he and his wife shared a house with Walter and Nellie Wilson, the couple that Frances Carter had been seen with prior to her disappearance. Police went to that house, but got the address wrong. They were supposed to go to 1917 Webster Street, but ended up busting down the door at 1927 Webster Street and giving up after a search. 
             Just as police were leaving, neighbors came out of their homes and told the cops that they had seen a ghost walking down the 1900 block of Webster Street late at night for the previous 6 months. Apparently, this was something you could tell police back then and they'd be like, "Shit, let's keep looking!". There were also reports of a bad smell coming from 1917 Webster Street. "Murder Squad" Detectives William Mahoney and William Geonotti entered the home with "Special Policemen" Gibson and Dornick and started digging up the basement by candlelight. After 10 hours of exhaustive digging, the mangled, decomposed body of Frances Carter was found, along with the remains of a newborn infant.
           Frances Carter had been bludgeoned to death and buried half alive. Her body was so fucked up-looking that one of the coroners handling her body fainted twice. Another was sent home after puking his brains out. Walter Wilson was found hiding in a storeroom of a general store in New Rochelle, New York and arrested. The occupant of 1917 Webster Street, Levi Peters, explained that he was leased the house in January 1915, right after Carter's disappearance, by John Allen on Wilson's behalf. Allen had explained to him that Wilson and his wife needed to get out of town right away.
        The whole 1900 block of Webster Street was demolished in the 1980s, and was just re-born with a row of G-Ho specials in 2009-10. If you're going to bury a body there, don't go bragging about it. Also, the ghost of that body will tip people off.

Since the house where the body was found is long gone, here's John Allen's house at 1226 Reed Street from Google Streetview. Check that basement.
Bear Sighted In Tacony

               With all these bear sightings in the news lately, you should know that this is nothing unusual. On this week in 1915, a big, lumbering bear was seen on Longshore Street (now Longshore Avenue) in Tacony, which was then mostly a dirt path into a swamp... only the houses near Disston Park were built at that point. It wasn't just any old black bear that gets seen often around these parts-- it was a fucking brown bear!!
              Local residents found the closest cop they could find, an Officer Flick. Flick readied his weapon while the locals gathered up their own guns from their homes. Flick was the first to approach the bear, and nearly pissed his pants upon finding that the bear had men's shoes on. The night before, a Joe Small, an actor and stuntman, had gotten shitfaced drunk in Tacony and attempted to walk all the way to his home miles away, which meant crossing creeks, swamps, and bogs to Tacony's north and west.
              Small had been traveling all night and had passed out in the mud numerous times along the way. Officer Flick got a broom and brushed all the mud and clay off of Small, then brought him down to the station, where he was hosed off. When brought before Magistrate Borie, the judge couldn't stop laughing about the incident and let him go.

 Cherry Hill Is Closing!!

                Not Cherry Hill Mall, silly, Eastern State Penitentiary! Back then, the ESP still carried the old name of its pre-city grid encroachment location in the minds of local residents. Though still officially called Eastern State Penitentiary, it was colloquially known as "Cherry Hill". This week in 1915, Governor Brumbaugh signed the "Hess Bill", which consolidated Eastern and Western State Penitentiaries in a new prison in a centralized location in Centre County, which was already under construction.The then 86-year-old ESP would be shut down
               Those who worked for the local prison were PISSED. They didn't want to move to boring-ass Bellefonte, PA in order to keep their jobs! Also, it was claimed that the cost and effort to move the 1600 convicts from Eastern and the 800 from Western to this new place was going to be enormous. They pushed to get the convicts at Moyamensing Prison transferred to the old ESP to keep the place going.

Eastern State in 1913.
                 Well, you know how stubborn Philadelphians can be... Rockview, as it came to be called, ended up just taking on minimum security overflow from Western State Penitentiary. Eastern ended up staying open until 197fucking1! Rockview is still in use as a men's medium security joint. I'm sure it'll be on Lock-Up soon enough. Just keep checking MSNBC on a Saturday and you'll catch it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fill This Front: 9th and Locust

229 and 231 South 9th Street

            Man, oh man. Talk about a couple of buildings that have been pissing me off the thousands of times I've walked by them in the last decade. These two beautiful but dilapidated-ass buildings have been rocking empty storefronts for at least 20 years, but probably much longer. What's more, the singular owner of these two buildings is shrouded in mystery. These two storefronts could easily support any number of retail options. Until the wave of hospital-related construction came though here, one of them was in continuous use.
       These two buildings were constructed in the early 1920s, most likely to replace the old houses that stood here that were probably destroyed for subway construction. The store at 229 South Ninth was pretty well-known in the mid-20th Century as the Shell Art Novelty Company, where WWII vet Edward Dunav created and sold jewelry and other crafts made from sea shells for over 20 years. He would buy them from Australia, Japan, Zanzibar, and Trinidad. Then he would craft them into tourist gifts and sell them to hotels and resorts in Atlantic City, Wildwood, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. He also sold super-rare types of shells for collectors at the 229 South 9th Street shop.

229 South 9th today. Looks like they get a lot of junk mail.
            231 South 9th, the one at the corner, was a tailor shop until 1952 and then stayed empty until a Dr. William Eisenberg, an optometrist, bought the building with the intention of creating a practice on the first floor and apartments above. Unfortunately, some classic Philadelphia Bureaucratic Bullshit got in the way. In 1973, a new zoning code was adopted for the city and the building, which was previously zoned completely commercial, was re-zoned RC-4, which only allowed commercial on the first floor if the building was above 6 stories or had more than 25 residential units. Eisenberg had to appeal to the Zoning Board and ended up getting granted a variance in April of 1976.
         Around the same time, a tidal wave of redevelopment was happening in this part of the city. Building after building was destroyed and the one historic home in the area was moved to southwest corner of 8th and Locust. Empty dirt lots reigned supreme.

I've used this picture about 1000 times, but it illustrates so much! 1977 from the 800 block of Locust, looking North. The backs of the two buildings I'm talking about would be just off camera on the left
               Its hard to say what was going on with the buildings at this time but I can say that 231 and 229 were both purchased by the same owner, a mysterious non-profit called "Abbot, Inc" in 1992 and 1994, respectively. Ever since, they've been sitting there, looking shittier and shittier. Whoever this owner is, they also own all the other old houses on the block, including one that they just purchased for $825K in December 2013. 231 South 9th has accrued a buttload of L & I (excuse me, L + I) violations over the years.

There's a metal fence there now because this was a bum alcove for a couple of decades.
                 Is it possible that this mysterious Abbot Inc has been slowly attempting to acquire all the properties on this block in an attempt to build something new here? It would surely explain why they let these properties go to shit. The same group also owns 217 and 219 South 9th, two thirds of the empty lot just to the north.
              Well if that's the case, Abbot Inc or whatever you want to be called, GET IT THE FUCK DONE or clean up those two storefronts and put them up for lease. Maybe that'll get you some of the dough you need to get the rest of those lots and build whatever it is you've been sitting on these properties waiting to build. It better be worth the wait, you bastards. Otherwise, FILL THESE FRONTS!!!

Bloody hell

Monday, June 9, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: 1521 Locust

1521 Locust Street

           T-- B-- Wha?!?!? What the fuck is this shit? I've probably walked by this building about 10,000 times in the last 11 years and somehow I never noticed it. I mean, really... this building is about as ugly and boring as ugly and boring gets. What a pile of crap. A big dirty concrete column with shit cladding and tiny windows. Somebody really fucked up with this one.
            This building is a relic from the 1970s revitalization of the 15th/Locust area, and seems to be the first (or at least oldest surviving) piece of construction from that attempt. Back then, the 1950s and 1960s construction of Penn Center was spreading its success further south, into old an old office neighborhood that hadn't seen its heyday since the 1930s. Real estate speculators started to get a hard-on for the neighborhood, recognizing its potential to be something great.
              In 1971, 1521-23 Locust was holding a 1922-built 8-story building that was falling apart. A partnership of realtors calling themselves "Executive Associates" lead by a Henry B. Cohen took control of the space and proposed a small new 10-story office building with the help of the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development. They then commissioned an architect named Anthony Orifice to design them the best possible piece of design you can produce in the period, which meant a bunch of concrete and tiny windows that are right next to each other. Essentially, Anthony Orifice pulled this pile of shit straight out of HIS orifice. Its not like they didn't know what they would get-- the most major piece of architecture ever designed by this dude was West Park Hospital up at 3905 Ford Road, now Wordsworth Academy and Jefferson Transitional Rehab.

Pulled from the same Orifice. I'm such a nice guy that I'll show you a pic of the building when it was brand new. Its actually not TOO bad. This guy should have stuck to suburbitecture. Image from the PAB.
             The old building at 1521 Locust got demolished later in 1971 and that demolition lead to a bunch of lawsuits, because this is Philadelphia. The building was finished by 1973. A couple of years later Academy House was built nearby, followed by 1500 Locust across the street. The neighborhood managed to change into a vibrant and modern area while still hanging on to its roots (McGlinchey's, for example). The offices have stayed relatively well-occupied since, and the storefront at the bottom has held everything from bars to video stores to the Jewish deli that occupies it today.
             That's great and all, but this piece of shit needs to be replaced with something a little less... well.. 1970s-ish. They could even preserve the building but completely replace the facade. Even better: get the Mural Arts motherfuckers to whip up something to liven-up that shitbird facade. At this point, they could paint some actual shitbirds on it and it would look better. Feh.

Look at that big-ass party wall on the side. Maybe that could be painted with a mural of a good-looking building?