Thursday, July 10, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- 3rd and 4th District Police Station, Municipal Building

1100 Wharton Street/1300 South 11th Street

                Ass. What a dump. Police stations used to look good. The surviving old-time po-po stations around town are pretty fucking good-looking. You have the Applebee's on 15th and Chancellor, the old 26th District station in Kensington, and what is now the Station House condos at 313 Race, just to name a few. So how the fuck did that all change? How did we start ending up with ugly shit like this?
                 In the mid-20th Century, when those old stations were no longer able to keep up with changing times, the city went about the business of replacing them with new and more modern facilities. When it came to South Philadelphia, the plan was to combine the 3rd and 4th police districts into one headquarters onto land that has been owned by the city since the construction of Moyamensing Prison across the street. At the time, the City Architect was George I. Lovatt, Jr, a suburban resident with a Philadelphia city government position.
               Lovatt's suburan residency was controversial at the time, and with this building, we find out why. Lovatt commissioned the short-lived firm of Ehrlich & Levinson for this project, shitty architects who mostly did suburban public schools and a few city playgrounds. They were the ultimate in mid-century suburban designers who were in love with boxy stucco-covered buildings. Obviously, Lovatt thought that the kind of suburban mid-century Californey-looking shit Ehrlick & Levinson did was cutting-edge. What a joke.
            The building was planned and designed in 1958 but, in classic Philly style, didn't start construction until 1960 and was completed by 1961, well after Lovatt got kicked out of the position.

Under confucktion, 1960.
Completed, January 1961.
                    At the time, the building was considered pretty badass because it isn't just a police station. It also holds L & I and Water Department offices. Big whoop-- the place looks like shit and it seems like the city also knew this because as soon as it was completed, they went about demolishing all the old-timey police stations around South Philly, even the ones that weren't in use.

Bad-ass looking old 33rd District station at 7th/Carpenter/Passyunk being demolished in 1962.
               53 years later, the butt-fugly 3rd/4th station continues to stay in use (with a whole buttloads of additons/alterations over the years) but still manages to look like butt. In 2010, the building had a photo mural installed on it created by the Cops & Kids program at South Philadelphia High School with the hopes that maybe these colorful photos could get the building to look less like absolute donkey dick. Good effort, but its not enough.
                  Now that this and other police buildings like it are getting to be about the same age as the cool-looking ones they replaced, its time to destroy the fuck out of these things and replace them with some proper-looking police stations with designs that'll be able to hold up for more than a year.

South side of the building. Blecchh!

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Second Week of July, 1915

Troubled Youth? Let Them Beat the Shit Out of Each Other!!

Ad for boxing gloves from 1915.
              In the neighborhood surrounding Front & Fairmount, in what is now considered the lower part of Northern Liberties (but what was back then considered the middle of it), there was a fucked up neighborhood where homes, factories, lumber/coal yards, warehouses, and freight lines were all interspersed together in one location. The kids growing up in this little hood were what we call "troubled" or "disadvantaged" or "underprivileged" or "at risk" today, but back then they were just known as "pains in the asses".
         The biggest problem with them was, in the minds of the adults in the neighborhood, that these kids were dangerous. Not because they formed gangs and robbed people (which they did), but because they were always running around and playing in the streets between the factory buildings, warehouses, and freight lines, causing delays in work because they would give you shit when you asked them to get out of the way of your horse carriage that was piled 10 feet high with steel springs. Teens were an especially painful pain the balls, because at the time, those aged 14-16 were only required 8 hours of schooling per week and those over 16 didn't have to go to school at all!
        In order to get these motherfuckers off the streets, a James Welsh organized the Delaware A.C. Boxing Club, knowing that one thing these kids liked to do was pummel the shit out of each other. Welsh dealt with these miscreants often in his job as nightwatchman for the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, where he had to guard the company's many properties in the neighborhood overnight.
        Welsh got permission to use one of the large warehouses on their double-wide pier (Piers 33 and 34 North) as a boxing arena. PRT was suspicious at first, thinking Welsh was trying to set up some kind of event venue where people would pay to watch street kids beat the fuck out of each other, but Welsh proved that it was going to be legit. On the second week of July, 1915, Welsh put out the call to the neighborhood boys between 16-19 years old, offering them the chance to fight 3-round bouts against each other with regulation boxing gloves. About 50 boys responded and the Delaware A.C. Boxing Club was born.
         Today, the location of Welsh's club is now the northern piece of Festival Pier. Boxing clubs to "get youth off the streets" are relatively common and there are still many active organizations of this type in all parts of the city.

We've Got To Do Something About these Schlags!!

              The word Schlag has a lot of meanings in many different time periods and regions of the world (a kind of Viennese whipped cream, an over made-up woman, a punch/slap, the list goes on), but in 1915 Philadelphia, the word meant one thing and one thing only: the owner of what would now call a "Pop-up" store. This, in the view of storeowners and real estate agents of the period, was something that needed to be eradicated from existence.
              You see, chronically vacant storefronts were just as big a problem in Philadelphia 99 years ago as they are now. One thing, in the minds of business leaders of the day, that kept these storefronts vacant, were schlag stores that purposely opened for one month or one season and would move out. These stores would often cater to a certain type of customer or a certain time of the year, either offering shoddy merchandise or seasonal items that would become useless in a month at super-low prices, under-cutting the permanent stores in the same neighborhood. Sometimes the Schlags would collect sales samples and rejected/damaged merchandise from all different factories and stock an entire store with it. Other times the Schlag would be a traveling salesman or a buyer that ran into a dearth of low-overhead merchandise and wanted to dump it all right away. The presence of Schlag stores prevented other storefronts from getting filled, because other merchants and real estate dudes were so weary of the Schlags that they would never want to open a store next to one.
             On top of all that, based on the municipal laws of the period, these short-term stores didn't qualify to take out business licenses or pay mercantile taxes. These motherfuckers were considered quite a drain on the retail and real estate communities. In the second week of July, 1915, a huge call was put out in all the city's publications denouncing the Schlags and begging the city government to do something about them.
            Today, Schlag stores still exist, but most are welcomed to the community and get to be called "Pop-ups", showing up in all parts of the city and even in the King of Prussia Mall. The vast majority have a different kind of purpose today, usually attached to some event or offering some kind of "limited time only" merchandise. If you look closely enough, however, you can still find a true old-fashioned Schlag store or two around the city. The unnamed dvd/cd store that I call White Rectangle Video on the unit block of South 11th Street comes to mind.
           Since that "Pop-up" name is kind of getting old already, why don't we go back to calling them "Schlag stores"? The Art Star Schlag Market? The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator Schlag Shop? I think its a good name. 

Watch Out! Pud Corrigan Found a Sword!

           In the second week of July, 1915, a local drunk miscreant named Pud Corrigan found a broadsword just lying around at the corner of Hope and Huntingdon Streets in Fairhill. Isn't this how Joan of Arc got started? Anyway, good ol' Pud did what anyone would do if they found a broadsword on the street-- he started waving it around, having a swordfight with the air.
          Some guys of they type that used to be called "corner-sitters", probably at the corner of Huntingdon and Howard, got a kick out of Pud's antics and started making fun of him. Pud, in a fit of rage, came at the guys with his sword, swinging it all over the place. The sword wasn't very sharp so it didn't end up slashing the guys, but still managed to hurt them. Eventually, others came out to denounce Pud's swordplay and also got a mouthful of broadsword for their trouble.
           Eventually, there was a wake of injured people all along Huntingdon Street that started getting the attention of passersby. A mob soon formed that drew the attention of Policeman Rainey. Rainey approached Pud to see what was going on. Pud responded by charging at full speed toward Rainey with his sword pointed directly at him. Rainey dodged Pud and tripped him, then proceeded to kick the shit out of him in front of the crowd.
         While Rainey walked the defeated Pud to the police station at 4th and York Streets (still standing!), the crowd followed, screaming curses at Pud until he was brought inside. You'd think someone would get a harsher sentence for randomly fucking people up with a sword, but ol' Pud only got 10 days in jail for his crime. The sword's owner was never found.

Where the broadsword was found as it appears in Google Streetview.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fill This Front: Mission Grill Space

1835 Arch Street Space A

               Excellent! An empty storefront that consists of a turnkey restaurant space directly across the street from the construction site of the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center. Get in there now to take advantage of what may end up becoming a foot-traffic goldmine!
               Believe it or not, this storefront hasn't been around that long, despite being located on the ground floor of a 79 year old building. The Bell Telephone Company Building is one of several that company has built over the years to hold the big-ass central switching stations that, from what my simple brain understands, connected the local neighborhood switchboards to the long-distance trunk line that runs under Arch Street. While in use by the Bell Telephone Company, the storefront at the northeast corner of 19th and Arch was set up like a bank, with teller windows and a vault, so that people could come in and pay their phone bills. The storefront served as this function until 1970, when the switches were upgraded to the ugly-ass building by the South Street Bridge.
              After 1970, the front was converted into a shitty ground-floor office. The marble details on the walls and the big-ass vault all got covered over with drywall and acoustical tiles. The rest of the building got the same treatment, turning into secondary shitty back offices for all the assholes Bell didn't want lurking around their newer Arch Street building.

Serving as crappy offices in 1980.
            Finally, in the early 90s when Bell Atlantic built what is now called Three Logan Square, they sold off 1827-35 Arch and it became a shitty self-storage. In 2001, Super-mega developer Forest City converted the building into luxury apartments and re-named the place the Lofts at 1835 after getting it nationally registered to help get a tax credit for the construction. Soon after, they put the corner retail space up for lease.
            In 2007, the space got the attention of the Brian Harrington/Gary Cardi et al Empire, who own several bar/restaurants in a bunch of cities. This would be there second of many in Philadelphia, having just opened Public House less than two years before. Their business model is a simple but effective one: Happy Hours for Douchebags. Take advantage of nearby office workers and get them drunk in humongous bar/restaurant spaces. Cater to the Young Claustrophobia Crowd that would never step foot into a bar that is less than 1500 square feet. Get them wasted and then sell them food at exorbitant prices. From a business standpoint, its pretty fucking ingenious. From a cultural standpoint, it keeps the douches out of the real bars. Everybody wins!
           Don't get me wrong-- I don't hate these types of places. They fill a need, especially when you want to go out with a crowd of 20+ people from work or something like that. 
           Mission Grill opened on February 19th, 2007, a southwestern/Mexican-themed version of the Happy Hours for Douchebags business model, counting on customers that weren't going to the new Mexican Post (an unaffiliated restaurant that ran under almost the same exact model) location that just opened a few blocks away 2 weeks earlier. Business went well enough for the next two years, but as the Yelp reviews indicate, the place started going downhill in 2009. In 2012 they were famously shut down for six days after racking up 19 violations in a Department of Health inspection.
          Mission Grill closed in the middle of July 2013, making an official statement less than a month later (funnily enough, both locations of Mexican Post, one of which was open for 25 years, closed a few months later). By this point, the Harrington/Cardi et al Empire had a huge Philadelphia portfolio of Happy Hours for Douchebags barstaurants, including the largest restaurant in the city (Field House). Not a week after officially closing, the city's Department of Revenue slapped a huge violation sticker on the window.

and its still there.
               Nearly a year later, the storefront is still empty and available for the next Happy Hours for Douchebags entrepreneur to take advantage of. This is a 4500 square foot space at the Northeast corner of 19th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia. It is in close proximity to a shitton of office workers and is housed in a building that holds many disposable income-heavy folks on top. For the next 3.5 years, the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center will be under construction directly across the street, which gives this space the opportunity to be a rallying point for skyscraper nerds from around the world. There's also a soon-to-open apartment building under construction on the opposing corner. The place is also accessible by endless amounts of public transit, including regional rail, most of the subway-surface trolley lines, and a fucking assload of bus lines. There's bus shelter right in front of the place, for fuck's sake!
              The spot is already fully fit-out as a bar so all you have to do it put up a bunch of assorted bullshit on the walls and your customers will come streaming in, loosening ties and shit, at about 5:05 every weekday afternoon. The space currently goes for $205,000 per year, or $45 per square foot. The leasing is being handled by Legend Properties but it doesn't seem to be listed on their website. Here's the loopnet listing for it. Get off your ass and FILL THIS FRONT!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Old-Ass Building of the Week: Bowes Building/LeGar Building

122-124.5 South 8t , 800-802.5 Sansom

Photo by Peter Woodall
           This is one of those buildings that I pass all the time and was never able to get enough info to write about.. until now!!! Check it out at the Hidden City Daily!