Thursday, August 21, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia-- End of August, 1915

The Great Mosquito Genocide

           The Summer of 1915 was an especially hot, humid, and rainy one. That particular summer, mosquitoes had become a huge problem and the citizenry blamed the city-owned marshlands and creeks that surrounded Philadelphia at the time. After an entire summer filling pools of standing water with oil and digging trenches to drain marshes, it was decided that in the third week of August, 1915, a mass Mosquito Genocide should take place with what was left of the paltry $3500 the city had set aside (actually increased from $2500 to $3500 in mid-June) in their annual budget for this cause. The target? The marshes around League Island, where it was said that the swarms of mosquitoes were so thick that they cast a shadow over the entire area.
          Fifty employees of the Bureau of Highways surrounded the mosquito epicenter, located just east of Broad Street at Government Avenue, now the exact location of GlaxoSmithKline's fancy new Center City-ditching U.S. headquarters in the Navy Yard. The workers came at the marshes with scythes and then sprayed a whole shitload of "Chinese Punk" incense, so much that people near City Hall were able to smell it. After that, the kerosene made its appearance.
         Though some appreciated this effort, it wasn't enough. The Bureau of Highways was out of money and there were other well-known mosquito transwarp hubs at Cobb's Creek and all along the long-lost Curtin Street Canal. Two days later, a whole mess of realtors got together to complain that home values in South, West, and Southwest Philadelphia were going down because of the mosquito presence and the city better fucking do something about it.
        As it ends up, they did. The budget for mosquito control was increased more than tenfold (thanks to help from Senator Vare) in 1916. The crew handling mosquito breeding grounds were given some extra weaponry (cyanide, specifically) and dirt being moved for new road construction was dumped in existing marshes. Also, eight inspectors were employed to go house to house and eliminate any mosquito-causing situations that might be present.

Fifteen Pall Bearers Needed at 500-pound Man's Funeral

             At the end of August, 1915, one Edward J. Griess of 1540 Butler Street, a century ahead of his time in the Third Wave of the Fat Acceptance Movement, died of a heart attack at age 51. In preparation for his funeral at the Willis G. Hale-designed St. Stephen's Catholic Church, a massive coffin made of solid mahogany was constructed to hold the 500-lb man at the Battersby Funeral Home at Broad and Westmoreland. Once complete, Griess' corpse was somehow placed inside, wrapped up in a shroud because they couldn't find any clothes big enough to fit his 64-inch waist.
            Then they had to find a hearse big enough to carry the 800-lb combined weight of body and casket. They used a carriage normally meant for moving large amounts of cargo for the trip. Fifteen men then pall-beared Griess up the stairs of the church for his service, then hauled the monstrous casket in that big-ass carriage to the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham where he was to be interred in an extra-large plot. 

Griess' house as it appears in Google Streetview. Its a grocery store now... how ironic.

What the Hell is Under City Hall?

           It was time. Due to an extensive transit plan (that included a bunch of subways and els that never got built) created in 1912 after the success of the just-born Market Street Elevated, digging would soon have to begin under City Hall for the first time since the gigantic building was constructed. At that point, the Market Street line jogged around the foundations of City Hall, its builders not wanting to deal with the logistics of going underneath (though they eventually did 1929-34 when they built the modern piece of the MFL that goes under). The Broad Street Line, however, WOULD have to travel under the giant building.
         Things started at the end of August, 1915. S.M. Swaab and the Keystone State Construction Company drilled 10 borings and dug 7 test pits from various points in City Hall's basements to determine what kind of shit was underneath. The result? A lot. Loam, sand, clay, gravel, and mica schist were found at all varying depths and thicknesses. The bedrock varied from 59 feet to 40 feet below ground. Much to the engineer's surprise, no bit of the extremely heavy City Hall's foundation touched bedrock. In fact, the thickness of City Halls' foundation varied between 14 and 32 feet below the surface. How the fuck was this thing even standing?
         The engineers determined that the new subway tunnel 46 feet under the surface would require the movement of 100,000 cubic yards of earth and the blasting of some of the bedrock that was in the way. Also, they would have to underpin City Hall, connecting it to the bedrock underneath.
         This work would take the next five years and City Hall Station did not open for business until 1928.

1915 plan for City Hall Station. Only three of the buildings seen in this drawing still stand. That's a shame.

Dude Gets His Ass Kicked By A Bunch of Chicks

                 Hugo Mulcrane doesn't like beef or pork, he likes chicken. After seeing a few random chickens walking around the city, Mulcrane had a bright idea: sprinkle some chicken feed around and he'll be able to catch one. After trying this out at the corner of Susquehanna and Girard for a few hours, the chickens didn't come. Mulcrane got frantic and started yelling "Chick! Chicken! Chick!" thinking that the chickens would hear him and come callin'.
                  Unfortunately for Mulcrane, some young ladies were walking by and misinterpreted his beckoning. One of them approached and clocked Mulcrane in the face with her parasol, stating "I ain't no chicken." You see, in Philadelphia of 1915, "chick" didn't just mean female, it meant under-aged female. These ladies were pissed off  1) for getting "mashed" on by this crazy bastard who was spreading chicken feed everywhere and 2) for being mistaken for under-aged girls. After the initial parasol attack, the rest ganged up around Mulcrane and proceeded to beat the shit out of him until his cries for help were heard by Sergeant John Hasslett. He rescued Mulcrane and brought him down to the East Girard Police Station.
               After explaining his story to the cops, they advised him to stick to roast beef. In regard to the young ladies, Mulcrane stated "I wouldn't of had any of 'em anyhow."

The scene in the incident as seen in Google Streetview

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fill This Front: 13th and Spruce

1300 Spruce Street

            Well, its about fucking time that this place became available to lease! Despite what people may tell you, this awesome location at the corner of 13th and Spruce has NEVER had a retail/restaurant space on its ground floor. Now that it finally has one (and a front door), let's get this crazy sucker filled.
            This space is the first floor of a building composed of some combined buildings that started construction in the early 19th Century. Additions were later built connecting 1300 Spruce to 300 South 13th by the 1890s, when Dr. William Hunt lived there. A little over 100 years ago, the Civic Club of Philadelphia (a club that advocated for women's rights and interests) and the College Club (a club for women that had just finished college that had a lot of the same members) pooled their resources to create a common clubhouse with this property, much improved over the couple of rooms in members' houses they had been using up to that point.
            Everyone started calling the building "the Civic Club" even though a whole bunch of other clubs started using the building as well. By the 1940s, the building was fully owned and utilized by the Locust Mid-City Club (later Locust Club), a mercantile club that people used to call the "Jewish Union League". They had been meeting at 1300 Spruce since 1921. In 1960, they put the place up for sale and in 1961 moved to the 1600 block of Locust, which must have been nice. After all, after 40 years of being called the "Locust Club", they finally got to be on Locust Street.
          After the move, the place came under the ownership of the International Institute, a non-profit that assisted immigrants and refugees. They changed their name to the Nationalities Resource Center in 1963 and then spent the next 4 decades located at 1300 Spruce.

           In 2006, probably taking advantage of the increase in property values in the neighborhood at the time, they put the place up for sale and moved out to the old Young, Smyth, and Field Building at 1216 Arch Street. In July 2007 Hartford Omega LLC, a Hartford, CT-based apartment operator, bought the place for $1.575 million and had Alesker and Dundon architects put together a plan to turn it into residential with retail on the first floor.
           For some reason or another, it never got done. They put the property back up for sale in 2009. In July 2011, Coneast Properties out of Great Neck, NY bought 1300 Spruce for $1.25 million and came up with their own residential-with-retail plan under the designs of Frank Kakos. A couple of years went by until the renovation started, but now seems to be complete. The biggest change to the building, of course, was the restoration of its front door, something it hasn't had in over 100 years. Now its time to get this thing filled.
Bluepring from the Michael Salove Company, who is managing the space
                This is the 4,000 square foot retail space (and basement) at 1300 Spruce Street, located in the Midtown Village/Gayborhood section of Washington Square West. It comes with an entrance on Spruce Street, an accessible entrance from 13th Street, an outdoor courtyard section, and parking spaces off of Cypress Street in back. Its location is awesome and can be the catalyst that brings the 13th Street shopping/restaurant district of Midtown Village further south, connecting it with both the retail area of 13th Street that is centered around 13th/Pine and the mini-restaurant row along the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Spruce.
               The space is also easily accessible by non-auto-based options: A block from the Broad Street Line concourse and close to several bus lines including the 23, the most heavily used in the system. Its also at the crossroads of two bike lanes! This is one of the most highly anticipated commercial spaces to come online in a long time. Throw your newest, coolest restaurant in here or think of any other use! The listing also shows a blueprint of how this place could be converted to medical offices!
             Ok, so the infamous Parker-Spruce is catercorner. Are you gonna let that stop you? The new cafe in the new building next to it is doing great!! The place is currently going for $25 per square foot per year, aka $100k/year. The place is fully sprinklered and just-renovated.
             Pick this place up while the gettin's good! Its time to FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Lacey & Phillips Building

30-32 South 7th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
              This lovely bitch-bastard has been empty for over 8 years-- I started this as a Fill This Front regarding the old skateboard shop on the first floor, only to find that this building's history is way more interesting. Check it out at the Hidden City Daily!