Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fill This Front: Sumo Lounge

1224 Chestnut Street

             Ok, so this front is filled and has been for years... so this isn't really a Fill This Front. Its more of a Fuck This Front. The Sumo Lounge at Raw is a fancy nightclub/event space that occupies the Chestnut Street side of the very long building that faces both Chestnut and Sansom that also houses Raw and Uber. Why does it piss me off? Well, when not active (most of the time) it spends its time as a blank white storefront on the re-emergent Chestnut East.
            They can't put up a sign? An awning? SOMETHING that indicates that this isn't yet another empty storefront on Chestnut East? I mean really-- this stretch has enough retail problems without having a perfectly active space try to appear vacant throughout the day. Bums and squatters love to post up here-- they think this spot is inactive too.
           What a disgrace-- especially when you consider the history of this storefront. This building was constructed in 1913 under the designs of badasschitect Carl P. Berger. It was the offices and flagship store of the Stetson Hats Company-- the Sansom Street side still is labeled as such. This location is where, for about 30 years, Stetson showed off their newest, coolest, and most important shit.

The display window on this very storefront in 1921 or so.
               After the 1930s the same thing happened to this building as did many from its era-- the facade was ripped off and replaced with some mid-century modern shit due to the widening of the street. The new facade was literally a white wall with a couple of small windows on it.

The facade in the 1950s. Image from the PAB
                 That crap facade lasted all the way until 2002, when the Warrior-Poet Tony Goldman came along and bought the property. The building was renovated and the facade was replaced with a glass curtain wall and the retail space was filled with Bread & Butter Gourmet Deli by 2003. It failed pretty quickly and the space had a "FOR LEASE" sign on it for years thereafter.
                 Toward the end of the 00s decade, Raw Sushi & Sake was doing quite well on the Sansom Street side of the building and its owners decided to expand into the other side of the building, creating the Sumo Lounge. They blocked up the curtain wall with whiteness and projected images onto it while the club was active. The rest of the time, it just stays a blank wall. Here's what it looks like when in use.
                 Its great that an event space like this exists on Chestnut East-- SO HOW ABOUT PUTTING A FUCKING SIGN OR AWNING UP!?!??! Chestnut East is on the rise and this place has been a part of that-- you'd think they'd want to show off a bit. The owners of this place also own several other establishments throughout the city that have signage, awnings, and/or an attractive street level presence-- so its not like they don't know what they're doing.
                The place looks pretty nice on the inside-- how about take the white shit down so people can see the inside of it during the day-- then pull down some white crap at night or when the place is in use. You might even be able to get some new bookings out of it-- MANY MANY MANY potential customers have no idea this place even exists! FUCK THIS FRONT!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross

2213 Chestnut Street

              Oh here we go... another concrete box from the glorious architectural era of the early 1970s, fucking up what should be a much nicer corner in Center City. Look, I understand that the American Red Cross does a lot of great things and they support themselves entirely with donations and volunteer work. Good for them, I applaud it. If only the local chapter's headquarters building was built in a different era. ANY other era, really. What a shame. This organization deserves better.
             They should have left the original building here. What was the original building, you ask? It was a nice little structure called Philadelphia School of Nurses and Central Hospital of Philadelphia, which had a lawn that extended out to the corner of 23rd and Chestnut.

Corner of 23rd and Chestnut looking east, 1911.
                  It was the only place in town that offered the Abrams Electronic Treatment. This treatment was one of many forms of quackery under the category of "Radionics" whereby the patient would have a small amount of blood, a lock of hair, or even a photograph placed into Abrams' Reflexophone. According to the read-out from the device, the patient could be diagnosed with lung cancer, strep throat, tuberculosis, you name it. Dr. Abrams himself was convinced that syphilis passed from generation to generation, and that only his machine could detect it in newborn infants. Once the patient was diagnosed, they'd be hooked up to another machine called the Oscillocast which would deliver a series of electric shocks that supposedly lead to a cure.
          Regardless of all that bullshit (irregardless?), the building they were in looked cool. So cool, in fact, that even after the hospital/nurses' school went kaput, the building was covered in stucco, new facade details were added, and the lawn was enclosed behind a nice wall for its next job as the Spanish Embassy.

Yes, this is the same building. The front of it was lobbed off for the widening of the Chestnut Street Bridge in 1911/12.
                By the 1960s, it had become an apartment building. In 1969, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross created a building committee with the aim of building a new headquarters in Philadelphia. In 1970 they has raised enough money to purchase the old Central Hospital property and put the then 80+ year old building out of its misery. They commissioned the firm of Ewing Cole Erdman & Eubank for a design, the same motherfuckers who would design Giants Stadium a year later.
               Being that it was 1970, the most cutting edge bad ass design anyone could think of was a squat concrete monolith with rows of windows and an indentation on one side of the facade. They made sure to make the thing as anti-pedestrian as possible by including a below-grade surface parking lot and a wide driveway on the 23rd Street side. I will give them a small bit of credit for the plaza at the 23rd/Chestnut corner, only because it sets the building back just about as far as the Central Hospital's lawn was.

Pedestrian-friendly street level presence by early 70s standards
                   The new ugly-ass Red Cross building officially opened on November 3rd, 1972. There was a ceremony where the cornerstone was filled with "historical items", whatever that may mean. Maybe they threw one of those Abrams devices in there.

A surviving Oscillocast from The Lindan Collection of Medical Devices.