Philadelphia certainly doesn't owe its status as, pound-for-pound, the greatest American city for architecture to the movers and shakers, both political and economic, that have shaped the city over the past three-quarters of a century. Even a brief perusal of photographic images from the city's past is sufficient to bring melancholy to the soul of any Philaphile, or even any committed urbanist. Such images give ample testimony to the havoc wrought on the city's landscape by the noxious brew of postwar automobile culture and the distinctively American vices of aesthetic philistinism, cost-cutting greed and "efficiency," and knee-jerk preference to the "new" over anything old.
The consequences of this brew are visible all over town, not least in the old river wards from Queen Village to Fishtown, where thousands of historic structures, many dating to the 18th century, were leveled for "progress" provided by the construction of Interstate 95. Similar mass levelings occurred, as I have written before, with the federal government's creation of the Independent National Historical Park and the city's creation of the brutal Penn Center from the 1950s-1980s.
Of the hundreds of lost buildings from which to choose, I have selected 50 to showcase. In today's first post, I highlight two buildings which, while certainly fine structures, are more notable for their historical importance than their architectural distinction. The first, moreover, is one with which I have more than a little personal connection.
50. YWCA Building, 1800 Arch Street
|(postcard from the author's |
|The YWCA in its early days|
In this case, however, the story has a somewhat happy ending. After 34 years of being a surface parking lot in the heart of Center City—how could this possibly be?—the site is now being developed by Comcast Corporation as the future home of the tallest building between New York City and Chicago. The Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, as it will be called, is designed by starchitect Sir Norman Foster and will rise 1121' feet. Though not Foster's best design, it certainly could be worse.
|PCB's main building as I remember it in the '70s, |
with the turret dome missing from the NE corner
|The Y's stunning neighbors at |
1814-18 Arch, before demolition
for a parking lot, 1927
|Demolition of PCB Building, 1980|
|Rendering of the proposed Comcast Innovation and Technology Center. We'll see if it actually ends up looking like this.|
49. Penn Mutual Building, 241 Dock Street
|The old Penn Mutual Building prior to demolition|
|The "Old" Independence Visitor Center|
|The future Museum of the American Revolution|