Thursday, August 21, 2014
Quite apart from Philadelphia's seemingly limitless supply of derelict buildings—many of which, after all, were architecturally quite distinguished, or even beautiful, when built—and the lowest form of developer-driven housing—think, if you will, of the "Graduate Hospital specials," with their street front garages and boxy, stucco bays—the city has a fair number of other downright ugly buildings in places, and by architects, one would think should have known better. Today's post highlights two such structures, at either end of Center City.
48. 2400 Pine Street
|Fitler Square, north side, 2300 block of Pine St.,|
14 November 2009 (photo by author)
|2400's more dignified neighbors. Note the|
entirely more sensitive modernist 2412 Pine
at the right (photo by author)
|2300 Pine, as seen from Fitler Square|
(photo by author)
|2410 Pine Street (photo by author)|
In later years Rice was actively involved in the Philadelphia Chapter of the AIA, serving as one of its directors in 1953-55 and 1962-63, its vice-president in 1958-59, and president in 1960-61. Later still he served as an architecture professor at his alma mater for 15 years, beginning in 1963.
|Temple Beth Hillel|
|2400 Pine in 1968, with the home and garages in the rear;|
Is that a 1959 Buick on the corner?
47. Penn Mutual Addition, Walnut Street between 5th and 6th
|The Penn Mutual Complex, 1999|
|The Penn Mutual Addition as seen from|
Independence Square, 19 October 2013
(photo by author)
This building, unfortunately, is one that every visitor to Philadelphia sees, as it dominates the backdrop to the national treasure known as Independence Hall when viewed, as intended—that's another story for another time—from the formal axis provided by Independence Mall.
|Independence Hall with the Penn Mutual Buildings behind it|
(photo by author, 30 July 2008)
|The 6th Street facade of Seeler's 1913 building, as viewed from |
Washington Square, 1 March 2008 (photo by author)
|Haviland's original building|
at 510 Walnut (image@
One thing stood in the way: John Haviland's impressive 1839 Pennsylvania Fire Insurance Company Building at 510 Walnut (enlarged to include 508 Walnut in 1902 by Theophilus Parsons Chandler, Jr.). The solution was original, a pioneering example of facadisme: demolish the buildings except for the front facade and incorporate the facade into the new building's design. In this case, Mitchell/Giurgola decided to use the facade as a screen to the building's entrance courtyard. Thus, it was thought, history could be preserved and economic "progress" could be achieved simultaneously.
|The Haviland/Chandler building prior|
to demolition (image@
|The facadisme today|
(photo by author, 19 Oct 2013)
|Artist's concept of the tower, 1973|
Friday, August 15, 2014
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|