Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Then and Now: Southeast corner of 9th and Market Streets, Philadelphia

c. 1900 - 2009

Perhaps no episode in the sad decline of Market East is as scarring as the disintegration of the Gimbel Brothers Department Store. Though not a home-grown institution like its many competitors (Strawbridge's, Wanamaker's, Lit Brothers, etc.) the store became a dominant landmark along Market Street. At its height, the Gimbels empire occupied the entire block of Market Street between 8th and 9th Streets, as well as a 12-story office and warehouse building on Chestnut Street. The building at the corner of 9th Street was designed by Addison Hutton in 1896 and originally built for Cooper & Conard, but quickly taken over by Gimbels. Its distinctive curved corner and arched facade are hauntingly memorable, adding to the surreal, ghostly quality of the original image.

In the 1970s, Gimbels became involved in plans for The Gallery at Market East as one of its main prospective tenants. Upon the completion of The Gallery I in 1977, Gimbels relocated its downtown flagship store to a plain concrete box at 10th and Market, abandoning its original complex one block to the east. Its former home was demolished shortly afterwards with the exception of its office tower at 833 Chestnut Street by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, though this is little consolation.

Barely a decade after the move, the Gimbels chain collapsed and its properties were sold. Its location in the Gallery is now occupied by a KMart store. The 800 block of Market Street, three decades after its demolition, remains an enormous vacant lot with little development prospect.

1. Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
2. Fischer, John. "Gone but not forgotte - Gimbel's, Lit Brothers, Strawbridge & Clothier, and Wanamaker's Department Stores." About.com. 12 Oct. 2009. http://philadelphia.about.com/od/history/a/strawbridges.htm.
Original photo: "Department of City Transit-41118-0." Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 12 Oct. 2009. http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=52491.

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