Saturday, August 1, 2009

Then and Now: 1201 Block of Market Street, Philadelphia


The entire block between 12th, 13th, Market, and Filbert Streets disappeared sometime around 1990, replaced by an enormous 1200-room Marriott in 1995 as part of the massive redevelopment project that created the Pennsylvania Convention Center and transformed the upper end of Market East. As far as massive buildings go, the Marriott's design isn't bad. Unlike certain very underperforming 1-story blocks to the east, its density and massing is appropriate for its downtown location near major transportation hubs, and its retail spaces provide good sidewalk presence.

Nonetheless, the Marriott conserves none of the original urban "texture" of Market East. The building sits on a superblock that was formerly made up of 31 individual building lots, with just as many buildings serving a variety of functions (see Land Use Map below). Unfortunately, no matter how well designed, one building simply can't be as interesting as 31. The consolidation of building lots and the accompanying loss of diversity of uses that repeated itself all along Market Street to catastrophic results. That one of the country's most fine-grained collections of gilded age commercial architecture was reduced to an unexceptional, banal streetscape is one of Philadelphia's greatest tragedies.

Source: "Philadelphia Land Use Map, 1962." Free Library of Philadelphia Map Collection. Philadelphia Geohistory Network. Athenaeum of Philadelphia. 31 Jul. 2009.
Original Photo: Blanck. "Department of Public Property-41264-0." 1960. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 31 Jul. 2009.

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