Monday, April 26, 2010

Then and Now: South Street east of Third Street, Philadelphia


On the left hand side of today's view is Abbott's Square, a gargantuan condominium complex spanning a full block of South Street and Second Street. Built in the mid-1980s, Abbott's Square takes its name from Abbott's Dairies, which operated a nearby ice cream factory on the 200 block of Lombard Street before closing in 1982.

As in most of the city, trolley service on South Street ended in the late 50s; the tracks and wires were removed shortly thereafter.

Source: Thompson, Gary. "Finally, a first step at Penn's Landing: $35M project, long in the works, could spark a renaissance." Philadelphia Daily News. 2 Jan. 1985: 23.
Original photo: Howell, Charles L. "Public Works-28458-0." 1930. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 23 Apr. 2010.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Then and Now: Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street, Philadelphia

c. 1900-2010

As far as museums go, the Betsy Ross House is one of Philadelphia's oldest, and has been at least partially open to the public since 1898. The building went through a major renovation in 1937, which included a redesigned facade designed by Colonial Revival specialist Richardson Brognard Okie. Shortly afterward, the former warehouse properties on its western side were demolished and replaced with a new courtyard for the museum. The Berger Brothers warehouse on the other side was demolished sometime after 1964, giving the 18th-century house even more "breathing room."

A quick history of the building [Betsy Ross House]
The original (extremely hi-res) image [Shorpy]

Original photo: Detroit Photographic Company. "012944-Betsy Ross House, Philadelphia." 1900. Shorpy Historic Photo Archive. 22 Apr. 2010.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Then and Now: The Merchants Exchange viewed from Dock Street, Philadelphia


The Merchants Exchange was commissioned in 1831 by the Philadelphia Exchange Company, a group of prominent merchants who had organized for the purpose of building a main brokerage hall for Philadelphia's fast-growing commercial center. Built between the city's waterfront and its banking district on Chestnut Street, the Exchange stood at the very epicenter of Philadelphia's commercial core for the four decades that followed. The building was also the last major commission in Philadelphia awarded to William Strickland, a preeminent figure in the development of Greek Revival architecture in the United States. Thanks in part to its irregular plot at the corner of Walnut and Dock Streets, Strickland's original design included a striking semi-circular portico on its eastern facade, topped off with a lantern replicating the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.

The building changed hands several times in the first century of its life, undergoing multiple interior and exterior alterations. Upon its repurchase by the Philadelphia Stock Exchange in 1901, the lantern was dismantled and a redesigned version was built somewhat to the east of its original location. In 1922, long after Philadelphia's center of business had moved to Broad Street, it joined Dock Street's produce market as the Produce Exchange, and ground floor sheds were added to its eastern facade.

In 1952, the building came under the ownership of the National Park Service, which removed the produce sheds and began a full renovation of the building's exterior. Several years later, the 1901 lantern was dismantled and replaced by a replica of the original in its original location. The former Merchants Exchange is now used as offices for the Park Service.

Few of the Exchange's immediate neighbors in 1939 were fortunate enough to survive the rest of the 20th century. Only one other building visible in the original photo still stands today, the First Bank of the United States on Third Street.

Source: Zana C. Wolf and Charles Tonetti. "National Historic Landmark Nomination: Merchants' Exchange Building." 2000. National Park Service. United States Department of the Interior. 20 Apr. 2010.
Original photo: Nichols, Frederick D. "PA-1028-1-General View." 1939. Historic American Buildings Survey. American Memory. The Library of Congress. 20 Apr. 2010.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Then and Now: The Trans-Lux Theater, 1519 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia


The Trans-Lux Theater first opened in 1934 as a newsreel theater, one of the many cinemas that once lined Chestnut Street west of Broad. Its design is attributed to the prolific American theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, best known for his classical revival theater designs from the 1910s and 20s. However, as the Trans-Lux attests, he managed to transition masterfully into Art Deco during the later years of his career.

Tragically, in 1970, the theater's facade was completely rebuilt before its reopening as the Eric's Place Theatre. Oddly enough, the renovations were done by an 85-year-old William Harold Lee, himself a prominent Philadelphian theater architect. It is simply unfathomable to me how he could have consented to the destruction of the Lamb's exquisite design.

Chestnut Street's beleaguered row of movie houses collapsed in the early 1990s; Eric's Place closed in 1993 and reopened in 2006 as an athletics shoe store.

A photograph of the shuttered Eric's Place Theatre [HowardBHaas on Flickr]

Source: Bryan and Howard B. Haas. "Eric's Place Theatre." Cinema Treasures. 15 Apr. 2010.
Original photo: Gee, William A. "Public Works-35005-0." 1935. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 15 Apr. 2010.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Then and Now: North side of Sansom Street, west of no. 735 Sansom, Philadelphia


The ground-floor storefronts on this corner of Sansom Street have been completely rebuilt since the 1930s. If you look closely at the grooves of the sidewalk curb however, you will find that it remains essentially unchanged.

Original photo: Sack. "Department of City Transit-22539-0." 1931. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 8 Apr. 2010.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Unbuilt Philadelphia: Twin towers at the Gallery II

Hot on the heels of the opening of the Gallery in 1977, the second major phase of the city's Market East redevelopment plan began to take shape. In 1978, the city began construction of the epic $325 million Center City Commuter Tunnel, including the underground Market East Station. The new commuter rail station was to be connected to the original Gallery by the Gallery II, a major expansion of the bunker-like shopping mall from 10th to 11th Streets, also developed by the Rouse Company.

One of the more ambitious components of the original plan was the eventual construction of two twin office towers rising on top of the Gallery II, pictured above in a rendering from 1979. The planned towers would have risen over 20 stories, providing up to 440,000 square feet of new office space at the northwest corner of 10th and Market (above the former site of the Harrison Building).

Since engineering work for the Gallery II anticipated the office tower complex, construction proceeded on the new shopping mall in the early 80s while the city negotiated with potential developers. However, the Gallery II struggled to attract its anticipated customers after its rainy opening day in 1983, and never lived up to the Rouse Company's nor the city's expectations. Furthermore, repeated efforts to sell the building's air rights throughout the decade were ultimately unsuccessful. The last serious push came and went in 1993, when the site above the Gallery II was one of four locations under consideration for the consolidated offices of SEPTA, which ultimately took up residence at 1234 Market Street.

The story isn't over, however. The structural engineering of the Gallery II remains in place, and the Market East Strategic Plan released last year by the Planning Commission points out the ongoing potential for high-density development above the mall. Over three decades after its conception, this dream for Market East has yet to completely fade to dust.

1.Brown, Jeff. "SEPTA's search for a new home: major stakes and twisted arms - The Redevelopment Authority has a proposal."
Philadelphia Inquirer. 7 Mar. 1993: C01.
2. Kennedy, Sara. "The tunnel: mud to steel - on schedule and grinding ahead quietly." Philadelphia Inquirer. 14 Nov. 1982: B01.
3. Lin, Jennifer. "Opening day - despite rain, a festive air reigns at Gallery II. " Philadelphia Inquirer. 13 Oct. 1983: B01.
Image: "P086218 - Drawing of office complex to be built over Gallery II." 1979. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photographs. Temple University Library, Urban Archives. 6 Apr. 2010.,1727.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Then and Now: Southeast corner of 8th and Sansom Streets, Philadelphia


The Jewelry Trades Building was built c. 1930 on the site of four lots on the western end of the block of Sansom Street now known as Jewelers' Row. The architect, Ralph Bowden Bencker, was one of Philadelphia's more prolific early Modernist architects in the 1920s and 30s, best known for designing the Rittenhouse Plaza apartments and the Ayer on Washington Square. The Jewelry Trades Building is fairly representative of Bencker's architectural style, which can generally be characterized as a minimalist, monochrome Art Deco.

Mills, Charles P. "Department of City Transit-3822-0." 1917. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 5 Apr. 2010.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Construction update: Drexel Recreation Center

There's been such a general dearth of new construction here in the past few months that I'd even lost track of the handful of mid-sized projects nearing completion. The opening of Drexel's new Recreation Center back in February flew right under the radar, but I managed to finally get a look at the completed product over the weekend.

The Recreation Center as viewed from 33rd and Market

Designed by Sasaki Associates with engineering work by EwingCole and Pennoni, the 84,000 square foot building occupies an entire block of Market Street between 33rd and 34th Streets, wrapping around the existing Daskalakis Athletics Center and replacing what was previously a perimeter of inactive and unused open space.

As far as university campus additions go, the Recreation Center was highly anticipated. For Drexel planners, it provided another essential step toward shedding the university's reputation as a hotspot of orange brick and mediocre modernism. The wise decision to wrap the new building around the Daskalakis Athletics Center was not only cost effective for Drexel, but also provided a rare opportunity to breathe new life into a particularly quiet stretch of Market Street. To that end, the ground floor of the building also houses a newly opened restaurant and bar occupying half of the building's Market Street frontage, providing another amenity for the campus and nearby area.

Landmark Americana Tap & Grill

Personally, I find the the window patterning of the upper stories to be visually interesting. Nonetheless, the building's ground floor presence leaves a lot to be desired. The non-restaurant half of the Market Street frontage hides a large lounge space behind a very opaque band of windows. Contrary to the project's intentions and expectations, the pedestrian experience along this block is decidedly a bit dull, albeit a definite improvement over previous conditions. Another lesson learned: windows are never as transparent as promised by architectural renderings.

Perhaps such judgments are somewhat premature, given the continued presence of orange construction cones around the site. However, there are a few simple changes that could greatly improve the building's interaction with its neighbors. The presence of the Market Street Subway beneath the roadway probably precludes the planting of street trees. Nonetheless, the sidewalk is virtually crying out for at least some plantings and shade, a need which will only become more evident with the approach of summer. Lastly, I will also suggest that the ground floor facade could be significantly enlivened by some sort of engaging display or signage without compromising the quality of the building's interior spaces.

Recreation Center opening press release [Drexel University]