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.

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