Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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

c. 2000-2010

Today, the southeast corner of 8th and Walnut Streets is occupied by the base of the St. James apartment tower, completed in 2004 as one of the earliest finished projects in Center City's last residential development boom. In addition to substanially adding to the city skyline east of Broad Street, the project included a significant preservation component. The three remaining houses of York Row (one of which is pictured above) were partially preserved within the tower podium, and are now used as retail and office space. The developers also undertook a full renovation of the adjacent former Pennsylvania Savings Fund Society building facing Washington Square into a large restaurant space.

The same street corner pictured in 1917

Not much seems to be known about the one story building at the pictured street corner. However, it appears to have replaced a taller, four story commercial building that occupied the location in the early 20th century.

1. "HABS PA-6661-1."
Historic American Buildings Survey. American Memory. Library of Congress. 12 June 2010. http://memory.loc.gov/pnp/habshaer/pa/pa3800/pa3816/photos/213253pv.jpg.
2. Mills, Charles P. "Department of City Transit-3820-0." 1917. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 29 Jun. 2010. http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=38467.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Then and Now: Spring Garden Street east of Broad Street, Philadelphia


For many decades, the 1300 block of Spring Garden Street was one of Philadelphia's grandest blocks, anchoring the civic and institutional core of lower North Philadelphia. Six years before the consolidation of Philadelphia County into a single municipality, the Spring Garden District built its Commissioner's Hall at the northwest corner of 13th and Spring Garden Streets in 1848. Three years later, the Spring Garden Institute opened its doors at the other end of the block, at the corner of Broad Street. The Commissioner's Hall was demolished in 1892 and replaced by the Philadelphia Normal School for Girls, whose tower is visible in the original photograph.

The onion-domed building adjacent to the Spring Garden Institute is the city's Lu Lu Temple, built in 1904 for the Shriners fraternal order. The Shriners, an offshoot of the Freemasons, were heavily inspired by Middle Eastern traditions, as evident in the Philadelphia temple's design by architect Frederick Webber.

The Broad and Spring Garden intersection in 1910, original atlas image from Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network

For reasons I'm not aware of, the two sections of Spring Garden Street separated by Broad Street were originally not aligned at that intersection; the portion east of Broad terminated roughly 70 feet south of the portion west of Broad. As early as the Civil War, the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Spring Garden were also doted with a spacious and pleasant-looking planted median strip. Real estate atlases seem to indicate that the median was removed sometime around 1920 (perhaps for the construction of the Broad Street Subway).

Spring Garden east of Broad in 1941, from the State Office Building side.

In 1969, the Spring Garden Institute relocated a new campus in Chestnut Hill, abandoning its original site on Broad Street. Its original buildings, along with the substantially decayed Lu Lu Temple, were demolished in 1972, paving the way for the realigned intersection that stands today.

Satellite image courtesy of Google Maps

The only building lucky enough to have survived to this day on the 1301 block of Spring Garden Street is the Philadelphia School District's Stevens Administrative Center, built in 1927.

1. Bromley, George W. and Walter S. Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1910. G. W. Bromley & Co., 1910. http://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/view-image.cfm/BRM1910.Phila.001.TitlePage.
2. Calhoun, Chris. "140 Years - A history of practical education." 16 May 2009. Spring Garden College. http://springgardencollege.net/?page_id=12.
3. Khalidi, Omar. "Fantasy, Faith, And Fraternity: American Architecture of Moorish Inspiration." ArchNet. 2004. http://archnet.org/library/documents/one-document.jsp?document_id=9341
1. Biggard, D. Alonzo. "Public Works-37789-0."1941. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 21 Jun. 2010. http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=21485.
2. "Public Works-11638-0." 1916. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 21 Jun. 2010. http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=19747.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Then and Now: Northeast corner of 7th and Market Streets, Philadelphia


The 601 block of Market Street was cleared in the mid-1960s to make way for a federal courthouse and office building complex, occupying the entire site bounded by 6th, 7th, Market, and Arch Streets. Part of the massive Independence Mall urban renewal project, it was designed by a team of architects including Carroll, Grisdale & Van Allen; Stewart, Noble, Class & Partners; and Bellante & Clauss. Completed in 1968, the James A. Byrne Courthouse and William J. Green Federal Building campus suffers from typical design failures of postwar Modernism, such as a barren plaza along 6th Street and long blank walls along its other three sides.

The same block viewed in 1960. Photo courtesey of PhillyHistory.org

The real tragedy of course, lies in what it replaced - a dense block of mid-rise late 19th century commercial buildings. In terms of scale and architecture, it was not much different from nearby commercial blocks along 5th, 6th, Chestnut, and Arch Streets, once at the heart the city's business district. Unfortunately, extremely little of that area remains today, thanks to ill-conceived urban renewal. Photographs taken just a few years before the block's destruction show few signs of excessive vacancy or deterioration. They hardly suggest a district in irreversible decline, calling into question the alleged necessity for the large scale demolition that took place.

Source: Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
1. Carollo, R. "Department of Public Property-41256-0." 1960. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 17 Jun. 2010. http://phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=143879.
2. Eisenman, George A. "PA-1441-1 - General View of 613-637 Market Street (from right to left), from southwest." 1965.
American Memory. Library of Congress. 17 June 2010. http://memory.loc.gov/pnp/habshaer/pa/pa0900/pa0988/photos/138970pv.jpg.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Then and Now: Southwest corner of 3rd and Arch Streets, Philadelphia


On October 13, 1856, a jewelry merchant named George Gordon purchased a four-story warehouse building at 300 Arch Street. By November 20, just over a month later, the original structure had been demolished, and construction had begun on a five-story replacement later known as the George Gordon Building. The Gordon Building is a relatively early work of cast-iron commercial architecture, whose popularity peaked later in the 19th century.

The building had a fairly narrow frontage on Arch Street measuring less than 16 feet (15'-9''). Standing in the pocket park in its place today, it's a bit difficult to imagine that any substantial structure once stood here. After falling into substantial decay, the lot was purchased in 1962 by the Religious Society of Friends, which owned the adjacent 5-story office building at 302-304 Arch Street, as well as the Arch Street Meeting House occupying the rest of the block. The presence of a vacant and deteriorating warehouse adjacent to the Friends' properties posed a growing safety concern, and it was likely for this reason that the Gordon Building was demolished the following year.

A horizontally aligned comparison may be found here.

Source: "George Gordon Building." Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) no. PA,51-PHILA,258.
Original photograph: Robinson, Cervin. "PA-1065 - North and east elevations." 1959. Historic American Buildings Survey. American Memory. Library of Congress. 12 June 2010. http://memory.loc.gov/pnp/habshaer/pa/pa0700/pa0739/photos/137620pv.jpg.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Then and Now: East bank of Schuylkill River at Market Street, Philadelphia


The building on Market Street by the Schuylkill banks that today houses the Marketplace Design Center was initially built as an automobile factory, circa 1920. Like many industrial buildings of its age, it had a loading dock on the ground level connected to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks by a short rail siding. Also visible in the top right of the original photograph is the B&O's passenger terminal at Chestnut Street.

Before the auto factory, this site was occupied a portion of the city's oldest municipal gas works complex, which straddled both sides of Market Street on the Schuylkill River's east bank for most of the 19th century. The facilities between Market and Chestnut Street were demolished around the turn of the century, at which point something very different may have taken its place.

In the 1910s, the empty plot was one of several locations under consideration by the City of Philadelphia for the construction of a much-desired convention hall. The primary advantage of the site was surely not its waterfront locale, but rather its easy accessibility to the growing business district west of Broad Street. Nonetheless, the proposal was discarded by the city in favor of a site on the Parkway, and the riverbank plot was turned to private ownership. As an aside, the Parkway project never got off the ground, and it was not until 1931 that the arduous convention hall saga came to an end with the completion of the Municipal Auditorium in University City.

(For a detailed account of the perenially sidetracked convention hall project, I highly recommend Sarah Zurier's thesis at the link below)

Source: Zurier, Sarah Elisabeth. "Commerce, Ceremony, Community: Philadelphia's Convention Hall in Context." MS Thesis University of Pennsylvania, 1997. Internet Archive. 8 Jun. 2010. http://www.archive.org/details/commerceceremony00zuri.
Original photographs:
1. "Public Works-10371-0." 1915. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 8 Jun. 2010.
2. "Public Works-10703-0." 1915. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 8 Jun. 2010. http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=33703.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Then and Now: Dock Street west of Second Street, Philadelphia


After being cleared in the early 1960s, this segment of Dock Street as it appears today was rebuilt by the late local real estate developer and film enthusiast, Ramon L. Posel. In 1976, Posel opened the Ritz Three theater at the southwest corner of Dock and Walnut Streets (left of photo), followed in 1977 by a complementary two-story retail building across Dock Street. According to PAB, the retail building was designed by the now obscure architectural firm of Egli & Pratt; I haven't been able to find much on the architects of the Ritz. Nonetheless, both of the glass and brick buildings were designed in a similar style, accented with white steel beams that evoke a certain maritime feel.

Today, Posel's Ritz chain is usually credited with single-handedly building Philadelphia's market for independent and international films. Posel himself was instrumental in crafting the cinema and its mission, and expended significant personal effort to support his brainchild in the face of initial difficulties, for it took seven years for the Ritz Three to turn its first profit. In 1985, the theater was expanded and renamed as the Ritz Five, and the chain continued to grow into the 90s with the openings of the Ritz at the Bourse and the Ritz East. The Ritz chain has certainly been a great success story for urban cinemas during an era where success has generally been the exception to the rule. In 2007, two years after Posel's death, the movie houses were acquired by Landmark Theatres, which has chosen to preserve the Ritz name.

1. Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
2. Rickey, Carrie. "Ritz cinema founder Ramon L. Posel dies - Posel's Ritz theaters made region a top art-film destination."
Philadelphia Inquirer. 24 Jun. 2005: A01.
3. Van Allen, Peter. "Lamberti's cucina to taste new name, look and menu." Philadelphia Business Journal. 15 Oct. 2004. http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2004/10/18/story8.html.
Original photo: Cuneo. "Department of Public Property-38863-0." 1959. Philadelphia City Archives. PhillyHistory.org. Philadelphia Department of Records. 27 Feb. 2010. http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/MediaStream.ashx?mediaId=141455.