Monday, July 28, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Fox 29 Studios

330 Market Street

                 Goddamn, what a disgrace. This doo-doo brown-bricked dungeon of dick cheese has been fucking this corner up for the last 42 years and will probably continue to do so for 42 more. Its short, boring-ass design is of course indicative of its time period, when there was an attitude that ugly brown brick boxes were the wave of the future. This is the fugliest of all Philadelphia's television studios, and that's saying something considering that channel 17 runs out of a goddamn converted supermarket!
               Though we all know this building as the Fox 29 Studios, it actually has its own name: the Royal-Globe Building, one of many with the same name around the country and definitely the ugliest. Its starts like this: on December 31st, 1963, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority created something called the Independence Mall Urban Renewal Area Covenant, a 50-year promise to help develop the areas around the recently-completed Independence National Historic Grass Lot Collection look less like ass. This area, 4th and Market, was designated "Unit #3", where the plan was to mow down all the cool-ass old buildings at the corner and replace them with some of the most boring and ugly pieces of architectural trash the city would ever see.
             After years of inactivity, some development finally started to happen. The Federal Government built garbage-ass 400 Market by 1970, spurring interest from private developers to get involved. On June 16th, 1971, the RDA made available a $3 million construction loan to the Richard I. Rubin Company for the creation of a 4-story speculative office building that would stand at the southeast corner of 4th and Market.
           Once Rubin was able to pin down the Royal-Globe Insurance Company's Philadelphia office as an anchor tenant, demolition of the corner began. The Market Street side of the site consisted of only two buildings-- a one-story 1950s-built retail structure that looked like shit and the butt-ass awesome Mutual Trust Company Bank which had just been fully restored 11 years earlier.

Mutual Trust Company Bank, 1928. From the PAB.

...and in 1971, right before demolition.
                     Construction of the 83,976 square foot shit-brick ass pile went very quickly. The building was complete by early 1972. The design was by the shitty and short-lived firm of Stanford G. Brooks and Associates. Royal-Globe moved 800 employees into the building, doubling the number in their previous office. Another tenant to take up a small space in the new place would be a cruddy 7-year-old low-power television station called WTAF, broadcasting on channel 29 from this location (well really from a tower in Roxborough) starting on November 30th, 1972.
                    Royal-Globe would eventually take ownership of the building but reduced the space they used over the years, leasing offices to a whole shitload of other firms. Once WTAF became a Fox affiliate in 1986, they went about taking up more space in the building so that they could produce their own original news programming. In 1995 as WTXF (changed in 1988) they took up even more space when Fox bought the station (which is a long story in itself) and did a major overhaul of the building. Even at this point, what was left of Royal-Globe still owned the building and there were still some offices of other companies inside.
                  Finally, in 2005, Fox 29 took over the whole building and did a mega-renovation that included the ground floor studio with a window on 4th and Market corner, which unfortunately looks out upon later shitty buildings that were the result of the same RDA plan. In 2006, the building sold for 4.7 million to its current owners, something called Jober Holdings.
                 Though the building is as ugly as sin, it does have one of the city's greatest treasures: Good Day Philadelphia. I know it sounds corny, but I almost can't picture this city without it. This program has been running since 1996 and contributes heavily to the 42.5 hours of news that is filmed in the butt-fugly Royal-Globe Building every week. That Mike Jerrick guy is fucking hilarious and who doesn't love Steve Keeley ?
                   So it pisses me off even more that the Royal-Globe Building has to be so goddamn atrocious-looking... awesome-ass Good Day Philadelphia is stuck in one of the city's worst-looking buildings, facing a bunch of other butt-fuglies from the same era. I like that the station didn't fuck off to City Line Avenue like some of the others, but if they're going to stay in Center City and show a street corner in the background of their broadcasts, they need to move somewhere that has a nicer view... which is pretty much anywhere in Center City than here. Harumph!

The 4th Street side. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Thursday, July 24, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: End of July, 1915

Woodrow Wilson Arrested in Philadelphia

              If you look exactly like the current president, don't expect to be able to travel the country unnoticed, especially if you plan on being on the run. At the end of July, 1915, James K. Lewis was tracked down in Philadelphia after 11 months on the lam. This Mount Holly, NJ resident abandoned his family after selling his carpentry business. It all would have worked if the guy didn't look exactly like the current president, Woodrow Wilson.
            Upon being spotted in San Francisco, Lewis, traveling under the name James Landis, started moving eastward, going from place to place until people noticed his resemblance to Wilson, forcing him to move on. His capture came at the hands of Detectives Knox and Lowry of the Philadelphia Police, who spotted Woodrow Wilson at 3rd and Cumberland Streets and remembered that a Wilson double was wanted in Jersey. They arrested him and locked him up at City Hall, where he was later extradited to Mount Holly, where he was accused of "non-support" of his children.

The corner where James K. Lewis was arrested as it appears on Google Streetview. What a dump.
A Spy in Kensington?

                At the end of July, 1915, rumor had it that there was some kind of spy operating in Kensington, of all places. Some thought he was a German spy, others thought he was British. Some other folks thought he might actually be a Mexican. The cops in Kenzo were instructed to keep their gossip to a minimum and be on the look-out for a dude taking photographs.
               A policeman McDougall eventually spotted the suspect and followed him around for a day. Because he was mostly photographing trolleys, McDougall assumed he must be a spy for the private "jitney" companies, aka bus companies. In 1915, there was a cold war going on between the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, operator of the city's trolleys, and the many private bus companies that started operating around this time, taking all their customers. Once McDougall saw the spy photographing large buildings, he started to think that this Jitney Spy was figuring out where to engage new bus lines and which buildings could be converted to garages.
            Upon concluding this, McDougall arrested the suspect, who would not give his name but would curse out the cop in Russian the whole way to the police station. When brought before Magistrate Scott, he was ordered to open his camera case. It was filled with liquor. The suspect then gave his name as George Adolphus Scott and said that he found the camera in a park and was photographing trolleys and buildings hoping to sell the photos to tourists and/or postcard companies. 
            Magistrate Scott released him on the condition that he would photograph areas outside of Kensington.

The Tenderloin: Rife With Cocaine and Silk Shirts

        Philadelphia's notorious Tenderloin district, which extended fully from 13th to 6th between Race and Callowhill (but was mostly centered around 800-1100 blocks of Vine), had two big things going on at the end of July, 1915: cocaine and silk shirts.
        The Cocaine was being processed and distributed from 235 North Watts Street (now a crappy Season City SLE-Z parking lot), at the home of one Harry Reynolds, known as the "Cincinnati Kid". When cops raided the place this week in 1915, they found a veritable cocaine factory and were able to trace it to drug dealers operating neighborhoods away, one way out at 51st and Market. Dr. J.G. Lumen, a Chinese doctor working in Chinatown, reported to police that many of his patients were coming in complaining of their addiction to the drug and worried that they would lose their sanity if not satiated.

Just a coincidence.
                The silk shirt problem in the Tenderloin started getting noticed around this time in 1915 by a Detective LaStrange, who started to realize that every man he arrested or even spoke to in the Tenderloin was wearing the same loud silk shirt. Further investigation showed that the William G. Becker store at 1018 Chestnut had been robbed of hundreds of silk shirts twice in the previous two weeks.
                After some good old fashioned police work, LaStrange was able to determine that a group of miscreants from a rooming house at 918 Winter Street were the ones stealing the shirts, and that a Harry Davis was distributing them from his place at 831 Vine Street. LaStrange gathered up some other detectives and many arrests followed A few weeks later, the robber's stories of hardship came out. Some claimed to have turned to a life a robbery as a result of having to support their families, others said they moved into the Tenderloin without knowing about its criminal element and got swindled into joining it.
              No one bought their bullshit and each got charged with not only the two robberies of the Becker store, but also of the robbery of the Evans' drug store, which they did in between.

Angry Mob Forms Around Baby Kicker

              On July 31st, 1915, one James Drikins was walking his 1-year-old baby in a stroller down the 2300 block of South Mildred Street. When he passed 2313 South Mildred, he accidentally bumped into its owner, Harry Wolfson. Wolfson, apparently infuriated by the event, kicked the stroller so hard it went flying into the street. Though the baby was un-injured, an angry mob formed around the scene. Wolfson was able to escape into his house and a Policeman Levering followed him inside to question him. Big mistake!
              Upon entering the house, Wolfson's wife, Yetta, held down the cop while Harry beat the shit out of him with a stone pitcher. Upon seeing Levering crawl out of the house with a huge gash on his head, the angry mob rushed the Wolfson house and beat Harry's balls off until two officers came along and apprehended him. Levering got stitched up at Methodist Hospital and the Wolfsons got held on $1000 bail each.

The Wolfson house as it appears on Google Streetview

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fill This Front: Stapler

1222-24 Walnut

                 After seven years and a massive renovation, you'd think there would be tons of motherfuckers jumping at the chance to get this great storefront. Tons of foot traffic, a 4,000 square foot floor plate, right off the Tony Goldman-ized 13th Street... you can't beat it. So why, oh why, is this storefront still vacant?
             This is the longest this storefront has ever been unoccupied, which sucks when you consider that the place has been continually filled since 1921. It was built in 1919 and 1920 by an unknown speculator under the designs of Frank E. Hahn, but was later purchased by the St. James Hotel next door (now Walnut Square) and altered by their favorite architect, Horace Trumbauer. In 1921, the storefront got its first retail tenant, Stecker Inc, a women's and children's apparel store. They managed to stick around until the early 1940s.
            In April of 1947, David Stapler moved the 50-year-old fabric store his father Charles created  into the building from South Philly and the store stayed open, staying in the same family, until April 2007, precisely 60 years later. It was David's son, Michael, who sold the building to the Girard Estate in that year. The Girard Estate sat on the building for the next five years, blaming the real estate bust for not doing shit with it.
              Finally, on March 3rd, 2012, they sold the building to a Holland, PA-based company called B & M Leasing for $1,912,500. Once word got out that the building was finally going to get its shit together, numerous chefs and restauranteurs descended on the space, hoping to take advantage of its massive size and proximity to bad-ass restaurants. Recognizing this, the new owners went about getting the building a liquor license, or at least said they would.
            The new owners also completely gutted and over-hauled the space, cleaning up the dirty facade and putting the upper floors into a better condition. The one feature of the building that was thankfully retained was the cool-looking street level display window, installed in 1954 by the William Linker Construction Company under the designs of George Daur. By the fall of 2013, they found a tenant for the top 3 floors (Kaplan International Center) and there was rumor that NYC's Bounce Sporting Club was looking to open in the ground-floor storefront.
           Then... nothing happened. The latest clue about Bounce Sporting Club was in a little article on this Fox Business News website where the dude who runs the place says he "plans to expand in 2014, having chosen strategic partners in both Philadelphia and Dallas" So what the fuck is going on here? The whole front has been modernized and re-done, the Kaplan place upstairs is rocking out like a motherfucker-- why does no one want this space? Let me break it down for you:

                       This is the +/- 4000 square foot retail space at 1222-24 Walnut Street. It has a huge fancy-looking front window with about 34 feet of frontage on a busy-ass section of Walnut Street in Midtown Village/the Gayborhood, part of Greater Washington Square West. The ceiling height is tall as shit and the floor space extends back about 104 feet, meaning you could fit just about anything in here. It has a rear access from St. James Street. The space is close to nearly every form of public transportation in the City of Philadelphia: a few blocks from both subways, 5 trolley lines, every regional rail via Market East Station, and a whole shitload of SEPTA and New Jersey Transit bus lines, including the 23 bus, the most heavily used bus line in the whole system.
                       Being that the previous occupant was able to make this space work for 60 consecutive years, its pretty safe to say that this retail space has some staying power... and they did it when there was no such thing as Midtown Village or even the Gayborhood! There aren't many other floorplates this size in the neighborhood, so this is really the only place around here that you can fit a more larger format-type place. The space is being offered for lease by CBRE|FAMECO and the price is "negotiable". Here's the listing. Don't wait! FILL THIS FRONT!!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Old-Ass Building: North City Trust Company

5700 North Broad

Pic by Brad Maule
               Check out this old bastard at Broad & Chew, way the fuck up at the top of North Philly. Its abandoned now but you can buy it for the low low price of $549k. Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fill This Front: Jefferson Garage

916 Chestnut Street

             What the fuck? How is it after all these years, this storefront on Jefferson's garage on the 900 block of Chestnut has sit unused and unchanged ever since this garage was built? The other fronts in the garage have been filled just fine... what the hell is wrong with this space that it can't find a friend?
            This garage has been a problem since the day it was proposed. After failing to build a garage at 11th and Locust at the turn of the 21st Century, Jefferson set their goals on the 900 block of Chestnut, which was full of ancient commercial buildings that were getting bought up by both Jeff and a Chicago-based company named Urban Growth. When Jefferson and Interpark got together on building the big-ass garage, a giant shitstorm of NIMBYism that delayed the project for three years eventually lead the design to be changed so that the garage would be a little shorter than planned (but still expandable),  have a building-like facade, and not have any car entrances/curbcuts along Chestnut Street.
            Eventually the big fucker was built and it came time to fill all the storefronts. Bank of America, Fedex/Kinko's, and Subway quickly filled the spaces, but the 2,700 square foot space at 916 Chestnut stayed empty. For awhile, the sign out front even made a point of saying "One Store Left" on it.

August 2009 via the Google Streetview Time Machine
                  Eight years later, the storefront looks exactly the fucking same. The "One Store Left Sign" is gone but the space still has an old "RENT" sign on it. However, there seems to be nowhere on the internet that has a listing for the space. How the fuck are you supposed to fill a space without it being on the Interslice? Also, the "RENT" sign is a remnant from when none of the stores were filled, offering 13,000 square feet, 10,300 of which is already leased. So is this space available or not?
               Well, there may be a little bit of an answer. Though there's no date on it, there is an active permit pulled for the garage that says in part:




             Aha... so is there a plan in place to move the storefront used by Subway (910) and move it into this empty storefront (916)? It would certainly explain how this spot has stayed empty for 8 years. We should at this time recall that part of the contingency made to get the ZBA to approve this garage at all was that it would have no Chestnut Street-facing curbcuts. The same permit also includes a two story heightening of the garage, which was something planned from the beginning. The plot thickens when we think about the fact that Jefferson just purchased the surface lot at the corner of 9th and Chestnut.
             If that's what the plan is, Jefferson needs to stop dicking us around and take the "RENT" sign down from the empty space. Jeff's construction plans seem to change from year to year and they seem to make some impulsive property-related decisions from time to time, but I was able to dig up this old 2009 or so rendering of a building for that corner they just bought.

            This was labeled as an Ambulatory Care Center, but now they're saying that the old bank they just bought on Walnut/Washington Square will serve that purpose instead. So why did they buy that surface lot? If Jefferson has a master plan right now, they sure as shit aren't sharing it with us. FILL THIS FRONT!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week-- 3rd and 4th District Police Station, Municipal Building

1100 Wharton Street/1300 South 11th Street

                Ass. What a dump. Police stations used to look good. The surviving old-time po-po stations around town are pretty fucking good-looking. You have the Applebee's on 15th and Chancellor, the old 26th District station in Kensington, and what is now the Station House condos at 313 Race, just to name a few. So how the fuck did that all change? How did we start ending up with ugly shit like this?
                 In the mid-20th Century, when those old stations were no longer able to keep up with changing times, the city went about the business of replacing them with new and more modern facilities. When it came to South Philadelphia, the plan was to combine the 3rd and 4th police districts into one headquarters onto land that has been owned by the city since the construction of Moyamensing Prison across the street. At the time, the City Architect was George I. Lovatt, Jr, a suburban resident with a Philadelphia city government position.
               Lovatt's suburan residency was controversial at the time, and with this building, we find out why. Lovatt commissioned the short-lived firm of Ehrlich & Levinson for this project, shitty architects who mostly did suburban public schools and a few city playgrounds. They were the ultimate in mid-century suburban designers who were in love with boxy stucco-covered buildings. Obviously, Lovatt thought that the kind of suburban mid-century Californey-looking shit Ehrlick & Levinson did was cutting-edge. What a joke.
            The building was planned and designed in 1958 but, in classic Philly style, didn't start construction until 1960 and was completed by 1961, well after Lovatt got kicked out of the position.

Under confucktion, 1960.
Completed, January 1961.
                    At the time, the building was considered pretty badass because it isn't just a police station. It also holds L & I and Water Department offices. Big whoop-- the place looks like shit and it seems like the city also knew this because as soon as it was completed, they went about demolishing all the old-timey police stations around South Philly, even the ones that weren't in use.

Bad-ass looking old 33rd District station at 7th/Carpenter/Passyunk being demolished in 1962.
               53 years later, the butt-fugly 3rd/4th station continues to stay in use (with a whole buttloads of additons/alterations over the years) but still manages to look like butt. In 2010, the building had a photo mural installed on it created by the Cops & Kids program at South Philadelphia High School with the hopes that maybe these colorful photos could get the building to look less like absolute donkey dick. Good effort, but its not enough.
                  Now that this and other police buildings like it are getting to be about the same age as the cool-looking ones they replaced, its time to destroy the fuck out of these things and replace them with some proper-looking police stations with designs that'll be able to hold up for more than a year.

South side of the building. Blecchh!

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Second Week of July, 1915

Troubled Youth? Let Them Beat the Shit Out of Each Other!!

Ad for boxing gloves from 1915.
              In the neighborhood surrounding Front & Fairmount, in what is now considered the lower part of Northern Liberties (but what was back then considered the middle of it), there was a fucked up neighborhood where homes, factories, lumber/coal yards, warehouses, and freight lines were all interspersed together in one location. The kids growing up in this little hood were what we call "troubled" or "disadvantaged" or "underprivileged" or "at risk" today, but back then they were just known as "pains in the asses".
         The biggest problem with them was, in the minds of the adults in the neighborhood, that these kids were dangerous. Not because they formed gangs and robbed people (which they did), but because they were always running around and playing in the streets between the factory buildings, warehouses, and freight lines, causing delays in work because they would give you shit when you asked them to get out of the way of your horse carriage that was piled 10 feet high with steel springs. Teens were an especially painful pain the balls, because at the time, those aged 14-16 were only required 8 hours of schooling per week and those over 16 didn't have to go to school at all!
        In order to get these motherfuckers off the streets, a James Welsh organized the Delaware A.C. Boxing Club, knowing that one thing these kids liked to do was pummel the shit out of each other. Welsh dealt with these miscreants often in his job as nightwatchman for the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, where he had to guard the company's many properties in the neighborhood overnight.
        Welsh got permission to use one of the large warehouses on their double-wide pier (Piers 33 and 34 North) as a boxing arena. PRT was suspicious at first, thinking Welsh was trying to set up some kind of event venue where people would pay to watch street kids beat the fuck out of each other, but Welsh proved that it was going to be legit. On the second week of July, 1915, Welsh put out the call to the neighborhood boys between 16-19 years old, offering them the chance to fight 3-round bouts against each other with regulation boxing gloves. About 50 boys responded and the Delaware A.C. Boxing Club was born.
         Today, the location of Welsh's club is now the northern piece of Festival Pier. Boxing clubs to "get youth off the streets" are relatively common and there are still many active organizations of this type in all parts of the city.

We've Got To Do Something About these Schlags!!

              The word Schlag has a lot of meanings in many different time periods and regions of the world (a kind of Viennese whipped cream, an over made-up woman, a punch/slap, the list goes on), but in 1915 Philadelphia, the word meant one thing and one thing only: the owner of what would now call a "Pop-up" store. This, in the view of storeowners and real estate agents of the period, was something that needed to be eradicated from existence.
              You see, chronically vacant storefronts were just as big a problem in Philadelphia 99 years ago as they are now. One thing, in the minds of business leaders of the day, that kept these storefronts vacant, were schlag stores that purposely opened for one month or one season and would move out. These stores would often cater to a certain type of customer or a certain time of the year, either offering shoddy merchandise or seasonal items that would become useless in a month at super-low prices, under-cutting the permanent stores in the same neighborhood. Sometimes the Schlags would collect sales samples and rejected/damaged merchandise from all different factories and stock an entire store with it. Other times the Schlag would be a traveling salesman or a buyer that ran into a dearth of low-overhead merchandise and wanted to dump it all right away. The presence of Schlag stores prevented other storefronts from getting filled, because other merchants and real estate dudes were so weary of the Schlags that they would never want to open a store next to one.
             On top of all that, based on the municipal laws of the period, these short-term stores didn't qualify to take out business licenses or pay mercantile taxes. These motherfuckers were considered quite a drain on the retail and real estate communities. In the second week of July, 1915, a huge call was put out in all the city's publications denouncing the Schlags and begging the city government to do something about them.
            Today, Schlag stores still exist, but most are welcomed to the community and get to be called "Pop-ups", showing up in all parts of the city and even in the King of Prussia Mall. The vast majority have a different kind of purpose today, usually attached to some event or offering some kind of "limited time only" merchandise. If you look closely enough, however, you can still find a true old-fashioned Schlag store or two around the city. The unnamed dvd/cd store that I call White Rectangle Video on the unit block of South 11th Street comes to mind.
           Since that "Pop-up" name is kind of getting old already, why don't we go back to calling them "Schlag stores"? The Art Star Schlag Market? The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator Schlag Shop? I think its a good name. 

Watch Out! Pud Corrigan Found a Sword!

           In the second week of July, 1915, a local drunk miscreant named Pud Corrigan found a broadsword just lying around at the corner of Hope and Huntingdon Streets in Fairhill. Isn't this how Joan of Arc got started? Anyway, good ol' Pud did what anyone would do if they found a broadsword on the street-- he started waving it around, having a swordfight with the air.
          Some guys of they type that used to be called "corner-sitters", probably at the corner of Huntingdon and Howard, got a kick out of Pud's antics and started making fun of him. Pud, in a fit of rage, came at the guys with his sword, swinging it all over the place. The sword wasn't very sharp so it didn't end up slashing the guys, but still managed to hurt them. Eventually, others came out to denounce Pud's swordplay and also got a mouthful of broadsword for their trouble.
           Eventually, there was a wake of injured people all along Huntingdon Street that started getting the attention of passersby. A mob soon formed that drew the attention of Policeman Rainey. Rainey approached Pud to see what was going on. Pud responded by charging at full speed toward Rainey with his sword pointed directly at him. Rainey dodged Pud and tripped him, then proceeded to kick the shit out of him in front of the crowd.
         While Rainey walked the defeated Pud to the police station at 4th and York Streets (still standing!), the crowd followed, screaming curses at Pud until he was brought inside. You'd think someone would get a harsher sentence for randomly fucking people up with a sword, but ol' Pud only got 10 days in jail for his crime. The sword's owner was never found.

Where the broadsword was found as it appears in Google Streetview.