Monday, October 20, 2014

Butt-Fugly Buildings: Scottish Rite House, Scottish Rite Tower

1525 Fitzwater Street, 1530 Fitzwater Street

Scottish Rite House

Scottish Rite Tower

           Whoa whoa whoa hold the phone here... these buildings are from the 1980s and 1990s? What the fuck? I always though they must have been from the 40s or 50s, 60s at latest. Here I was last time talking shit about an old folks home from the 60s, when these two ugly bastards here were built in my goddamn lifetime! What the hell went wrong?
           These two very similar buildings, built a decade apart, were the result of the extreme philanthropy of the United Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Prince Hall Affiliation. In case you didn't know, Prince Hall Masons are the traditionally African-American order of Masons. This particular set had a Horace Castor-designed Cathedral at 1514-20 Fitzwater since 1927, but started taking over almost the entire 1500 block of Fitzwater in the early and mid-1970s. 
           In 1979, they purchased 1511-1533 Fitzwater Street, which was just a load of abandoned rowhouses, and demolished the shit out of them in favor of a big surface parking lot. It was on this lot that they would years later fundraise/get government $$$ and build a 13-story 165-foot Section 8 building for seniors and the handicapped. The name? Scottish Rite House, completed 1986.
           Again, calling a building a house-- I hate that crap. I've said it before: its like calling a truck a car! The design was by a firm that called itself Livingston/Rosenwinkel, who would go on to design the Philadelphia Clef Club building nearby and was one of the firms involved with the design of the Great Wall of Pennsylvania aka the PA Convention Center. Not a great record.
           Over the next few years after this was completed, the Scottish Riteys acquired property after property to the west of their lodge until they owned 1522-1530 Fitzwater, the rest of the block. In 1995, they demolished all the buildings that were there, which included the old Octavius V. Catto Elks Lodge #20, a converted industrial building that had been an historic African-American Elks Lodge since 1928. It was quite the place-- not only was it an Elk's Lodge-- it was a well-known banquet space and spent some time as the Two-Bit Club, a famous dance/bar/debauchery spot.
            Shortly after that, the second building in the complex was completed, the Scottish Rite Tower. The two buildings are the exact same height, yet one is called a House and the other a Tower. Plerff.

Scottish Rite Tower under confucktion.
                 Anyway, these buildings suck butt and I'll tell ya why. First of all, like stated above, you can't even tell what fucking time period they're from. It you put this building up next to Penn Center House or the 2101 Cooperative, they look like they are from the same era despite being several decades apart. Second, I'd hate to be one of these people but it looks like I've become one: they are way way way too tall for their neighborhood. The nearest building exceeding their height is at 19th and Lombard.
                Third, the never-ending puke-colored bricks. I guess they were trying to match the old Scottish Rite Cathedral on the same block, but this type of theme isn't always a great idea-- just ask Jefferson Hospital. They liked the color scheme from the old Jefferson Medical College/Curtis Clinic so much that they used similar-colored bricks for their 1960s and 70s expansions. Sounds like a great idea, but in the end it leads to block after block of butt-fugly.

Nice big blank wall facing the street corner ya have there.
                Fourth, the surface parking. Remember when I told you that the Scottish Rite dudes acquired 1511-33 Fitzwater in 1979 to make a surface lot? Well, a large portion of that surface lot still exists at the corners of 16th/Fitzwater AND Senate/Mole Streets. I won't even count the Lodge's surface parking lot at 1508-12 Fitzwater.
There's another totally unrelated surface lot on the next corner.

              What is it with these government-subsidized old folks' homes? Why do they always have to look like shit? I know they're 20th Century government buildings and all, but don't we owe seniors something a little bit better? At least the latest one built in the city, the John C. Anderson Apartments, has SOME level of design to it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of October, 1915

Camden Population Passes 100,000!!

        In the middle of October, 1915, a two-day celebration was held in Camden celebrating its population passing the 100k mark. Local businessmen paid for the whole affair. It started out with a parade of floats designed and built by each local industry. At night, there was another parade, led by Boy Scouts and the Walnut Street Patriotic Association. Ten dollar pieces of gold were awarded to the Boy Scout troops that had the most in line, the best display, and came from the farthest distance.
The Victor Talking Machine Company's float.
              On the second day, there was a Baby Parade, where proud parents created floats and presented Camden's latest offspring to the crowds. Ten dollar pieces of gold were awarded to the best float, an order of one dozen photographs was awarded to the prettiest baby, and a $2.50 piece of gold was awarded to the fattest baby. After that, a Charlie Chaplin impersonation contest was held. Five bucks and $2.50 were given to the first and second prizes respectively.
           Today, Camden doesn't have much to have a parade about. While the future construction of 1,000 houses was announced in the 1915 parade, Camden is now going about demolishing 600 houses, no doubt some of those that were built during that period. Things are shitty enough in Camden right now that the opening of a supermarket there was big news. The current population of Camden is 77,250.

Typhoid in Town! Dont Touch Ya Fren!

It's Dangeruss!!
        Despite vaccines developed in 1897, 1898, and 1909, in the middle of October, 1915, it was revealed that there was an official Typhoid outbreak in Philadelphia. 112 cases were reported and doctors warned that potentially thousands could be afflicted and that many more could be carrying and spreading the disease.
       Typhoid starts out as a really shitty flu-like sickness that seems like its going to go away until the 2nd stage, when the patient will go through periods of uncontrollable diarrhea and extreme constipation. Eventually, a big distended belly will occur. In the third stage, the patient becomes delirious and then goes into what's called a "Typhoid State", lying down exhausted with eyes half closed. Even if someone manages to survive it without treatment, symptoms can re-occur up to two weeks later. Its a pretty shitty disease to get.
        After an investigation, the State Department of Health blamed the curbside vegetable markets for the disease. They were able to isolate Salmonella Typhi in various products purchased at these markets, and declared the origin found. In the Spring of 1916, Typhoid ravaged the city again. Initially thought to be a whole other outbreak, it was eventually found that this was a second wave of the 1915 outbreak. This time, the State Department of Health took it a little more seriously and investigated markets, restaurants, and bars more thoroughly. They then blamed saloons for the spreading of the disease, stating that their practice of providing free lunches for customers spread the affliction through the common utensils that were used.
       Interestingly enough, 1915 showed the least Typhoid deaths in Philadelphia up to that point. For example, in 1906, Philly had 1,063 Typhoid-related deaths, while 1915 had only 106. An antibiotic treatment for Typhoid was developed in 1948 and there are now seven different Typhoid vaccines available, so no one in the developed world gives a shit about it anymore. Nonetheless, outbreaks still occur all over the world, most recently in 2005 the Democratic Republic of the Congo where 42,000 cases were reported.

Chestnut Blight Reaches Philadelphia

           At the same time Typhoid was hitting Philadelphia hard, Chestnut Blight was kicking the American economy's ass. At the time, chestnut trees were found all over the country and were a major staple. Not only were chestnuts themselves a valuable food, chestnut wood was used for telephone poles, roof shingles, you name it. Chestnut trees were prolific and grew gigantic-- ones over 100 feet tall with a diameter of 8 or 9 feet were found in every city park.
         At the turn of the 20th Century, Cryphonectria parasitica was accidentally brought to America by East Asian trees planted at the Bronx Zoo. By 1915, the state had already developed the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission to combat the destruction. At this time in 1915, it was determined that 88% of the Chestnut trees in the city were infected. Local industry was really upset about this, especially the leather tanners, who used Chestnut tannins for their processes.
       The city went about clearing most of the Chestnut trees in the city at this point, stripping them down for use as telephone, telegraph, and electric poles. They then stored them all in a big pile at the electric company's yards in North Philly.

The pile.
               The Commission figured that they could save the American Chestnut Tree if they cross-bred it with the Asian Chestnut Tree, which was immune to the fungus. This was attempted in the 1930s and 40s by the USDA. They managed to create one single hybrid in 1946 that survived the blight... until 1976.  Big-ass American Chestnut Trees became a thing of the past... its hard to get one to grow over 15 feet before the fungus takes it out. A few sixth-generation hybrids have been able to resist the fungus, but there's only a handful of them.
              In 1987, an attempt was made to create a virus that could take out the fungus that causes Chestnut Blight, but the fungus spreads more quickly than the virus could keep up with, so it didn't work. Today, genetic manipulation is being used to create mega-hybrids that will be able to resist the fungus. Its possible that in our lifetimes, the American Chestnut Tree will tower over all of our shit just like it used to. The same fungus also took out a once-common edible nut-bearing bush called the Chinquapin, but no one seems to give a shit about that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fill This Front: Thomas Lofts

726 Market Street

           This right here is a damn travesty. This building has been on the receiving end of a shit-ton of bad luck, but its storefront has suffered even more. FINALLY, a new owner has taken over this building, but the storefront, while available for a whole year, has still sat empty...making it a decade since it was last in use! Let's finally save this building and get this motherfucker filled!
            This building is, of course, the Kirshbaum Building, built in the 1890s under the designs of badass architect Frank Watson. It is not unlike many other buildings that used to be on Market Street before they all got fucked up as a result of the "improvements" brought on by the Gallery at Market East. The storefront pretty much exclusively held women's clothing or hat stores over the building's first 8 decades or so. To list them all in order would make this article reach a sector of outer space that would be out of range of the Argus Array
          This building has had a lot of shitty luck in the more recent decades. When Sam Rappaport owned it, he was able to fill the storefront with two tenants at a time but sealed off the upper floors. The last two tenants to use the ground floor were a McDonald's and the La Paradis Beauty Salon. After Rappaport died, his estate started using the building's big exposed party wall as a giant illegal billboard. They first had a giant ad for Jerry Blavat's radio show which never even got finished before it was declared illegal. The party wall then had a giant Nike ad featuring Dawn Staley that was actually approved by the ZBA. Finally, the wall had a giant Absolute Vodka ad featuring Ben Franklin before SCRUB and a few other organizations went bananas and forced the Estate to have the ad space removed. Ironically, after the sign bill for Market East got passed in 2011, those giant ads might have been able to be legalized. The Rappaport Estate put the building up for sale in 2004.
       People were excited about this, hoping that the building would be restored and no longer be owned by a shitbag speculator. Boy, were they wrong. In December 2006, the building got sold to the infamous Lichtenstein brothers out of Brooklyn.

Yay! It sold! 2007 view via the Google Streetview Time Machine
          The Lichtenstein brothers installed condos in some of the upper floors and ripped off the facade of the storefront. Though they re-exposed the old brick design, the facade was half-destroyed and the windows where kept boarded up for years thereafter.

2009. Love that Google Streetview Time Machine.
               Probably due to the massive amount of flack they got over the burning of the old Buck Hosiery building, the brothers (or the bank that owned the place) finally decided that they should pay their property taxes on the Kirshbaum Building, get their many building violations fixed, and finally restore the street level facade. By the start of 2013, it was finally done. While this was all going on, the Lichtensteins were in a 4-year legal battle over the bank's foreclosure on this property.
              On August 26, 2013, the building sold to a new owner for over $10 million dollars mysteriously named "Market Street A", whose address leads back to an apartment building in Union, NJ. Whoever this new owner is, they are now offering up the storefront space for the first time in a decade... so now's the time to get it filled!

             This space consists of a 4,138 square foot ground floor spot with a 1,333 square foot mezzanine under an 18 foot ceiling! It is accessible by more public transportation than probably any other available storefront its size. It is located two doors down from the 8th and Market PATCO/EL stop which serves thousands and thousands per day. An unbelievable amount of bus lines pass this location on both Market and 8th Streets, including New Jersey Transit lines! The Jefferson Station (formerly named Market East) regional rail stop is nearby. Across the street, the Lits Building holds thousands of office workers AND is about to have a large residential building added to it! Catercorner is the old Strawbridge's Building which also hold a whole shitload of office folk and is about to open a Century 21.
         So here you get a large, high-ceiling store space, excellent access to all public transportation, and endless amounts of foot traffic. Get the right thing in here and you can't fucking lose! The space leases for 10,345/Month for the ground floor and an additional $3,332.50/Month for the mezzanine space. Its managed by Precision Realty Group. Here's the listing, now FILL THIS FRONT!

The mezzanine blueprint.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Baum's Dancewear

106-114 South 11th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
                  I've been trying to find the origin of this building ever since I started this shitty blog. Finally, after 3.5 years, I've finally found it. Read it all at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fill This Front: Robinson's Luggage

211 South Broad Street  

What a great spot.
         I tried to stay away from this one for as long as I could, hoping this spot would get filled... but its been nearly 11 months and this thing is still empty as fuck. What's worse is that this storefront has had only two tenants in its entire existence in its current configuration. Its location, its size, its length of window coverage, it all kicks ass. Let's get this thing filled.
             Though this building has been at the southeast corner of Broad and Walnut for over 100 years, this storefront was created when the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company took over the building in the 1950s and mangled the shit out of it under the designs of Thalheimer & Weitz, known destroyers of Gilded Age awesomeness (ask Chestnut East). The first tenant was a Horn & Hardart location that lasted all the way until the company left Philly in 1982.

The Horn & Hardart right before it opened.
                  In 1984, Robinson's Luggage came along and somehow stayed open at that corner for 29 years until finally folding this last December. It even survived after UArts restored some of the old facade.  Ever since, this prime-ass storefront has stayed empty, doing a whole lot of nothing. There's some sort of pop-up art exhibit type thing going on there now, but that's not gonna last.

The storefront in 2009 via the Google Streetview Time Machine
                  This is the 5,378 square foot space at the southeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets. It has 148 total feet of window frontage that wraps around the corner. Both Broad and Walnut Streets are served by countless buses and the corner has its own stop on the Broad Street Line. The space isn't too far from the El and trolley lines either. This space was able to have two consecutive tenants that lasted well over two decades each. The place is being managed by Metro Commercial and is listed at a price of "Negotiable". Here's the listing. Get on this shit and FILL THIS FRONT!!

The blueprint. Metro Commercial

Monday, October 6, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Casa Farnese

1300  Lombard Street

                 Where were the NIMBYs when this ugly piece of shit was built? Casa Farnese is a mid-60s assdisaster that has been effing up the 1300 block of Lombard for nearly 50 years. Out of place, too tall for the neighborhood, built with tax dollars, and an insult to its own intended residents. Like Guild House, this is yet another old folk's home that looks like shit designed by an ass-kissed architecture firm.
                This building exists because of a great Philadelphian, Andrew Farnese. This dude was a lawyer, a banker, a civic activist, president of the School Board, and pretty much everything else. I think he may have in fact invented sliced bread. Columbus Day is a holiday because of this dude.
               In 1959, Congress made available a HUD grant that helps non-profits build housing for the elderly. Farnese was among the first to apply for this grant. By the next year, a crappy vacant lot at the southwestern corner of 1300 Lombard, at the time one of the city's worst neighborhoods, was purchased and a large new senior housing building to be called Casa Enrico Fermi was proposed. They got a design by one of the hottest architects of the time, the firm of Stonorov & Haws, who were also busy with the design of Hopkinson House at the time.
             Unfortunately for them (and us), the design looks like the architect treated it like an art student treats a project in Art School. It was like he fell asleep while working on it the night before it was due so he put together a quick piece of shit and planned to upsell-it during the critique ("I MEANT to make it look like shit"). The building is a big white tombstone that sticks out like when someone has one big outsized tooth that sticks out from the rest. The place was built like a prison, probably because this was a dangerous neighborhood at the time. The Lombard and Juniper Street sides of the thing is surrounded by a huge impenetrable wall that makes the building seem 100 feet away from the sidewalk that runs right next to it. On the 13th Street side, there's a surface parking lot separated from the street by a prison fence without the barbed wire.

The meaning of "pedestrian friendly" in the 60s.
               The designers included a curvy entrance piece to lighten it all up a bit, but that just made it look more dated over the years. Also, the entrance to the underground parking garage is stuffed back on Juniper Street. Its nice that its hidden, but I feel bad for the Juniper Street residents that live next to and across from that entrance. If you want to see something funny, check out this driveway on garbage day when the truck struggles to get in and out of that ramp without smashing into the surrounding houses.
           At about this same time Casa Fermi was designed, Stonorov had a vision for these then-crappy parts of Center City whereby tall modernist buildings would be interspersed within the fabric of the old neighborhoods with the idea that somehow having big boxy white buildings around would clean up the blighted old places around it.

Stonorov himself presenting this idea. Check out the highway planned for South Street.
              From a development standpoint, the construction took awhile to get going, partially because Zoning's ass fell out from under it when they saw the plans for a 288-unit, 22-story building being proposed in this location. After going back and forth with the ZBA for years, construction finally started at the end of 1964 and went all the way through to 1966. After it was done, they fought with Zoning some more over the surface parking lot behind it.
             Andrew Farnese stayed on the board of the place and kept a law office there until his death in 2003. The place was renamed Casa Farnese in 2004. This ugly building has been housing seniors for almost half a century now. Though I hear that the place itself isn't too bad, the design has been outpaced by the rest of the neighborhood. A giant wall around the whole thing is definitely no longer necessary.
              Of course, I'm not the only one who thinks this. The Casa Farnese Preservation Program is an effort to renovate and modernize the building. The most drastic of the changes will be a new entry vestibule and lobby area built on top of the silly curvy thing that's over the entrance. Construction has already begun on this based on designs by Compass Architectural Designs of Voorhees, NJ.

              That's nice and all, but they have to do something about the street level presence this thing has on Juniper Street. I understand that the long concrete wall is probably just the top of the underground parking garage, so maybe it can't be totally removed-- but it can be improved. This building has some importance for being one of the earliest HUD senior homes, but its ugliness tarnishes all that. Casa Farnese Preservation Program, you have your work cut out for you.

"Wow, Gerdy! They're trying to make this building look less like shit!"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadephia: Start of October, 1915

Wistar Institute Scientist: Incest is Awesome!!

          At the start of October, 1915, the Wistar Institute created an uproar when one of its scientists, Dr. Helen D. King, determined that incest produced healthier offspring. How did she come to this conclusion? She experimented with rats. She interbred 21 generations of white rats and found that 30 percent of the 21st generation were bigger, stronger, and healthier than the originals.
        This finding freaked people the fuck out, which led them to run to their clergymen and ask if there was danger that the laws regarding familial intermarriage would change. The clergymen from every religion and denomination in the area then collectively went nuts, discussing it with each other and then with the public. Though none of them thought that this finding would lead to a change in the law, some feared that an evil force my one day attempt to breed a race of supermen through generations of incest.
         Other clergymen calmed the panickers down, stating how the fucked-upedness of the royal families of Europe prove that incest is definitely not best-- no doubt Carlos El Segundo got a mention.
        Dr. King got lots and lots of backlash and hatemail over this subject for the next several years. It got even worse in 1922 when she got even more generations of inbred rats going, creating a race of mega-rats. She eventually dialed back her opinions on inbreeding and focused on domesticating the Norway rat, for which she got much acclaim. One reporter wrote about her, amazed that "one of the greatest authorities on rats in the country is a very human and thoroughly feminine woman".

"I love you, Super-Rat!" -Helen D. King

Phillies In the World Series!

         AAAAAaaaaaaw shiiiiiiiit!!!!!!!!! For the first time, the Phils are going to the World Series! The first two games were scheduled for National League Park a.k.a. the Baker Bowl and Broad and Huntingdon, where the Phils would have homefield advantage against the Boston Red Sox. The Baker Bowl only had 19,000 seats at the time so William Baker refused Boston's request for extra tickets for visiting fans. When Baker met the owner of the Red Sox, Joseph J. Lannin, at the official ceremonies announcing the dates, rules, and locations of the World Series, he offered him a compromise but was flatly refused.
       After arguing and cursing each other out for several minutes, the National Commission finally ordered that Baker give in to Lannin's request for more tickets. Baker ended up having 3,000 extra seats built into the Baker Bowl to help accommodate everyone.
President Woodrow Wilson threw the ceremonial first pitch.
             This World Series was a big fucking deal and brought tons and tons of people to the city even though only a limited number of tickets were available. A whole mess of scalpers ended up getting arrested and Suffragettes proselytized to the huge crowds of people that milled around the Baker Bowl during each game.
           The Phillies won the first game in the series but got their asses handed to them in the next three. It should be noted that this was the second year in a row that Boston beat a Philly team, being that the Philadelphia A's (colloquially known as the "Macks" back then) lost to the same team in the Series of 1914. This 1915 World Series was the only one the Phillies would be in until 1950, where they got their dicks kicked in even worse by the Yankees. The Phils wouldn't even win a single post-season game until 1977 and wouldn't win a single World Series game until 1980. The Phillies just love to suck... I guess that's why we all love them? Read more about the 1915 World Series here.

Crowd chases Jewel Thieves through Center City

           It was a dark and stormy... day. Two jewel thieves that had been plaguing jewelry stores all over town saw the weather as a good opportunity to smash the window at the Kennedy & Bros Jewelry Store located at the southwestern corner of Juniper and Drury Streets (now the location of Mamou) with a hatchet and take all the loot, valued at $30,000.
          John A. Covington, described in the reports as a "negro porter", was a customer at the Kennedy & Bros store while this happened. He heroically ran out the door and pursued the men down Drury Street, yelling "Thief! Thief!" The hubbub attracted the attention of two nearby mounted policemen and a traffic cop. Eventually, the two robbers were being chased by the police, Covington, store clerks, messenger boys, wagon drivers and the street children that were hanging around at the time.
         They ran down Juniper Street, shooting their guns at the crowd (missing each time) and one slunk into the Witherspoon Building while the other ran down Juniper. The angry mob ran into the Witherspoon Building after the one thief, forgetting the other, crowding through the hallways of the old building. Frank Tabasso, a 15-year-old messenger boy, found a case containing $5000 worth of jewelry obviously dropped by the thieves. He got swarmed by the crowd, which tried to take it from him, but held on tight.
        The thief that ran into the Witherspoon Building got away through the Walnut Street side and blended into the street. The other, Nathan Heller, was arrested at 13th and Locust Streets in front of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. Ends up the two robbers were from NYC... apparently the "no snitchin'" rule was around back then too, because the other robber was never found.
      As for young Mr. Tabasso, he returned the stolen jewelry to the Kennedy & Bros store and was commended for his honesty. Mr. Kennedy gave him a small reward and told him there would be more to come.

Frank Tobasso and the smashed up Kennedy & Bros display window.