Monday, September 22, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week: Penn Center House

1900 John F. Kennedy Boulevard

Its just keeps on going!
             I've avoided talking about this piece of shit right here for two reasons: 1) There isn't much to say about it 2) Its so fucking ugly I actually feel bad for it. Worst of all, in its time, it was considered the bee's fucking knees.  Penn Center House, from 1959, was following a big trend in Philadephia, the co-op. The 2101 Cooperative Apartment Building was the first, built in 1953, and the trend continued throughout the 1950s and early 60s. 
           The shitty design is from mid-century blahchitect George S. Idell, whose other fuck-ups include the 2101 Cooperative Apartment Building (whose own website does not show any exterior photos of the building due to its nastiness), the Ambassador Towne House (now called Riverwest Condominiums), the Rittenhouse Claridge, the Rittenhouse Savoy, and a third Rittenhouse Square apartment building that was thankfully never built. Though all those buildings are also cocky doo doo designs, Penn Center House really takes the cake. Here's his original rendering, which is actually a little more interesting than the real thing.
          You'd think his guy would know better. He was pretty old by the time he designed this shit-- he studied under such badasses as Paul Phillipe Cret and worked with Wilson Brothers at one point. This dude knew what good shit was and even helped design some of it in the early 20th Century. When the mid-20th Century rolled around, Idell must have lost most of his eyesight or something. His buildings from that era almost look like he couldn't see the paper so he just kept tracing his t-square until he got a grid of windows and said "Whatever, good enough. Facade details? Get the fuck out of here!" 
             This disaster of a building has the Penn Center-era massing-- that is to say the block-long, too-short, grid of bricks and windows. For some reason, the architecture and planning geniuses of the Penn Center era thought what we now call JFK Boulevard should have a building on every block matching the size and shape of Suburban Station... but without the awesome facade. This ends up creating a long boulevard of rectangular walls that create a really shitty urban environment. This one's a little shorter than the others but from the street it makes no difference. Thankfully, one of these wall-buildings, the old Sheraton Penn Center Hotel, was demolished (to make way for a building that was never built called 1777 JFK), so the trend gets broken up by the setback of the Comcast Center.
            Penn Center House's street level doesn't do shit other than display a mid-centuryesque decorative cinderblock grille pattern. Behind that grille pattern is a big-ass parking lot that's visible if you look in one of the holes. Walking down the south side of the 1900 block of JFK Boulevard is difficult-- the building just keeps going and going and going like some fucked up architectural purgatory. It makes the Kennedy House and Sterling seem like exciting dynamic buildings in comparison. Its hard to photograph this building unless you have a badass camera with a lens wide enough to get it all in. In order to properly capture how shitty this thing looks from the street, here's a fully functional streetview. Look around on this and tell me that Penn Center House does any damn good on this block:

What trash... there's really nothing else to say. This building could probably be saved if it got a huge facade redo and some better street-level shit... but it would have to be one helluva design. Oh well, we're stuck with it. Fuck. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Second half of September, 1915

School District of Philadelphia Begins Its Long Tradition of Nasty School Lunches

Eerie-looking Philadelphia schoolchildren, school lunch pioneers
            A great moment in history, nearly equivalent to man walking on the moon, occurred in the second half of September, 1915. For the first time, the infamously nasty Philadelphia public school lunch was offered to students during the school day. Though the practice had been in place at some early community centers, children's homes, and settlement houses in the city, this was the first time that the toxic waste that all Philadelphia schoolchildren fear was offered at a Philadelphia public school.
          The "penny lunch", as it was called, consisted of two choices: a pack of "quality biscuits" or a cup of coffee. Yeah, because giving coffee to schoolchildren is such a good idea. Some believed that providing lunch at schools had a two pronged effect: not only would it make kids learn better later in the day, it would also introduce immigrant children to American foods.
         Shortly after this, another breakthrough was made when the lunchlady was invented.

"Watch the potty-mouth, honey"
 Charles Reinhardt: Families Man

            In the second half of September, 1915, Charles Reinnhardt of 3919 Aspen Street was standing trial, accused of being married to two women at once. When Wife #1, Florence Reinhardt, took the stand to testify against her husband, she revealed that Mr. Reinhardt wasn't married to two women at once, but THREE!
           It seems Reinhardt would leave his wives but never officially divorce. He married Florence first, living with her at 1510 Womrath Street until dipping out. He then shacked up with a young widow named Anna Preston, staying with her for only two months after their wedding in an apartment above his own grandfather's saloon. He then married on Helen Lutz, whose house on the 3900 block of Aspen Street he was living in when Florence finally caught up with Charles and had him arrested for bigamy.
            This dude apparently never figured that his ex-wives would ever be able to catch up with him. He's fucked now.

Only Reinhardt's Womrath St. residence still stands, image from Google Streetview

Philadelphian Wanted For Giving His Son Cigarettes

              Twelve-year-old John Storer Jr, juvenile delinquent from Kensington, sat in front of the Juvenile Branch of the Municipal Court for the umpteenth time. This time he was accused of running away from home, a much lesser crime than his previous antics. When Judge Raymond McNeill asked his mother how it is than little John became such a miscreant, she stated that his "worthless" father was to blame. Why? He gives Junior cigarettes, of which he smokes a pack a day.
             Judge McNeill became pissed off about this, ordering a warrant for the arrest of John Storer Sr, whose residence was unknown. The judge then went on a tirade, claiming that a father giving his son cigarettes was no different than a store owner selling them to a minor and that he would prosecute the fuck out of him as soon as he was found.

Dead Man Returns To Piss Off His Family

            In the second half of September, 1915, Mrs. Laura Redmond got a knock on her door at 1745 North 31st Street and got served with a Writ of Habeas Corpus from her dead husband. They had split 14 years earlier and he arranged to have their daughter, Louise, be put under the care of a convent in Baltimore. Mr. Redmond was then believed to have died en route to California.
           When she turned 18, Louise escaped the convent, where she claimed her living conditions were "practically [like] a slave", and made it all the way to Philadelphia, where she re-united with her mother and lived with her. It only took two weeks for the deceased Mr. Redmond to make his re-appearance and demand through the courts that she be returned to the convent. When asked why this man would go through all this trouble to come back from the grave and bring court proceedings against his ex wife and daughter he had not seen for well over a decade, Mrs. Redmond said "To annoy us."

Birth of a Nation Hits Philadelphia Like a Bag of Hammers

"It will make a better American of you"
          Though the film Birth of a Nation premiered in February of 1915, it wasn't until August of that year that the film made it up to Philadelphia, where it played exclusively at the old Forrest Theater on Broad Street. By the second half of September, the film was so popular that tickets had to be reserved 2 weeks in advanced.
        People were enthralled with the film, which was endorsed by President Woodrow Wilson himself. It had the first posthumous depiction of Abraham Lincoln on screen and displayed the latest in lighting and makeup technology. Other people were extremely offended by the film, since it glorifies the Ku Klux Klan and is rife with racist depictions and stereotypes.
        In Philly, the protest of this film turned into a riot. In the second half of September, 1,500 black men, lead by "a tall negro clergyman" marched up Broad Street singing Onward Christian Soldiers until they reached the theater. The clergyman then waved his cane around and a brick was thrown. At this point, all the cops that were standing around the crowd were directed to shut the protest the fuck down.
      They responded by charging into the crowd and cracking every skull within reach with their billy clubs. The crowd panicked and dispersed quickly, some protesters getting trampled in the fray. Others hid in building lobbies and interstitial alleys nearby. Many were severely injured.
        The next day, a group of black men lead by lawyer G. Edward Dickerson and Dr. W.A. Sinclair limped their bandaged-up selves into Mayor Blankenburg's office and demanded that the City Solicitor bring suit against the Forrest Theater and prevent any further screenings of the film. They were unsuccessful. The same group later vowed that they would make their own version of Birth of a Nation, but it is unknown if they ever did.
         In case you never heard of this Oscar-winning racist film or have never seen it, here's the film in all its glory-- all 3 hours 12 minutes of it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fill This Front: Stereo City

1410 Chestnut Street

                What the fuck is going on here? After a year or so of emptiness, this storefront was announced to be filled with a new occupant--- then, nothing happened. Therefore, I think its time we bring this motherfucker back to all of our attentions. Maybe this will light a fire under the asses of the dudes who say their gonna move in here.
                 This storefront is ancient as fuck. Its a 1924 alteration of a 1830/50s row-mansion. The first user of this retail space was Llewellyn's Drug Store, which started here in the mid-19th Century and lasted all the way up to 1917 before moving to 1518 Chestnut.

The interior in 1898. The outside just looked like a dirty rowhouse with a display window on it. Image form the PAB
           After Llewellyn's moved out, a bank was proposed for the space and a design was even drawn by the badass architect Edgar V. Seeler, but it was never built. After that, the A.H. Geuting Company Store moved in, selling shoes and establishing the place as a shoe store. The new facade design was by David Bassett.
           I say Geuting's established this place as a shoe store because after they moved out, a whole series of shoe stores came in and out of this place for the next 6 decades. I don't know the names of all of them but some included French Shriner Shoes, Commonwealth Shoes, and Bostonian Shoes.

As Bostonian Shoes in 1982 rocking a 1967 sign by David Cutler. Tron!! Image from the PAB
                In more recent years, the space became a comic book store called Out of Time and then, in about 2009, became Stereo City, which was neither a City nor in Stereo.

Nice sign. 2009 view from the Google Streetview Time Machine
                The place went back up for lease in January of 2013 and by January 2014, it was announced that this location would be the Center City outpost of Brewerytown's Shifty's Taco. One of my old fraternity brothers was named Shifty.
Last known photo of Shifty, 1999.
                     Ok, so it's gonna be a Shifty's Taco. Where the fuck is it? That metal gate hasn't moved in nearly 2 years! Sure, the announcement stated not to expect the place in "the next six months", so I held out until this, the ninth month, to write this shit. C'mon Shifty, what are you waiting for?
                    This is a 1,500 square foot space on the 1400 block of Chestnut Street, which not only has nearly endless buttloads of foot traffic, but is about to have a big-ass luxury double-hotel be built across the street. No less than four bus lines pass it on Chestnut Street alone, while its proximity to Broad Street gives it access to a whole other bunch of bus lines. It's near the transit nexus under City Hall, where both SEPTA subways and all the subway-surface trolley lines converge. Its also right near the brand-spanking new Dilworth Park. Lots and lots of monied citizens both live and work (or both) nearby. You could sell soiled celebrity underwear here and strike it rich!
               The place is managed by Sierra U.S. Commercial Real Estate. If Shifty's never happens, I'm depending on y'all to FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Front and Thompson Public Bath House

1241-1245 North Front Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
               This old piece of shit is one of two remaining public pools from the municipal bath house building spree of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Learn all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fill This Front: Sumo Lounge

1224 Chestnut Street

             Ok, so this front is filled and has been for years... so this isn't really a Fill This Front. Its more of a Fuck This Front. The Sumo Lounge at Raw is a fancy nightclub/event space that occupies the Chestnut Street side of the very long building that faces both Chestnut and Sansom that also houses Raw and Uber. Why does it piss me off? Well, when not active (most of the time) it spends its time as a blank white storefront on the re-emergent Chestnut East.
            They can't put up a sign? An awning? SOMETHING that indicates that this isn't yet another empty storefront on Chestnut East? I mean really-- this stretch has enough retail problems without having a perfectly active space try to appear vacant throughout the day. Bums and squatters love to post up here-- they think this spot is inactive too.
           What a disgrace-- especially when you consider the history of this storefront. This building was constructed in 1913 under the designs of badasschitect Carl P. Berger. It was the offices and flagship store of the Stetson Hats Company-- the Sansom Street side still is labeled as such. This location is where, for about 30 years, Stetson showed off their newest, coolest, and most important shit.

The display window on this very storefront in 1921 or so.
               After the 1930s the same thing happened to this building as did many from its era-- the facade was ripped off and replaced with some mid-century modern shit due to the widening of the street. The new facade was literally a white wall with a couple of small windows on it.

The facade in the 1950s. Image from the PAB
                 That crap facade lasted all the way until 2002, when the Warrior-Poet Tony Goldman came along and bought the property. The building was renovated and the facade was replaced with a glass curtain wall and the retail space was filled with Bread & Butter Gourmet Deli by 2003. It failed pretty quickly and the space had a "FOR LEASE" sign on it for years thereafter.
                 Toward the end of the 00s decade, Raw Sushi & Sake was doing quite well on the Sansom Street side of the building and its owners decided to expand into the other side of the building, creating the Sumo Lounge. They blocked up the curtain wall with whiteness and projected images onto it while the club was active. The rest of the time, it just stays a blank wall. Here's what it looks like when in use.
                 Its great that an event space like this exists on Chestnut East-- SO HOW ABOUT PUTTING A FUCKING SIGN OR AWNING UP!?!??! Chestnut East is on the rise and this place has been a part of that-- you'd think they'd want to show off a bit. The owners of this place also own several other establishments throughout the city that have signage, awnings, and/or an attractive street level presence-- so its not like they don't know what they're doing.
                The place looks pretty nice on the inside-- how about take the white shit down so people can see the inside of it during the day-- then pull down some white crap at night or when the place is in use. You might even be able to get some new bookings out of it-- MANY MANY MANY potential customers have no idea this place even exists! FUCK THIS FRONT!!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross

2213 Chestnut Street

              Oh here we go... another concrete box from the glorious architectural era of the early 1970s, fucking up what should be a much nicer corner in Center City. Look, I understand that the American Red Cross does a lot of great things and they support themselves entirely with donations and volunteer work. Good for them, I applaud it. If only the local chapter's headquarters building was built in a different era. ANY other era, really. What a shame. This organization deserves better.
             They should have left the original building here. What was the original building, you ask? It was a nice little structure called Philadelphia School of Nurses and Central Hospital of Philadelphia, which had a lawn that extended out to the corner of 23rd and Chestnut.

Corner of 23rd and Chestnut looking east, 1911.
                  It was the only place in town that offered the Abrams Electronic Treatment. This treatment was one of many forms of quackery under the category of "Radionics" whereby the patient would have a small amount of blood, a lock of hair, or even a photograph placed into Abrams' Reflexophone. According to the read-out from the device, the patient could be diagnosed with lung cancer, strep throat, tuberculosis, you name it. Dr. Abrams himself was convinced that syphilis passed from generation to generation, and that only his machine could detect it in newborn infants. Once the patient was diagnosed, they'd be hooked up to another machine called the Oscillocast which would deliver a series of electric shocks that supposedly lead to a cure.
          Regardless of all that bullshit (irregardless?), the building they were in looked cool. So cool, in fact, that even after the hospital/nurses' school went kaput, the building was covered in stucco, new facade details were added, and the lawn was enclosed behind a nice wall for its next job as the Spanish Embassy.

Yes, this is the same building. The front of it was lobbed off for the widening of the Chestnut Street Bridge in 1911/12.
                By the 1960s, it had become an apartment building. In 1969, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross created a building committee with the aim of building a new headquarters in Philadelphia. In 1970 they has raised enough money to purchase the old Central Hospital property and put the then 80+ year old building out of its misery. They commissioned the firm of Ewing Cole Erdman & Eubank for a design, the same motherfuckers who would design Giants Stadium a year later.
               Being that it was 1970, the most cutting edge bad ass design anyone could think of was a squat concrete monolith with rows of windows and an indentation on one side of the facade. They made sure to make the thing as anti-pedestrian as possible by including a below-grade surface parking lot and a wide driveway on the 23rd Street side. I will give them a small bit of credit for the plaza at the 23rd/Chestnut corner, only because it sets the building back just about as far as the Central Hospital's lawn was.

Pedestrian-friendly street level presence by early 70s standards
                   The new ugly-ass Red Cross building officially opened on November 3rd, 1972. There was a ceremony where the cornerstone was filled with "historical items", whatever that may mean. Maybe they threw one of those Abrams devices in there.

A surviving Oscillocast from The Lindan Collection of Medical Devices.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia- Start of September, 1915

Chestnut Street Opera House Showing Movies, Needs Hot Ushers

Image from the PAB
               In the Fall of 1915, the year-old Chestnut Street Opera House started showing movies in addition to their usual lineup. The Triangle Film Corporation handled the movie side of the Opera House and put a call out in all the local papers for ushers using only four words: Wanted: Six Attractive Girls. The next day, 50 of the city's most beautiful unemployed women showed up to the 1000 block of Chestnut Street, all vying for the 6 available jobs.
             This caused quite the stir to the usual passersby, many of whom thought there was a beauty contest going on at the Opera House. The Triangle Film Corp's reps then came out on to the street and warned the crowd that the usher job will have a strange requirement: each usher will be required to wear a uniform that looks exactly like the costume worn by Sarah Bernhardt in the 1900 opera L'Aiglon.

This is the costume. She's playing a dude.
               Upon hearing that not only would they have to dress in pants for the job but also carry a sword while they worked, many of the women left. The remaining ladies became the Opera House's new ushers.

Rumble Erupts at a Tango in the Tenderloin

       Back in 1915, the Tenderloin, an area we call part of the Loft District/North Chinatown/Eraserhood today, was a crazy place. Even a fun little party could lead to chaos. This was the case in the first week of September, 1915, when friends Jennie Murphy and Margaret Wilson decided to throw a Tango party, inviting two dancing partners for themselves, Thomas Murphy and William Carr, to their house at 330 N. 11th Street (later demolished to make way for the Reading Viaduct).
         Before any music or dancing even began, all four had a difference of opinion on how to properly execute a Tango and got into a vicious fight. Each one started throwing any object they could get their hands on at each other, including china, pottery, picture frames, forks, and spoons. When a china plate flew out the window and nearly hit a pedestrian, the cops were called. Officers Slook, Lowery, and Hayes ran over from the nearby police station at 10th and Buttonwood and entered the house through the front door.
        Upon the appearance of the cops, all four arguers suddenly united against the one thing they all hated: law enforcement. They proceeded to then pelt the three officers with the very household objects they were just dodging. The cops ran down the basement steps and hid under some chairs for several minutes until the four attackers ran out of stuff to throw. They then climbed back up the stairs and were able to get them to surrender.

Giant Pile of Crap Left Behind By the Billy Sunday Tabernacle

               Billy Sunday was a former Philadelphia Phillie that later in life became the single most influential preacher in the United States. He would go from city to city, erecting giant temporary structures where he could evangelize to thousands at a time (without a sound system!). Sunday's Tabernacle came through Philadelphia in March of 1915.

No surviving images of the temporary structure but there is this one drawing from March 15, 1915 depicting Billy losing his shit during on of the Philadelphia sermons. Image from the Free Library of Philadelphia
                Well, by the first week of September, 1915, a giant pile of debris was still leftover from the long-gone ministry-- chairs, sawdust, hatpins, all kinds of trash. The problem with this, of course, was that the tabernacle had taken place on city-owned land that had just been cleared for the construction of what we now call the Ben Franklin Parkway. This site in particular was about to be prepped for the construction of the new Central Library!

The pile of shit in question.
                  Joseph M. Steele, chairman of the local Billy Sunday Committee, refused to take responsibility, saying that the rubbish was the remains of houses demolished for the Parkway, not the temporary Billy Sunday structure. He claimed the city was trying to pull something over on the Billy Sunday crowd. Meanwhile, a city resident who also claimed that there was a big pile of Billy Sunday trash in front of his house was ready to fuck the committee up as well.
              The city ended up having to spend $500 clearing Billy Sunday's shitpile in order to start construction on the Free Library, which was completed in 1927, many years later. Billy Sunday himself is pretty much responsible for Prohibition getting passed... so leaving a giant pile of crap behind for others to clean up is not the worst thing he ever did.

City Can't Find Slumlords, Arrests Tenants Instead

            On June 11th, 1915, an act was passed stating that "modern conveniences" should be available in every tenement house in the city. It was not until the first week of September, however, when any of part of this act was actually enforced. On that week, Arthur E. Buchholz, supervisor of the Department of Sanitation of the Bureau of Housing, chose the five occupied properties in the city that were in the worst condition: 1231 Kenilworth St, 909 Poplar St, 620 North 3rd St, 916 Lombard St, and the only one still standing today, 1133 Pine St.
          The problem, however, was this: they couldn't find any of the owners of these places. The solution? Arrest the tenants! Some of them were just living at these places, others were proprietors that worked for the owners. Each defendant made the excuse that they've pleaded with the owners of their buildings to repair the places but never got a response. No record exists of what happened after this, but even today the city has a hard time finding certain slumlords. If only Philadelinquency was around back then!

1133 Pine, the only one of those five properties still standing. Its obviously doing a lot better nowadays. Image from Google Streetview.