Monday, March 2, 2015

Old-Ass Building, Empty Lot, Dead-Ass Proposal(s), Fill This Front, and Lost Building: 2000 Arch Street

2000-2024 Arch Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
           Almost every kind of Philaphilia category represented by one little address!?!?! That's right motherfucker! Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fill This Front: Tangerine

232-34 Market Street

             Continuously in use for 7 decades then... SIX YEARS EMPTY!?!?!? What the hell is going on here? I know this space was not really available for most of those six years... but now its been available for nearly 2 and its still sitting there doing nothing. Now's the time. Let's Fill This Front!
             As with most Old City storefronts, going all the way back to the beginning of this storefront's life would take forever... the building predates 1860 for fuck's sake! I'm going to start in the 1930s, when this location started being a Horn & Hardart Automat and stayed that way all the way until 1971. In 1972, the Tarshich Family's hardware store, Stanley Hardware Company, moved here from the 1800 block of Market. The store was called Stanley not because of the Stanley line of tools, but because its original location was near the Stanley Theater. That store location stayed open for 21 years until being bought out by another hardware store in 1993. That new hardware store lasted until 1997.
          In 1998, there was a movement to rebuild this area of Market Street, spearheaded by an architecture firm located in the same building as this storefront (MGA). The old hardware store space was restored back to a restaurant and went up for lease the next year. In 2000, Steven Starr's Tangerine opened at the space and was not only well-reviewed, but highly successful. Here's a slideshow of the interior when it was open. It managed to last all the way until August 2009. For the next four years, it was used as a catering/kitchen/occasional event space and finally came available in March 2013.

         Nearly 2 years later, the motherfucker is still sitting there empty. But why? This location gets an insane amount of foot traffic by tourists during the day (especially in spring/summer) and by assloads of drunken wastoids at night. Its accessible to transit via an EL stop located on the same block and is a block-and-a-half away from a major bus hub. Even if you want to come by car, the place is right near I-95 and there are plenty of parking garages nearby. Did I mention that this neighborhood also explodes with foot traffic on the first Friday night of EVERY month!?!?
        This is a 9,000 square foot (read: HUGE) space that can hold 200 people. There's a private event space and a gigantic fucking kitchen that still has 80% of its shit still there. The Market Street exposure of the place is 75 feet wide and goes hundreds of feet back on Bank Street. The leasing is being managed by M.S. Fox Real Estate Group. Here's the listing, which also indicates that the space could be used as a "first floor loft style technology space" as well. It goes for $23/sq ft NNN, so $207,000/yr plus the Triple Net.
         Go ahead and grab this bitch-bastard before the Spring influx of tourist traffic. Get over there and FILL THIS FRONT!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Empty Lot of the Week: Diaphane Building Parking Lot

1936 Arch Street

           Ok, so I don't really do Empty Lot of the Week anymore but there are some still left that I've never talked about that irk the shit out of me. This one right here sucks monkey nuts. It's been empty for 71 years and has even once been considered for development. Nonetheless, its still remains, looking like asstrash.
           The last building to occupy this space was a 4-story mega-mansion built about 1898 under the designs of local architect Joseph Cather Newsom shortly before he fucked off to California and became famous there. The mansion went through a lot in its short life, from a stately single-family home to decent apartment building called The Braddock to a seedy-ass flop house called Hotel Bechtel.

Here it is as the Hotel Bechtel in 1928 via
            In 1944, the decrepit old building was seen as a shitty vestige of the past and unceremoniously demolished while under the ownership of the Girard Trust Company. Ever since, this space has been parking cars or doing other car-related shit. After being a Budget Rent-A-Car for a couple of decades, contractor Sidney Elkman proposed a 14-story building for this lot. It had a hard time getting through zoning but was eventually approved. Of course, it was 1967. Had it been built, this would be a Butt-Fugly Building rant instead. Here's the rendering. See what I mean? Blecch. At the time, there was a small revitalization of this hood with small commercial buildings. Every last one of them was ugly as crap. Only a few got built and at least one has already been demolished.   
              After that Elkman project failed, the lot went back to being vacant, then was used as a parking lot and later as a car rental agency again. In 1982 and 83, the Diaphane Building next door to this lot was restored and the space became that building's parking lot... a role that it has held ever since.

The Diaphane Building looking like shit in 1981. The lot is on the right.
              In 2000, a mural called Reach High and You Will Go Far was installed on the party wall of the Diaphane Building and has probably locked this place in as a parking lot for all time. I say this because if ever someone comes along and makes it their business to put a building on this empty-ass piece of shit lot at a prime corner location, NIMBYs are going to start dropping from the skies screaming about how that dated-looking mural will be lost forever.
         Anyway, with 1924 Arch and CITC being built less than a block away, and Liberty Property Trust nabbing all the shitty lots and buildings on the 1900 block of Arch, this lot has a lot more potential than its had since ol' Sidney Elkman was interested in it. Hopefully the owners of the Diaphane Building understand this and will sell if off to someone who will make better use of it. Pfft.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of February, 1916

UPenn to Build Big Motherfucking Stadium!!

Its not the one you think. North is to the right on this plan, btw. Image from the Library of Congress
          In 1916, Philadelphians and UPenn officials were feeling pretty snubbed due to the Army Navy game going to NYC instead of Philly because there wasn't a stadium big enough to hold it. Sure, the University got some really bad land very very cheap from the U.S. Military to build their own Franklin Field in 1895, but that piece of shit was at the time only designed for 19,000 people and at times stuffed in 32,000.
         University officials, led by one George Neitzche, got their shit together with city to build not just a new stadium, but a giganto-fucking huge one. After all, plans for a Grand Assembly Centre in Fairmount Park had fallen through and the sesquicentennial was still 10 years away. With this new gigantic stadium would not only lock in the Army Navy game, but might even be able to get the Olympics!
        The site for this new $750,000, 100,000-seat stadium would be Woodland Ravine, a forgotten piece of geography that was a depression on the southeastern side of Woodland Cemetery. This would be the perfect place to have a half-sunken stadium. Along with it would come a sunken Greek Theatre(which was proposed for the ravine 6 months earlier), an educational building, and a new dormitory building. UPenn's Botanical Garden of the era would be extended into the stadium grounds. A new train station called Union Station would feature a Pennsylvania Railroad stop AND a stop on a proposed elevated subway line connected to the current MFL that was never built. Cars could reach the new complex from the newly-built University Avenue (which was in a slightly different location at the time) and a proposed Franklin Boulevard, a Parkway meant to connect UPenn with Fairmount Park via 500-foot-wide street running in the area in between 33rd and 34th Streets.
       Preliminary plans were put together by a flash-in-the-pan architecture firm named Koronski & Cameron and the rendering, seen above, was passed all over town and were published in newspapers all across the country. This was going to be a big fucking deal!!
       As it ends up, the huge stadium plan started fizzling almost immediately. About a week after first proposed, the 100,000-seater became a 75,000-seater. About five years later, it was decided that an expansion of Franklin Field would be more prudent, and the stadium that's still there today is the result. Despite the massive success of Franklin Field, its most well-known and oft-cited event is the 1968 booing of Santa Claus.
       The Woodland Ravine ended up becoming the site of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center in 1950. The huge and exceedingly dangerous intersection of University Avenue and Civic Center Boulevard now stands at the location of where the stadium would have been.

The Mystery of the "Masked Widow" Makes Philly Go Nuts

Image from the Library of Congress
           In the Middle of February, 1916, a mysterious woman arrived in Philadelphia by train wearing a white mask. She walked the streets, stopped traffic and caused a crowd of onlookers to hold up the sidewalk. She had a "svelte" frame, blond hair, blue eyes, and spoke like a rich socialite. She claimed that her name was Dorothy Kensington and that she had just returned to America from London.
         She explained that she had met a poor but fine British Lieutenant in England while her rich family was visiting and married him against her father's wishes. He was killed a year before in the Second Battle of Ypres and Mrs. Kensington had finally gotten up the gumption to return to Philadelphia. She wore a mask to conceal herself from the other Philadelphia blue bloods so as not to shame her family. She first tried to book a room at the Bellevue-Stratford but was turned away because the mask and the crowd it generated were seen as bad mojo for the hotel. She then tried the Hotel Majestic at Broad and Girard but was rejected there as well. Word spread quicky of this hot chick walking around in a mask and the fairly new Hotel Adelphia though it would be a good idea to give her a room so they could get their name out there.
       Her and the man who said she was her brother stayed there for one night before making their way over to the Continental Hotel. By this point, everyone in the city knew about the Masked Widow and their 4 block walk from 12th/Chestnut to 8th/Chestnut was almost a goddamn riot. The brother and sister announced that they were low on money and would take any job. Dorothy noted that she would be a maid or work in a mill if she had to, but then went about demonstrating her great singing voice. This led some to believe that she was an actress and that this might be a publicity stunt for an upcoming play.
        A few days later, news had spread to other cities about the Masked Widow, and by the end of the week she was doing interviews with New York papers and had been signed by a vaudeville theater manager in Boston.
       Of course, Boston is exactly where she wanted to go. It ends up that the Masked Widow was a young debutant from Boston named Alice Crowley. After missing appointments with her violin/acting/singing coach, she wagered with him that she was talented enough to get a job without further instruction and that she could make herself famous enough within a month to secure herself a job. She donned the mask, made up the widow story, and hopped a train to Philadelphia with her manager so she could enact the plan. Philadelphia was chosen because, well, she figured Philadelphians were stupid enough to fall for her gag. It worked, but backfired. After about 7 or 8 nights of working as a singer, she became overwhelmed by vaudeville work and quit.
      She ended up penning her entire story for the Boston Sunday Post in March, where it was finally revealed publicly who the mysterious Masked Widow was.

George Washington Vs. Chinatown: the Final Battle

        An old bum who called himself George Washington stumbled his way into Chinatown while taking a walk away from his usual Skid Row haunts. Some local Chinatown residents stood at their doorways, observing George for the specimen of homelessness that he was. George responded by walking up to their doorways and staring right back at them. The first "Celestials" to whom he did this kicked his ass and threw him into the middle of the street. Undeterred, George got up and continued on his Chinatown tour.
        Now untrustworthy of groups of Chinese immigrants, the drunken George Washington then approached such a group he saw that was staring at him and talking amongst themselves. Washington figured they must be plotting against him. George pushed them all down onto the street, which seemed to be a successful preemptive measure until they stood up and proceeded to kick his ass.
       Washington then pulled off one of his boots and threw it at one of his attackers. He missed and hit a rich fellow, no doubt a descendant of one of the remaining rich families that inhabited what is now Chinatown in the mid 19th Century,  right in the top hat. The rich dude turned around, cleared some of his Chinese neighbors out of the way, and beat the living shit out of George Washington with his cane. This got the attention of Policeman Burgess, who then led the bleeding and bootless George Washington to the 11th and Winter Streets station (now the site of the 6th District police station). Magistrate Collins, after hearing the story, made a deal with Washington. He could either go to prison or be exonerated of all charges if he was able to run back to Skid Row in five minutes. Old George chose the latter.

Behold the Camden Viaduct!

Image from the Library of Congress
             Its finally going to happen. The Philadelphia-Camden Bridge, proposed about 7 times in different forms over a 100 year period may actually come to fruition. In mid-February, 1916, the Philadelphia end of the Philadelphia-Camden Bridge Commission was voted for approval by City Council, the Jersey half of the deal already authorized a few weeks earlier. City Council was busy that week-- they also approved funding for the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Parkway version of Convention Hall that was never built. This commission replaced the Penn Memorial Bridge Commission that was formed in 1913.
          The new $20,000,000 bridge, called both the Camden Viaduct and the Philadelphia-Camden Bridge, had a brand new design by Walter Williams Shipley, modified from one that was rejected a few years before. This one was a double-decked cantilever steel bridge that would span across the Delaware a distance of 1,970 while flying 150 feet high. It would connect between 6th and Market in Philly with 7th and Cooper in Camden. The new bridge would also have a truck/dray(freight) deck, trolley tracks,and a foot path. This thing was gonna kick ass!!
        While World War I held up progress on this awesome-looking bridge, the Philadelphia-Camden Bridge Commission argued for two years if the crossing should be a bridge or tunnel, only to re-affirm it to be a bridge in 1918. In 1919, the Delaware River Joint Bridge Commission was formed and work on the bridge, though of a completely different design by Rudolph Modjeski, and, after much discussion, at a different location than originally planned, began in 1922 and was completed in 1926. All these years later, the bridge still stands, named the Ben Franklin Bridge in 1956 and was painted blue in 1976.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Miles Building

218-226 South 11th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
             It took me nearly 4 years to figure out the history of this place. I walk by it almost every day and have always wondered where it came from. After a shitload of false starts and research dead-ends, I've finally got it covered. Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fill This Front: Walnut Nails

1223 Walnut Street

            Ok, this storefront has only been empty for a year so I can't be too mad about it. However, what I can be mad about is that despite its appearance, its not even actually empty! What the fuck is going on here?
           This storefront occupies the remains of an old mansion-sized rowhouse built in the 1830s-1850s. It was first used for commercial purposes in the 1910s, when it became medical offices, while at other times it went back to being a huge-ass residence.

Here it is in 1927. Its the one on the right.
           In the mid 1950s, the building sustained a fair amount of fire damage and the first floor was re-built as a storefront that held a barbershop for 13 years. In 1969, the storefront took on its current appearance under the designs of architect Hans F. Egli. For the next 30 years, the front and the whole rest of the building would be occupied by travel agency Talmage Tours, which didn't close until January 1999.
         In 1999 the storefront became a RPM Records, a music and vintage store. They stuck around for two years. In 2002, the storefront briefly became Male Ego, a Gay Interest store. Finally in 2003, Walnut Nails came along and stuck around for 10 straight years, finally closing in late 2013. By the way, if you want to read some hilariously negative Yelp reviews, read this.

Walnut Nails in 2009 via the Google Streetview Time Machine
          Ever since, the front just sat empty without a "For Lease" sign or anything else going on. Recently, 1223 Walnut along with 1221 next door went up for sale as a package deal. Upon learning this, I figured that the owners of both buildings (the same family that owns Pandora's Lunchbox) were just leaving it empty so whomever bought the two buildings could go about getting it filled. Case closed, right?
        WRONG!! In the last few months, I noticed that the empty front had some of that trademark brown paper up in the windows. I got excited with all the possibilities of what could be coming here. Then, a few weeks later, the some of the paper was getting ripped off the inside of the front door so it became possible to see inside.
        What did I see? Storage. A bunch of food and other supplies piled up all over the place. Therefore, I can only assume that this place is being leased, at least temporarily, by another concern nearby for use as storage. What kind of use is this for a storefront? How the hell do they plan to sell this building while using the empty storefront space as a storage room? Who the hell is storing shit here!?!? Actually, I kind of know who, but I don't want to reveal it without confirmation. There isn't any new permit or anything on their online L & I file, but those can be sometimes outdated. What the shit is going on here?
         Well, whatever is going on, this building and the one next to it are for sale-- though I can't find the "For Sale" sign on the building. Nonetheless, if you've got the means, this is a pretty good place to get. It consists of two storefronts with apartments on the upper floors. This location gets loads of foot traffic, is near the 13th Street restaurant row, and is accessible by nearly every form of public transportation Septa has to offer. Its even near the Patco! The storefront was once able to sustain the same company for 30 years and another for 10. The potential is obviously there, so you'd better get in now while the gettin's good. Here's the listing again. Be that hero-- buy these buildings and FILL THIS FRONT!!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Butt-Fugly Building: Spring Garden Towers

1820 Spring Garden Street

                 Jesus, what trash. I know its an old folk's castle but still... what the hell did these seniors do to deserve a fate like this? Did you even take a dump that was all painful and difficult and then you look back at the bowl and your dookie is a weird color? That's the color of this building.
                The origin of this thing goes all the way back to 1976, when lots of buildings were being proposed in this area as a part of the failed Franklintown revitalization project. An old folk's apartment building was planned on what was then a thin parking lot at 1818-1820 Spring Garden Street. Back then, this was no where you wanted to be. Old abandoned industrial shit filled many blocks to the south and east while a dying neighborhood stretched out to the north.
              The architect was the crappy firm of Nowicki & Polillo, whose other works include such butt-fuglies as Academy House, 1845 Walnut, the Gateway Building, and the Archdiocese Office Building. Have you ever met anyone who thought those buildings looked good? No? OF COURSE NOT!!! Then, once it opened in 1978, they called it "Spring Garden Towers". TowerS!?! ARRGGHHH!! Why the fuck do they ever name single buildings with a plural!?!?! Museum Towers next door does the same fucking thing, but at least the second one is just about to be built.
            Another thing that pisses me off about this building is that it does the same shit like 1635 Market where the front of the building is just a blank wall with a column of windows in the middle. Its easier to see from the back:

              What an embarrassment. Get this: not only is it filled with NIMBYS, its NIMBY-hood was guaranteed as part of its construction! When all the Franklintown shit was happening back in the 1970s, the Lutheran Associates who developed this place were able to secure the air rights of 1822 Spring Garden, the little building next door. Of course, no one told Jon Federman of Nette Properties this in 2004 when he bought the place for $1.8 Mil with the intention of putting up a 40-story condo there.

Its looks like a Sega CD game. Full motion video!!!
                 Though this building was probably pipe dream to begin with, the Spring Garden CDC NIMBYS went fucking bananas and the residents of Spring Garden Towers lost their shit as well. By the end of 2006, approvals supposedly went through for this monster but lawyers and shit got involved after that... then the economy tanked so it never happened.
                 Nowadays, the new Museum Towers II complex is about to be built to the south of this thing and it seems like Forest City, the developer, doesn't want to even try to fuck with Spring Garden Towers so the section of the property directly south of this crap tower has short townhouses that are hiding a short parking garage. Whatever... at least the parking lot will be gone.

The future of this hood... Franklintown is finally filling in.