Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chestnut Beast!

899 to 1399 Chestnut Street

             Goddammit, I love Chestnut East. All at once the most depressing and exciting part of Center City. This little stretch has been on a downward spiral for many years, but is just now starting to bounce back into its former glory. I always knew this day would come and now it has.. but there's still plenty of work to do.
             This corridor spent well over 100 years as one of the most important, busiest, and bustling parts of the city-- retailers, businesses, schools, warehouses, libraries, and even parking structures used to step on each others' nutsacks just to get one small little bit of this short part of a long street. The middle piece, the 1100 and 1200 blocks, changed so quickly over the decades that its hard to quantify it all. Over 150 years, those two blocks went from stately country villas to residential rowmansions to rowmansions-turned-businesses to warehouse-factories-on-storefronts to the Piano-selling district/business offices to retail clothing nexus to shithole to its current state of rebirth.
             Though some are out of date, I'd like to list and revisit all the Chestnut East-related writings I've done over the last few years:

 After that, I trashed the perpetually ass-kissed Mercantile Library in all its Mid-Century Modern glory. Its up for sale again, by the way, and supposedly Brickstone Realty, the latest heroes of Chestnut East, are interested.

Oh my Gooooooooooood

                  I then managed not to write about anything on Chestnut East for nearly two whole years. However, when it came time to bring out the new Philaphilia subject Fill This Front, four of them ended up being on this stretch (including the second Jefferson garage one listed above):

                Had enough? Well... I'm not done. Despite writing all that shit about Chestnut East over the years, there's even more shit I know about the buildings/lots/properties along this street... including a whole lot of content about Chestnut Beast's past, present, and future. Instead of writing it all down (laced in profanity, of course), I will be giving a tour in collaboration with Hidden City, just like I did for Broad Street. Therefore, if you want to know even more about my favorite part of the city, come on down to the Forgotten Chestnut Street Tour on September 13th. Space is limited so sign up now!!

              Oh... if you missed the Forgotten Broad Street Tour, I'm doing another one on September 20th!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fill This Front: 1725 Chestnut

1725 Chestnut Street

               Ok, so some folks think this is a cursed storefront unable to keep a tenant for very long, evidenced by how this place went from being Nextel Wireless to Goodburger to Famous Dave's to Moe's Southwestern Grill in a very short amount of time.
               Well, those people don't know shit. This location, 1725 Chestnut Street, definitely has the ability to hold onto a store. From 1982-2005, the Nathan Muchnick Audio/Video Store kept itself going in this very front. Before that, a music and later video store that went through a lot of names but closed as Video Place was there, and before that, a store called Music City occupied the space. That brings us all the way back to the early 60s, when it had been vacated by the first store to use this space after it had been overhauled into its modern configuration in 1955, Marshall Millinery.
               Therefore, though the place has seen 4 different stores in the last few years, before that, it only had four different occupants. That's crazy. To add insult to injury, this place has been completely empty now for well over a year.
                Another potential occupant, IT'SUGAR, the place you find in tourist traps where you can buy giant versions of candy bars and shit, applied for a permit for this location in December 2013. It either never happened or somehow, 9 months later, is still in limbo. This last April, the son of Nathan Muchnick sold the building to the NYC-based Midwood Management for $2.2 million.
               Wow-- $2.2 million? That's $367 per square foot! Obviously I'm not the only one who sees the value in this place. After all, its located on the 1700 block of Chestnut Street, only two blocks from Rittenhouse Row and has been catching new stores like flies lately. American Eagle Outfitters just moved in next door and Nordstrom Rack is coming in down the street. Uniqlo is under construction a block away. This little area is the shiznit!
               Let me put it like this:

            This is the storefront space at 1725 Chestnut, which consists of the 2000 square foot first floor and 2000 square foot basement. You also have the option of taking the 2000 square foot second floor, making 6000 total (roughly-- the building is 17'4" wide and 115' long). The place is entirely fit out as a restaurant and is available for immediate occupancy. This means you can just walk right in and start cooking shit! The location of this place is key-- very close to Rittenhouse Row, our highest-end shopping district. One block away from Liberty Place, which, in addition to a shitload of trophy office space with workers who make a shitload of money, there's also multi-million dollar condos with residents that have lots and lots of disposable income. Did I mention that Liberty Place also has a hotel?
             Even if all that shit wasn't there, you also have the entire Central Business District to the immediate North, lots and lots of monied residents to the immediate South. The area is VERY accessible by public transit, served by a countless number of bus lines, a whole bunch of trolley lines, and regional rail not too far away. Truly, it doesn't get much better than this for a location. Be like Nathan Muchnick. In 1982, he moved all the way from 52nd street and took a risk on this location and his store flourished there for 33 years, ten years after his own fucking death! Here's a song about this storefront by another guy from Philly named Nathan Muchnick (I'm thinking he's probably related):

               What the fuck are you scared of? Here's the listing for the place, which is being managed by CBRE | FAMECO. FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building: Barclay Bros Building

1510-12 Sansom Street

                Kind of a short one today because this building right here doesn't have much of a history, save for its ugly-ass design. Nonetheless, it shall be called out.
                 Ya know, I really love the 1500 block of Sansom Street... its one of the only streets left in Center City that harkens back to the city's early-mid 20th Century look, when small formerly residential and commercial buildings would get stuffed to the gills with retail stores and offices, each putting up signs that stuck out into the street. This block is one of the only blocks left that carries that old spirit. However, this building right here fucks up the rhythm of the whole thing. A mid-century shitpile with late 80s alterations. Two horrible time periods in architectural design combine for one ugly-ass building.
                It started in 1960 when the Barclay Brothers printing firm, makers of blueprints and photostats, decided that their little workspace at 1516 Sansom wasn't enough. They purchased 1510-1512 Sansom Street and kicked all the tenants out. That November, they proposed a new 9,300 square foot reinforced concrete facility designed by W.F. Silliman, a silly man who did a lot of architectural design work in Philly but, from what I can tell, only has one other surviving structure in town (and it sucks too).
                The design got rejected by zoning-- not because it was going to be ugly, but because it had no outdoor space. The code of the time required 5% for this particular parcel. After 4 months of going back and forth with the ZBA, the Barclay Brothers firm's ugly new building was approved. Demolition and construction started in March 1961 and was over by the end of the year.
               Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a photo of the 1961 configuration of the building's facade (it must have been so bad that no one wanted to take a picture of it) but the windows were all in the same places so you get the idea. So what happened that makes it different today? Well, Barclay Brothers got bought out in early 1986 and the building sat vacant for three whole years after that.
               In 1989, the dentist that still works on the third floor of the building today took ownership of the place and gave it a head-to-toe renovation. Included in this was a whole new facade designed by a firm called the Kwait Organization, which sounds like it was named after a Klingon. I'm not sure exactly how much they changed but the construction permit issued September 20th, 1989 states in part:


             Whatever they did, they fucked up. Look at that piece of shit. Dirty-ass cement/fake stone-looking crap for a facade, glass blocks, ribbon windows. Ass! There's nothing much else to say about this place other than IT SUCKS! Fuck it, I'm done.

The crap Barclay Bros Building next to its much better-looking 1890s-built predecessor to the right. Pitifully enough, this was almost the last picture I would ever take. About 15 seconds after I shot this, a car coming out of the parking garage across the street almost ran me over.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia-- End of August, 1915

The Great Mosquito Genocide

           The Summer of 1915 was an especially hot, humid, and rainy one. That particular summer, mosquitoes had become a huge problem and the citizenry blamed the city-owned marshlands and creeks that surrounded Philadelphia at the time. After an entire summer filling pools of standing water with oil and digging trenches to drain marshes, it was decided that in the third week of August, 1915, a mass Mosquito Genocide should take place with what was left of the paltry $3500 the city had set aside (actually increased from $2500 to $3500 in mid-June) in their annual budget for this cause. The target? The marshes around League Island, where it was said that the swarms of mosquitoes were so thick that they cast a shadow over the entire area.
          Fifty employees of the Bureau of Highways surrounded the mosquito epicenter, located just east of Broad Street at Government Avenue, now the exact location of GlaxoSmithKline's fancy new Center City-ditching U.S. headquarters in the Navy Yard. The workers came at the marshes with scythes and then sprayed a whole shitload of "Chinese Punk" incense, so much that people near City Hall were able to smell it. After that, the kerosene made its appearance.
         Though some appreciated this effort, it wasn't enough. The Bureau of Highways was out of money and there were other well-known mosquito transwarp hubs at Cobb's Creek and all along the long-lost Curtin Street Canal. Two days later, a whole mess of realtors got together to complain that home values in South, West, and Southwest Philadelphia were going down because of the mosquito presence and the city better fucking do something about it.
        As it ends up, they did. The budget for mosquito control was increased more than tenfold (thanks to help from Senator Vare) in 1916. The crew handling mosquito breeding grounds were given some extra weaponry (cyanide, specifically) and dirt being moved for new road construction was dumped in existing marshes. Also, eight inspectors were employed to go house to house and eliminate any mosquito-causing situations that might be present.

Fifteen Pall Bearers Needed at 500-pound Man's Funeral

             At the end of August, 1915, one Edward J. Griess of 1540 Butler Street, a century ahead of his time in the Third Wave of the Fat Acceptance Movement, died of a heart attack at age 51. In preparation for his funeral at the Willis G. Hale-designed St. Stephen's Catholic Church, a massive coffin made of solid mahogany was constructed to hold the 500-lb man at the Battersby Funeral Home at Broad and Westmoreland. Once complete, Griess' corpse was somehow placed inside, wrapped up in a shroud because they couldn't find any clothes big enough to fit his 64-inch waist.
            Then they had to find a hearse big enough to carry the 800-lb combined weight of body and casket. They used a carriage normally meant for moving large amounts of cargo for the trip. Fifteen men then pall-beared Griess up the stairs of the church for his service, then hauled the monstrous casket in that big-ass carriage to the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham where he was to be interred in an extra-large plot. 

Griess' house as it appears in Google Streetview. Its a grocery store now... how ironic.

What the Hell is Under City Hall?

           It was time. Due to an extensive transit plan (that included a bunch of subways and els that never got built) created in 1912 after the success of the just-born Market Street Elevated, digging would soon have to begin under City Hall for the first time since the gigantic building was constructed. At that point, the Market Street line jogged around the foundations of City Hall, its builders not wanting to deal with the logistics of going underneath (though they eventually did 1929-34 when they built the modern piece of the MFL that goes under). The Broad Street Line, however, WOULD have to travel under the giant building.
         Things started at the end of August, 1915. S.M. Swaab and the Keystone State Construction Company drilled 10 borings and dug 7 test pits from various points in City Hall's basements to determine what kind of shit was underneath. The result? A lot. Loam, sand, clay, gravel, and mica schist were found at all varying depths and thicknesses. The bedrock varied from 59 feet to 40 feet below ground. Much to the engineer's surprise, no bit of the extremely heavy City Hall's foundation touched bedrock. In fact, the thickness of City Halls' foundation varied between 14 and 32 feet below the surface. How the fuck was this thing even standing?
         The engineers determined that the new subway tunnel 46 feet under the surface would require the movement of 100,000 cubic yards of earth and the blasting of some of the bedrock that was in the way. Also, they would have to underpin City Hall, connecting it to the bedrock underneath.
         This work would take the next five years and City Hall Station did not open for business until 1928.

1915 plan for City Hall Station. Only three of the buildings seen in this drawing still stand. That's a shame.

Dude Gets His Ass Kicked By A Bunch of Chicks

                 Hugo Mulcrane doesn't like beef or pork, he likes chicken. After seeing a few random chickens walking around the city, Mulcrane had a bright idea: sprinkle some chicken feed around and he'll be able to catch one. After trying this out at the corner of Susquehanna and Girard for a few hours, the chickens didn't come. Mulcrane got frantic and started yelling "Chick! Chicken! Chick!" thinking that the chickens would hear him and come callin'.
                  Unfortunately for Mulcrane, some young ladies were walking by and misinterpreted his beckoning. One of them approached and clocked Mulcrane in the face with her parasol, stating "I ain't no chicken." You see, in Philadelphia of 1915, "chick" didn't just mean female, it meant under-aged female. These ladies were pissed off  1) for getting "mashed" on by this crazy bastard who was spreading chicken feed everywhere and 2) for being mistaken for under-aged girls. After the initial parasol attack, the rest ganged up around Mulcrane and proceeded to beat the shit out of him until his cries for help were heard by Sergeant John Hasslett. He rescued Mulcrane and brought him down to the East Girard Police Station.
               After explaining his story to the cops, they advised him to stick to roast beef. In regard to the young ladies, Mulcrane stated "I wouldn't of had any of 'em anyhow."

The scene in the incident as seen in Google Streetview

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fill This Front: 13th and Spruce

1300 Spruce Street

            Well, its about fucking time that this place became available to lease! Despite what people may tell you, this awesome location at the corner of 13th and Spruce has NEVER had a retail/restaurant space on its ground floor. Now that it finally has one (and a front door), let's get this crazy sucker filled.
            This space is the first floor of a building composed of some combined buildings that started construction in the early 19th Century. Additions were later built connecting 1300 Spruce to 300 South 13th by the 1890s, when Dr. William Hunt lived there. A little over 100 years ago, the Civic Club of Philadelphia (a club that advocated for women's rights and interests) and the College Club (a club for women that had just finished college that had a lot of the same members) pooled their resources to create a common clubhouse with this property, much improved over the couple of rooms in members' houses they had been using up to that point.
            Everyone started calling the building "the Civic Club" even though a whole bunch of other clubs started using the building as well. By the 1940s, the building was fully owned and utilized by the Locust Mid-City Club (later Locust Club), a mercantile club that people used to call the "Jewish Union League". They had been meeting at 1300 Spruce since 1921. In 1960, they put the place up for sale and in 1961 moved to the 1600 block of Locust, which must have been nice. After all, after 40 years of being called the "Locust Club", they finally got to be on Locust Street.
          After the move, the place came under the ownership of the International Institute, a non-profit that assisted immigrants and refugees. They changed their name to the Nationalities Resource Center in 1963 and then spent the next 4 decades located at 1300 Spruce.

           In 2006, probably taking advantage of the increase in property values in the neighborhood at the time, they put the place up for sale and moved out to the old Young, Smyth, and Field Building at 1216 Arch Street. In July 2007 Hartford Omega LLC, a Hartford, CT-based apartment operator, bought the place for $1.575 million and had Alesker and Dundon architects put together a plan to turn it into residential with retail on the first floor.
           For some reason or another, it never got done. They put the property back up for sale in 2009. In July 2011, Coneast Properties out of Great Neck, NY bought 1300 Spruce for $1.25 million and came up with their own residential-with-retail plan under the designs of Frank Kakos. A couple of years went by until the renovation started, but now seems to be complete. The biggest change to the building, of course, was the restoration of its front door, something it hasn't had in over 100 years. Now its time to get this thing filled.
Bluepring from the Michael Salove Company, who is managing the space
                This is the 4,000 square foot retail space (and basement) at 1300 Spruce Street, located in the Midtown Village/Gayborhood section of Washington Square West. It comes with an entrance on Spruce Street, an accessible entrance from 13th Street, an outdoor courtyard section, and parking spaces off of Cypress Street in back. Its location is awesome and can be the catalyst that brings the 13th Street shopping/restaurant district of Midtown Village further south, connecting it with both the retail area of 13th Street that is centered around 13th/Pine and the mini-restaurant row along the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Spruce.
               The space is also easily accessible by non-auto-based options: A block from the Broad Street Line concourse and close to several bus lines including the 23, the most heavily used in the system. Its also at the crossroads of two bike lanes! This is one of the most highly anticipated commercial spaces to come online in a long time. Throw your newest, coolest restaurant in here or think of any other use! The listing also shows a blueprint of how this place could be converted to medical offices!
             Ok, so the infamous Parker-Spruce is catercorner. Are you gonna let that stop you? The new cafe in the new building next to it is doing great!! The place is currently going for $25 per square foot per year, aka $100k/year. The place is fully sprinklered and just-renovated.
             Pick this place up while the gettin's good! Its time to FILL THIS FRONT!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Lacey & Phillips Building

30-32 South 7th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
              This lovely bitch-bastard has been empty for over 8 years-- I started this as a Fill This Front regarding the old skateboard shop on the first floor, only to find that this building's history is way more interesting. Check it out at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fill This Front: Kaufmann's Event Hall

1323-25 South Street

Owned by a doctor that works down the street
Is this shitty storefront, anything but neat
People say it was built Nineteen Eleven
But really its from Nineteen Thirty-Seven
That's back when Segal's Nickelodeon fell
And then this was built after it went to Hell 
I'm sure back then in its day it looked just fine
Designed by architect J. Ethan Feldstein
For the Kaufmann Family to make some bread
Event hall with apartments-- low overhead
 Over decades the Kaufmanns made a huge stack,
Also owned the Rodman Street house on the back

In the Mid-Twentieth, the hood went to shit
Huge projects built nearby did not help one bit
When Kauffman's event hall was left in the lurch
 Came Macedonia Congregation Church
The last use I think this building's ever had
And if I'm right about that, it's fucking sad

This shitbird is Forty-Five Hundred square feet
With a nice parking space off of Rodman Street
Access from the 40 Bus and Broad Street Line
 You'd think this would be able to fill just fine.

Although very few of their names are supplied,
A great many have failed, but many have tried
Theater troupe, tanning salon, Juniper Bar
Just a small few that tried but could not get far
Ev'ry time, things managed to get in their way,
Two even got approval from ZBA

So what the hell is wrong? How can this be?
After all these years and nearby building spree
That someone can't come along and save this spot
From all the shitty blight, plywood, trash and rot
Call that number on the sign and say it sucks
That the place is empty... then offer 5 bucks
Take a risk like it's a fucking baseball bunt
You can be the hero that will FILL THIS FRONT!!!