Monday, November 30, 2009

We Need an Act of God

How is it that in the darkest days of this country's urbanity - roughly the 60's to the 90s, when the highest contributors to the city's tax stock had fled to the suburbs leaving Philadelphia indebted and corrupt - did we manage to maneuver some of the city's largest civic projects: completely reinventing Society Hill and Independence Mall, The Gallery, Market East Station, I-95, the Vine Street Expressway, and about a dozen skyscrapers on West Market Street? For better or worse, these massive projects got off the ground and got built. We bulldozed about 100 blocks of Philadelphia's history between 1960 and 1990 and reworked miles of highway requiring extensive engineering, yet today in order to develop a vacant and undesirable block of Penn's Landing or Market East takes an act of God.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Groundbreaking at Barnes Museum Site

Some protesters appeared today at the site of the Barnes Museum's groundbreaking ceremony on the Ben Franklin Parkway criticizing the Barnes Museum so called pork barrel spending, some going as far as to say it is a playground for the "rich and famous".

I'm not sure how the Barnes Museum can be labeled a playground for the "rich and famous", or even criticized as wasteful spending. If anything, relocating to the Parkway makes it more accessible to everyone, and not just those poised to drive to Lower Merion.

If the "rich and famous" are the only ones visiting the Barnes museum, the only ones to blame are the "poor and unknown". In a city more likely to invest in block parties for baseball fans than libraries and textbooks, any investment in culture and education is an investment in everyone.

Art and culture become invaluable in economic hard times. As families are less able to invest in wasteful gadgets and expensive trinkets that retain children's stunted attention for a matter of days, artwork has the potential to become a reluctant but enlightening source of entertainment.

Reading Terminal

Although it no longer serves as a railroad station, Reading Terminal survives today as the headhouse and Market Street entrance for the Pennsylvania Convention Center, as well as a shared entrance to Market East Station, which replaced the Reading Terminal as an active regional rail terminal in 1984.

Reading Terminal Headhouse in the 1950s

The headhouse was designed by Francis H. Kimball and the train shed was designed by Wilson Brothers & Company in 1891 and built in 1893. Ironically demolition was partially staved off by Edmund Bacon, the former city planner notorious for demolishing historic landmarks - including Broad Street Station - and responsible for much of Center City's regretful mid-century "modernization".

Cafe and Bar inside Reading Terminal - 1980s

The new Market East Station was intended to be a sleek replacement for the elevated viaducts that extended from Arch Street northward, by placing the rail lines underground. Although this was intended to clean up the neighborhoods north of Reading Terminal by taking them out of the shadows of the train tracks, the underground lines left Chinatown and the former Furnished Room District littered with surface parking lots that have yet to be redeveloped.

Market East Regional Rail entrance to Reading Terminal prior to relocation.

The Reading Terminal viaduct was demolished from Arch Street for the Pennsylvania Convention Center but still stands at Vine Street, snaking its way through Callowhill towards Northern Liberties. Covered in weeds, the viaduct has received little attention from both preservationists or those interested in demolishing the structure for redevelopment. A few have suggested converting it into a jogging trail similar to New York City's High Line, unfortunately the Reading Viaduct doesn't really go anywhere or adjoin any successful properties. Some have even suggested turning it into a bus or rail line conveniently attaching Center City to the Art Museum, the Zoo, and Fairmount Park.

A regional rail train leaves Reading Terminal on the Reading Viaduct in the 1980s

Reading Terminal still houses a public market, originally established at 12th and Market in 1859 as Franklin Market and Farmer's Market. When the terminal was built, these markets were consolidated as Reading Terminal Market in 1893. Reading Terminal Market still thrives today as one of the nation's oldest (if not the oldest) farmer's markets.

Reading Terminal Headhouse today at 12th and Market

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arcade Building

Another unlucky victim of West Market's rebirth was the Arcade Building. Built in 1901 with the addition of a massive tower in 1904, it was designed by Frank Furness. A 1901 rendering of the Arcade Building next to City Hall and Broad Street Station, makes the Arcade Building look much wider than it actually was.

Shown here in the late 1950's with its additional tower, the Arcade Building was later known as the Commercial Trust Building.

Shown from 15th Street with City Hall in the background, the Commercial Trust Building shortly before its demolition which occurred in 1969, which made way for Dilworth Plaza, eliminating this portion of Broad Street.

Fallen Star on Market West

West Market Street - a district lined with most of the city's contributions to sky scraping architecture - was once home to a number of theaters, shops, apartments, and hotels facing Broad Street Station's "Chinese Wall". A long forgotten gem of this gritty, eclectic strip was the Harrison Building - demolished in 1969 along with the Arcade Building (the domed building in the rear).
At 4 South 15th, the Harrison Building served as an office building and hotel. It was designed by Cope & Stewardson in 1894, with alterations in 1902 and 1912, and razed in 1969 as part of West Market's massive urban renewal project which also included the demolition of Broad Street Station and the Arcade Building.

Centre Square, or rather the Clothes Pin itself, now occupies the site of the Harrison Building. Although many are coming to once again appreciate Brutalist architecture - and Comcast did a good job renovating the entrance to Centre Square, as well as the transportation plaza holding the Clothes Pin - I would love to have seen this brutal presence side by side with the elegant Harrison Building, not to mention the massive Frank Furness Arcade Building across 15th Street framing City Hall with its sister to the East, the Wanamaker Building.

Centre Square was designed by Vincent Kling & Associates in 1973.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trinity Houses

Unique to Philadelphia - though perhaps at one time a few may have existed in New York - the trinity house, also known as a bandbox house or Father, Son, and Holy Ghost house, is a small house usually built for the lowest class of servants. Often built for indentured servants or slaves, the trinity house originally contained one room per floor, hence the name.

Completely against William Penn's original intention for Philadelphia to be a "Greene Country Towne", property owners utilized every bit of land they could, particularly when it came to their servants' quarters. Rather than building a rambling shack for their workers, they stacked the space vertically.

Over time blocks were divided and subdivided repeatedly, leaving the main streets such as Walnut or Chestnut for the wealthy home owners, smaller streets such as Juniper and Camac for servants or the lower class, and even smaller streets off those, and sometimes even smaller streets off those, creating a kind of coiled snail shell within each city block.

It is in these smallest of streets (most cities wouldn't even consider them alleys) that we find the courts that held the trinity houses. Usually built facing each other in rows of four, they are all typically the same. Elfreth's Alley contains a great selection of trinities, although these houses are simply very old and predate the development that led to the large scale production of trinities homes as servant quarters and the interior courtyards recently being rediscovered.

Elfreth's Alley

Typically these houses would contain three floors, a basement kitchen, and a tiny attic. Each floor would be about 100 square feet, contain a fireplace, and be connected by a pocket staircase tucked behind the chimney. The back would contain a cobbled privy. A very good example of a classic servant trinity can be found in Franklin Court behind Market Street.

Franklin Court

Many of the trinities that survive today, many of which can be found in Washington Square and Society Hill, have been modernized and even combined in order to house modern families. Often the privy area and backyards are converted into kitchens or expanded living rooms, some have replaced the pocket staircase with a more convenient staircase, and some have chosen to combine two houses into one. Fishtown, Chinatown, and Northern Liberties still have many examples of well preserved trinities still containing the original layouts which are often used as rentals.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walnut Street Renaissance?

Philadelphia is finally getting its long awaited Apple store at 1607 Walnut. Apple aside, it's a good sign that retail is returning to Walnut Street after the recession caused a temporary exodus. While Walnut Street seems to have retained - and even gained - business for the super rich, it lacks the business that keep most from fleeing to King of Prussia for a day of shopping. That is exactly what the Apple Store represents. Now if we could just see an Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Crate & Barrel, and a dozen other mall staples we could give the suburbs a run for their money.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Speaking of Stadiums

In the spirit of Philadelphia's second consecutive participation in the World Series, here is a rundown of Philadelphia's contribution to the architecture of sport.

Opened in 1887 and demolished in 1950, the Philadelphia Base Ball Grounds or National League Park - known locally as Baker Bowl - at Broad and Huntingdon near Lehigh hosted the Philadelphia Phillies from 1887 to 1938 and the Philadelphia Eagles from 1933 to 1935.

Columbia Park opened in 1901 and was demolished in 1909 and 29th and Cecil B. Moore. It was home to the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1908, the Philadelphia Giants from 1902 to 1908, the Philadelphia Phillies in 1903, and Philadelphia Athletics (NFL) in 1902.

Shibe Park or Connie Mack Stadium opened in 1909 at 20th and Lehigh and was demolished in 1976. Designed by William Steele and Sons it was home to the Philadelphia Athletics from 1909 to 1954, the Philadelphia Phillies from 1938 to 1970, and the Philadelphia Eagles in 1940 and 1942 to 1957.

Shibe Park in the 1970's prior to demolition.

Sesquicentennial Stadium - later known as Philadelphia Municipal Stadium or John F. Kennedy Stadium - was designed by Simon and Simon as part of the 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition. It was demolished in 1992. On South Broad Street in South Philadelphia's Stadium Complex, it housed the Philadelphia Quakers in 1926, the Philadelphia Eagles from 1936 to 1939 and 1941, the Liberty Bowl from 1959 to 1963, the Army-Navy Game from 1936 to 1979, and Philadelphia Bell in 1974.

The Wachovia Spectrum - CoreStates Spectrum, Union Spectrum, or simply the Spectrum - located in South Philadelphia's Sports Complex was opened in 1967 and is due to be demolished in 2010 for Comcast - Spectator's Philly Live! It was home to the Flyers, 76ers, Wings, Phantoms, KiXX, Soul, Freedoms, Bulldogs, and Fever from 1967 to 2009.

Veterans Stadium in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex was designed by Hugh Stubbins and Associates and opened in 1971. It was demolished in 2004. It was home to the Phillies, Eagles, Atoms, Fury, Stars, and Temple University's athletic association.

The Wachovia Center - Spectrum II, CoreStates Center, or the First Union Center - was built on the site of JFK Stadium in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. It was designed by Ellerbe Becket and opened in 1996. It is currently home to the Flyers, 76ers, Wings, and until 2008, Soul.

Lincoln Financial Field in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex was designed by NBBJ Sports and opened in 2003. It is the current home of the Eagles, Union, and Temple Owls.

Citizens Bank Park in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex was designed by Ewing Cole Cherry Brott and HOK Sport and opened in 2004. It is the current home of the Philadelphia Phillies.


I'm sure there are 5,500 capable Philadelphians willing to work a competitive job for a competitive salary. The union goons won't win forever. There's only so much money to go around, and voters only have so much patience. It's not 1950 anymore and if popular opinion is any indication, blind union support is over. It's only a matter of time before the system breaks, bankrupts itself and is forced to reorganize, or the politicians feel the heat from the voters and finally put the union in its place. I have to admit, as unrealistic as it is, I would love to see each and every one of these 5,500 greedy extortionists waiting in the unemployment line tomorrow.