Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Parkway's Youth Study Center

An odd place for a Juvenile Detention Center, the Youth Study Center, at what is now the construction site of the Barnes Museum, was designed in 1948 by Carroll, Grisdale, and Van Alen.

The impressive (or depressing) International Style structure shared the Parkway with museums, fountains, and monuments. Two sculptures by Waldenmar Raemisch, an escapee from a Nazi prison, add one of the only human elements to the foreboding edifice. The Great Doctor and The Great Mother shared a wall with a camp for the city's homeless, and have since been moved to the Microsoft School.

It wasn't always bad. The Youth Study Center of 1948 was hardly the revolving-door juvenile prison system we know today. True, our cultural avenue is hardly the first place one would expect to find any sort of correctional facility, but perhaps its proximity to our vast houses of free knowledge was part of the city's reason behind choosing its location.

Was the Youth Study Center cold? Yes. Much like the PSFS Building and a number of other early or mid-century designs, International Style attempted to strip architecture of the irrelevant decadence of a past that led us into the Great Depression. And on some levels these architects were right. But is it ugly? That remains debatable. Sure, the uncleaned walls and dirty windows only complimented the homeless that lined its windowless facade, but as a design, it's wasn't bad. It respected its space and surroundings, it had a message, it served a purpose, and as a product of its time it can be appreciated aesthetically. It's ugly the way the works of Frank Furness or Willis Hale were ugly.

Given time, and a new purpose, the city's Youth Study Center could have seen popular praise. Certainly someone will one day be scouring archives of our old 20th Century City and come across its picture, and like we so often say of the Victorian and Colonial losses of our history, they will wonder why we didn't appreciate something so unique.


  1. You have to be kidding me.............unique???? It was never appreciated because it was ugly.

  2. First, the sculptor's name is spelled Waldemar not Waldenmar and he was not in a Nazi prison. He left Hitler's Germany as his wife was Jewish. Second, the YSC structure was about as inviting as some of the former Byberry buildings were. I think if they had a vote on some of the most austere pieces of architecture in Philly, this one would have won hands down. There are sewerage treatment plants that have more character.