Ballet’s plan for N. Broad would raze building in Callowhill historic district

Ballet’s plan for N. Broad would raze building in Callowhill historic district

CIHD: Terminal Commerce Building

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

Terminal Commerce Building (view 1)The former Terminal Commerce Building, the headquarters for the Reading Railroad, was “one of the premier buildings in the city,” according to Powers & Company, Inc. This building was recognized with listing on the National Register in 1996, well before the incorporation of CIHD. Built by William Steele & Sons, the building features polychrome Art Deco ornamentation on the upper levels of the Terminal Commerce Building.

Terminal Commerce Building (view 2)The railroad, of course, had a major role in the development of the district. In the 1830s, the Reading Railroad laid tracks along Noble Street that ran to the Delaware River. As part of their construction of the Reading Terminal Train Shed and Head House, the Wilson Brothers — whose 300 projects in the city included the “Chinese Wall” viaduct for the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Broad Street Station train shed — elevated a branch of the tracks to connect directly into the Reading Terminal. “The Reading Viaduct was important for bringing commerce into the Terminal and the associated development that took place because of its proximity to the Terminal,” Power said.

The construction of the Terminal Commerce Building at Broad and Callowhill firmly established the presence of the rail industry in the district.

http://planphilly.com/gritty-callowhill-recognized-national-historic-district

Terminal Commerce Building (view 3)

Occupying an entire city block at Broad and Callowhill Streets, this structure was touted as being the largest commercial warehouse building in the nation when completed in 1930. The Terminal Commerce Building cost $4 million to construct and was built by William Steele & Sons, a longstanding Philadelphia construction firm. The building offered about 13 million square feet of floor space, including showrooms and offices for the numerous firms that made their headquarters there. The massive edifice even had a freight station beneath it, which replaced the Reading’s North Broad Street Freight Station and rail yard that had previously been on the site. Rail service was provided by the Reading’s now-abandoned “City Branch” right-of-way, which passed underneath. The Terminal Commerce Building was reputedly used to manufacture tanks during WWII. And from the 1940s to 1973, it was the main U.S. Army Induction Center in Philadelphia, striking fear in the young men who entered or even passed by it. The Reading Railroad sold the structure in 1955, whereupon it became known as the North American Building. By the 1980s, it had become a low-rent office and light-industrial center. It more recently has been repositioned as a “carrier hotel” housing telecommunications, computer and other high-tech equipment. There are dozens of fiber optic lines into the building, large Internet servers, huge back-up power generators, and a number of telecom tenants.

http://www.workshopoftheworld.com/center_city/terminal_commerce.html

CIHD: Former City Morgue

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

According to PlanPhilly, the former City Morgue was, “built by Philip Johnson in the 1920s in the Mission Revival style.” By David Lynch’s own admission, the influence of this building is seen throughout his body of work:

“The house I moved into was across the street from the morgue, next door to Pop’s Diner. The area had a great mood – factories, smoke, railroads, diners, the strangest characters, the darkest nights. The people had stories etched in their faces, and I saw vivid images-plastic curtains held together with Band-Aids, rags stuffed in broken windows, walking through the morgue en-route to a hamburger joint.”

http://www.thecityofabsurdity.com/quotecollection/philly.html

Emanuel Levy writes in Cinema of Outsiders: The Rise of American Independent Film:

Deep-seated anxieties goaded Lynch into art, growing out of his fear of big cities—first New York, then Philadelphia. Like the human ear that Blue Velvet’s hero finds in a littered field, a visit to a Philadelphia morgue impelled Lynch to go beneath the surface of things.

The careful observer can even see images of a similar building appearing repeatedly in films as late as Inland Empire.

Now serving as an annex to Roman Catholic High School around the block at Broad and Vine, this building remains mostly unchanged in appearance. Presumably the youth attending this school whisper of the history of their annex, sharing that delicious chill only those who still retain innocence can truly enjoy.

CIHD: The Packard Motor Car Building

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

Panorama 777According to Reinhold Residential, current property managers for apartments housed in Philadelphia’s Packard Building, the site:

…dates back to 1910, when Packard Motors commissioned acclaimed Detroit architect Alfred Kahn to design a showroom and assembly plant in Philadelphia. This grand limestone and terracotta trimmed building with hand-carved cornices and oversized windows, was unlike anything the city had seen before.

Panorama 776While it is easy to recognize a slightly hyperbolic tone in this excerpt from their marketing literature, I would put the stress on the word, “slightly.” Like most of the dedicated edifices within CIHD, The Packard is a very special building from a lost era.

The Philadelphia Examiner, hopefully a somewhat more detached source, gushes nearly as openly about the property:

The seven story structure is a steel frame, reinforced concrete masterpiece that is clad in terra cotta exterior ornamentation befitting a palace built by one of the top luxury car manufacturer of the day.

Inside, the two-story lobby has been restored to look like it did back in 1910 and is quite lavish in its decor.  From the chandeliers, to the ornate cast plaster ceilings, to the mahogany paneling and woodwork, you can still imagine a wealthy customer sitting down to order a custom bodied town car or a merchant such as John Wanamaker’s department store, purchasing another Packard truck for their delivery fleet. Upon its completion, it served as the cornerstone of a motor car business corridor that developed along North Broad street and put Philadelphia on the map as a hub of automobile manufacturing a hundred years ago.

Of course, today the building speaks for itself.

Panorama 778

CIHD: The Rebman Building

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

Just North of Reading Viaduct stands the 1903 Rebman Building, at 429 N. 13th St. built by architectural firm Ballinger & Perot, who later built the Atwater Kent Radio Plant on Wissahickon Avenue. This was one of the first of the Eraserhood factory buildings converted to lofts.

 

 

 

CIHD: Goodman Brothers and Hinlein Company Building

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

Immediately to the north of Carlton Street from the Heid Building stands 1238 Callowhill Street. Originally the Goodman Brothers and Hinlein Company, a dress trimmings manufacturing business, this building was dedicated on March 7, 1985, 25 years before the dedication of CIHD.

Now known as Beaux Arts Lofts, 1238 Callowhill was also the first building in CIHD to be converted into residential living space in 1995. Prior to this, according to http://www.beauxartslofts.com/about.html, the aforementioned Goodman Brothers and Hinlein “remained at 1238 Callowhill Street until the 1930’s when, reflecting the growth of the newspaper and printing industries in the area of Broad and Vine Streets, the building was taken over by a lithographic printing company.” (Those familiar with Eraserhead will remember the main character worked for a printing company.)

Also according to the Beaux Arts website:

One of the most respected architectural and engineering firms during the twentieth century, Ballinger & Perrot, later known as the Ballinger Company is responsible for the design and construction of 1238 Callowhill Street. Ballinger and Perrot was among the first in Philadelphia to experiment with reinforced concrete, paving the way for multi-story industrial buildings, which would ultimately alter the shape and appearance of industrial architecture to taller buildings, which offered large, light filled spaces. When 1238 Callowhill Street was completed in 1909, it became the tallest reinforced concrete warehouse structure of the period, and it was held up as a classic example of reinforced concrete design for multi-story buildings.

Today this classic design and style still sets the tone of the neighborhood. Overlooking the open space between 12th and 13th Streets, adjacent to the Viaduct, where the Reading Railroad once maintained a coal yard, 1238 Callowhill offers clear vistas north toward Spring Garden and West toward Broad, including views of many of the other contributing buildings in CIHD.

CIHD: The Heid Building

The Callowhill Industrial Historic District (CIHD) is bounded by North Broad Street to the west, Hamilton Street to the north, Pearl Street to the south, and 12th Street and the curve of the Reading Railroad Viaduct to the east. It is a relatively small historic district of 66 resources – 39 contributing buildings, one contributing site, one contributing structure, 24 non-contributing sites and one non-contributing building. The early phases of our exploration of The Eraserhood focus on the dedicated buildings within this district.

If the vacant lot on the southeast corner of 13th and Wood where David Lynch lived during the 1966-67 school year is the heart of The Eraserhood, then the Heid building, dominating the northeast corner – and the entire block from 13th to 12th from Wood to Carlton – is the heart of CIHD. The nomination of the CIHD was sparked by the owners of this 1928 envelope factory. The owners sought the help of Powers & Co. to get the Heid listed on the National Register. They were told that the Heid was, “a nice building,” but the state encouraged Powers to look at the possibility of an historic district, instead. The owners agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The eight floor, 80,000 square foot block may be one of the first projects to benefit from CIHD’s new status.

(All information courtesy of Plan Philly. http://planphilly.com/gritty-callowhill-recognized-national-historic-district)

Heart of the Eraserhood

“I just have to think of Philadelphia, now, and I get ideas, I hear the wind, and I’m off into the darkness somewhere.”

– David Lynch, from a 1987 interview with Jeffrey Ferry, collected in David Lynch Interviews, edited by Richard A. Barney

David Lynch came to Philadelphia in 1966, to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. For a year he lived at 13th and Wood Streets, “right kitty-corner from the morgue,” and next door to Pop’s Diner. In myriad interviews Lynch credits his time in Philadelphia with the beginning of his first original ideas. His short residence om 13th Street gave rise to Eraserhead, the movie he calls his, “Philadelphia Story.”

Watching Eraserhead, especially if you have stood at this intersection, this is only a slight stretch to imagine. The buildings on the southeast corner, both where Lynch Lived and the one that held Pop’s Diner, have been razed. (Houses that clearly date to the same era still stand nearby at 13th and Pearl. There’s even a diner of appropriate vintage at 12th and Wood and another at 13th and Vine.) Other than on the actual corner, the architecture of the intersection has changed very little. The northwest corner still holds the building that was the morgue, now owned by Roman Catholic High School. Northeast, the grim facade of the currently closed Heid building frowns down on the site. To the southeast, the back of the Packard Motor Company building houses a truck rental facility.

To really understand the experiences that awoke Lynch’s artistic sensibility, one needs to imagine this corner as it was in 1966, though. Not only were many of the nearby structures still occupied by active manufacturing at the time, complete with the accompanying sounds, but there were three active rail lines, including the Broad Street Subway and two branches of the Reading Viaduct within a one block radius. These sounds are very clearly transmitted to the soundtrack of Eraserhead.

Lynch has stressed how empty and silent the neighborhood became after 5pm in that era. He also claimed, “I only lived at night,” during that era. One is led to imagine him sleeping during the day and working and studying after dark. Clearly, if this vision is at all realistic, the sounds of this neighborhood came to inhabit his dreams… and eventually his work.

Clearly, then, this intersection is the cultural heart of what we now call The Eraserhood. It turns out to also be the heart of Philadelphia’s newest historic district, the Callowhill Industrial Historic District. Standing on the southeast corner and looking north, the bulk of the Heid, the owners of which initiated the investigation leading to the registration of the Callowhill District, building fills one’s view. Peering down the east sidewalk, however, one can also see the red brick facade of the Goodman Brothers Building. Further down, just past the Noble Street crossing of the Reading Viaduct, the Rebman Brothers Building is visible.

Turning to look east down Wood Street, the stone causeway of the main branch of the Reading Viaduct can be seen clearly a block and a half away. While the southeast corner remains empty today, the previously mentioned Packard Motor Company building still occupies the southwest corner, and the entire block to the southwest, in fact. To the northwest, behind the former morgue, one can just see a bit of the Willys-Overland Motor Company building. Above the morgue, the bulk of the massive Terminal Commerce Building, former headquarters of the Reading Railroad, dominates the skyline.

In all, seven of the contributing buildings are clearly visible from this corner. Currently, much of the grit and grime from this area’s industrial past is still present. Slowly this is destined to change, though. This change will only further make this district an asset to our city. Documentation of the state of this district before the coming transition is critical, as well.

One more word about Lynch, before we’re done this week: Many times Lynch has referred to Philadelphia as “a very sick, twisted, violent, fear-ridden, decadent, decaying place.” While many Philadelphians might come to resent this, even offered with the appropriate historical perspectives, I’d like to go on record as encouraging Lynch to continue saying these things. There are just so very many young, artistic individuals who packed their bags and moved here after watching his films and reading his interviews – to the point where The Eraserhood is now literally burgeoning with artists new arts organizations. I think we’re the better for this. The very act of telling the world how brutal life is here, is instrumental in changing the reality.