UPDATE: The Hotel Plaza in Camden is coming down

In November of 2010 I wrote a post about this great hotel in Camden, The Hotel Plaza.  Even the name is great, it’s like when you add the noun before the name somehow it sounds fancier. Seriously, The Hotel Plaza vs. The Plaza Hotel.  Or like Applebee’s Restuarant vs. The Restaurant Applebee’s.  I almost feel like I need a monocle and a top hat to even talk about this place.

Unfortuantely, regardless of how fancy The Hotel Plaza used to be, we all know what Camden is like now and there is no need for fancy hotels.

I got an update from a reader the other day informing me that demolition had started on The Hotel Plaza. He forwarded me the pictures below, thanks Mike!  Yet another great building and tie to our past that’s lost.

The Hotel Plaza Demo

Demolition of The Hotel Plaza, Camden. ©Michael Burke.

The Hotel Plaza Demo 1

Demolition of The Hotel Plaza, Camden. ©Michael Burke.

The Hotel Plaza Demo 2

Demolition of The Hotel Plaza, Camden. ©Michael Burke.

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Obligatory Divine Lorraine Post

The Divine Lorraine. 05.2012 ©sbethy

If you live in Philly, you know the Divine Lorraine.  It’s that amazing architectural relic at the intersection on Broad and Fairmount that has, sadly enough,  been in a steady state of disrepair since the early 2000’s.

This is the building of my dreams.  When I describe my dream job to people I say, I want to redesign the Divine Lorraine.  Keep the historic aesthetic while rehabbing the interior.  Half historic preservation and half interior design.  Perfect.  Unfortunately that will probably never happen, at least with the DL.  Rumors are always swirling about this treasure that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002.  After a March 20th roof fire, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection put a”repair or demolish” notice on the front door.  However, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger stated it’s an attempt to make the building more secure.  So preservationists, fear not.

There are tons of websites that detail the long and pretty fascinating history of the building so that’s not what this post is about.  Back in September I posted about the Hale Building in Center City and hinted to a post about another building, this building.  But what’s the connection?  Willis G. Hale.  The architect of the Hale Building is also the architect of this amazing building.  If you look carefully you can see similar elements that hint to Hale’s architectural style.

  • For a basic history of the building visit it’s Wikipedia Page.
  • A Citypaper article from 2005 showing interior photos before the dismantling.
  • An amazing blog post from 2011 with photos documenting the dismantling on the buildings interior
  • More information on Father Divine and The Universal Peace Movement

And for those dedicated readers that don’t want to schlep over to another site here are some quick tidbits…

  • Designed by architect Willis G. Hale and built between 1892 and 1894
  • Originally functioned as apartments for Philadelphia’s wealthy
  • First hotel in Philadelphia to be racially integrated under Father Divine
  • One of the first high rises in Philadelphia
  • Father Divine, leader of the Universal Peace Mission Movement bought the building in 1948,  for $485,000
  • According to Wikipedia: “The Divine Lorraine was open to all races and religions, men and women who were willing to follow the rules of the movement. Among others, the rules included no smoking, no drinking, no profanity, and no undue mixing of the sexes, with men and women residing on different floors of the building. Additionally, guests and residents were expected to uphold a certain level of modesty, meaning that women were expected to wear long skirts – pants were not allowed. Believing that all people were equal in the sight of God, Father Divine was involved in many social welfare activities as well. For example, after purchasing the hotel, several parts of it were transformed for public use. The 10th-floor auditorium was converted to a place of worship. The movement also opened the kitchen on the first floor as a public dining room where persons from the community were able to purchase and eat low-cost meals for 25 cents.”
  • It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 as a site significant in terms of both architectural and civil rights history

What’s happening now?
That’s a fabulous question.  There is constantly talk about investors, reuse and rehabilitation but nothing concrete has been announced yet.  Most recently there has been talk of turning it into a ‘hybrid campus‘ for local high schools and a local architect proposes  a “full-service funerary center and crematorium. It would be the nation’s tallest columbarium, a multi-person vault for the storage of funerary ashes and personal mementos.”  While I’m not thrilled with either of these ideas, I just want to see this gem saved.  And, if I can get a job out of it, even better.  Just sayin.

Historic Marker at The Divine Lorraine. 05.2012 ©sbethy

Historic Marker at The Divine Lorraine. 05.2012 ©sbethy

The Divine Lorraine. 05.2012 ©sbethy

The Divine Lorraine. 05.2012 ©sbethy

Divine Lorraine Sign 05.2012 ©sbethy

Exterior- Divine Lorraine  05.2012 ©sbethy

East side of the Divine Lorraine 05.2012 ©sbethy

Posted in historic preservation, Philadelphia, preservation, Uncategorized, under-utilized, urban exploration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Hale Building 1326-1328 Chestnut Street


The Hale Building. Northwest corner of Juniper and Sansom. 09.2011 ©sbethy

Oh my gosh, I knew it had been a long time but I had no idea how long it had been.  My apologies to my five readers. But as a reward for your patience my next two buildings are amazing.  Aren’t you relieved?

Let me introduce to you to the Hale Building.  Located at 1326-28 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia it was designed by Willis G. Hale in 1887.  The first time I noticed this building, I didn’t actually notice this building.  What I did notice was the sign on the facade of the second floor that said “Drucker’s Bellevue Health Baths Saunas 4th Floor.”  The building was boarded up and honestly I didn’t even notice the building as a whole, but was always intrigued by that sign.  What is a Health Bath anyway?  Rumor has it in the late ’60s and early ’70s Drucker’s was apparently a bathhouse serving the gay community

Willis Hale was active in the late 19th century and was known for his highly ornate style. Unfortunately for him, that style quickly fell out of fashion in the 20th century. While he was admired by fellow architects while alive, after his death Hale’s work was criticized most noticeably by critic Montgomery Schuyler when he described Hale’s work as “revolting” and “irrational.”

But if you ask me, this building is amazing.  If you take a step back and look at it from across the street you see that it is in fact unbelievably ornate, but I don’t see anything wrong with that.  Architecture critics can be so pretentious.


Chestnut Street facade. 09.14.11 ©sbethy

I will admit that there is a lot going on here, and the buildings asymmetry can be unnerving but I feel buildings as bedecked as this one offer a warmth and display of craftsmanship often missing from today’s architecture. (Uh-oh, now who’s pretentious.)

The building was originally altered shortly after it was completed when a street level store front was added as seen in the photo below.

1903 Facade

Original facade and the facade as it looked in 1903. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Philadelphia.

Subsequently, the street level facade went thorough five alterations giving the building a more modern and ultimately hideous disjointed facade.

Hale facades

The different facades of The Hale Building.

What’s Happening Now?
Last year, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved a storefront design proposed by developer Alon Barzilay and architects JKR Partners to turn the building into a boutique hotel and restaurant.  The team pledges to faithfully restore the majority of the building’s ornate exterior and to replace the current 1960s-era storefront with a contemporary glass one.  While the commission approved the design in concept, they request that more substantial masonry materials be added to the storefront.  Plans must be resubmitted before any work on the site begins.1


The proposed facade for the new hotel to be located in the Hale Building. Courtesy of the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia.

In spite of the commissions approval, some believe that the new design is poorly integrated into the existing historic fabric, lacks the compatibility of material, color, and texture appropriate to a landmark rehabilitation.  To that I say, “Have you seen what’s there now!?”

As a side note:
The most interesting tidbit I came across when researching this building has nothing to do with the architecture.  One of the original tenants of the building, Keystone National Bank, was forced closed by the Controller of the Treasury on March 20, 1891.  The bank president, Gideon W. Marsh issued a letter stating the bank was suffering the effects of a run made on it after it’s rumored solvency and that an “earnest effort” to restore the bank will happen immediately.  After releasing that letter, Mr. Marsh absconded and additional investigation revealed the most reckless and criminal use of the bank’s funds perpetrated by the president.  Seven years later, Gideon W. Marsh turned himself in and pled guilty ultimately landing him in Eastern State Penitentiary.  The moral of the story, some things never change.

Bank President

Newspaper clipping of fugitive bank President Gideon W. Marsh

Before and After

Left- an artist rendering of the SW corner of Chestnut Street , home to then Surgeon General Dr. Charles Barton. Right- The same corner occupied in this photo by Keystone Bank. ©The Philadelphia Inquirer 9.27.36

Keystone Ephemera

Ephemera for the Keystone National Bank c.1900. Courtesy of the Campbell Collection, the Historical Society of Philadelphia

Central Savings Bank

Ephemera for the Central Savings Fund, Trust & Safe Deposit Company c. 1903. Courtesy of the Campbell Collection, The Historical Society of Philadelphia

Hale Sketch

Artist rendering of the Hale Building, then known as the J.C. Lucas Building. Courtesy of the Campbell Collection, The Historical Society of Philadelphia

Juniper Street

The Juniper Street facade of The Hale Building. 09.2011 ©sbethy

Detail Work

Close up showing how the current facade interacts with the historic fabric of the building. 09.2011 ©sbethy


The back of the Hale Building on Sansom Street. 09.2011 ©sbethy

Close up

Close up of masonry details at the rear of the Hale Building. 09.2011©sbethy

Information gathered from:
Failure Of The Keystone National Bank
The Preservation Alliance
Philadelphia Speaks
The New York Times

Posted in building, historic preservation, Philadelphia, preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Proctor’s Theater- Troy, NY

Proctor's Marquee
Proctor’s Marquee- Troy, N.Y. 11.20.10 ©sbethy

So exciting- the first post submitted by a reader!  That’s right, I have readers!  So for all you Capital District readers, this isn’t the Proctor’s in Schenectady, that one is alive and well.  Here we have Proctor’s in Troy- you know that place across the river.

Once home to a thriving steel industry, two professional baseball teams (in the late 1800’s ) Jane Fonda and Uncle Sam, Troy has been suffering from a lagging economy and urban flight for decades.  In the 70’s, in an unsuccessful attempt at urban renewal, several downtown blocks were razed *GASP*.  Luckily, today, there are much more successful efforts to preserve the historic structures that are left downtown in an attempt to revitalize Troy. Currently, there is an antique district filled with galleries, cafes and of course antique shops, a year-round farmer’s market and numerous festivals.

For a city almost completely destroyed by fire three, yes, three times the amount of intact original architecture is astounding.  Don’t believe me, just watch ‘The Age of Innocence.’ While Proctor’s Theater doesn’t date from the Victorian age of architecture, this amazing historic building it is just another example of the once prosperous past of a troubled city and the many possibilities for it’s renewal.

Some History:

  • Built in 1914 by Frederick F. Proctor with Arlard Johnson as the designer
  • Proctor is also the man behind Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady and other Vaudeville theaters in Albany and New York City
  • It cost $325,000 to build and was at the time the largest theater in the state
  • Originally built for high class vaudeville, the theater later adapted to show movies
  • Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, and Bob Hope performed at Proctor’s
  • The building is constructed of brick and marble and covered in glazed terra-cotta
  • Proctor’s attendance began to decline as a result of urban flight in the mid-20th century
  • The theater closed in 1977
  • It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979
  • RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) purchased the building in 2004

What’s happening now?
So as far as I can tell RPI still owns the building and there have been numerous plans to adapt the building.  One horrifying plan proposed to use a state grant to gut the interior and replace it with office space and restore the facade.  This caused quite the uproar amongst the community and preservationists and it has since been taken off the table.  As of March 2010, the plan has been to renovate Proctor’s with the goal of moving City Hall to the historic site.  The theater space will be ‘untouched’ (I’m not sure if this means literally untouched or restored as a theater space but I think you know what my stance on that is), the first floor will contain retail space and the offices will be located on the upper levels. This, to me sounds like a fabulous idea- so long as they restore the theater space and lobby and use it wisely.

What can you do?
Visit Save Proctor’s Theater to sign their online petition, donate, or sign up to help!

4th Street facade. 11.20.10 ©sbethy

4th Street marquee and facade. 11.20.10. ©sbethy

Proctor's shortly after opening. Source- Don Rittner:www.timesunion.com

Historic marquee. Source- Save Proctor's Theater.

Theater boxes then and now. Source- Save Proctor's Theater.

Stage. Oh, the stage. Source- Save Proctor's Theater.

Theater lobby- then and now. Source- Save Proctor's Theater

Theater hallway. Source- Save Proctor's Theater.

Lobby ceiling 11.20.10. ©sbethy.

Facade details. 11.20.10. ©sbethy

Facade gargoyles. 11.20.10. ©sbethy

Facade stone work and lion head gargoyles. 11.20.10. ©sbethy

Exposed brick under deteriorated terra cotta under the marquee. 11.20.10. ©sbethy.

I haven’t been in the building, (but if anyone who reads this has that sort of power, I want in) but the photos tell a convincing story.  Nothing is built like this anymore, noth-ing. Spend the money and restore this- it’s structurally sound.  Apply for grants- local, state, federal, fund raise, I don’t care.  This is a vaudeville theater- marquee, velvet curtain, vaulted ceilings- as I type this I really can’t believe people need to be convinced.

I know it may be a financial challenge, but I have ideas for that too- but I won’t get into that here.

Information gathered from:
Save Proctor’s Theater
Firms have plan to make Proctor’s new City Hall
Will Troy’s Proctor’s finally be saved?
Proctor’s Theater
Troy, NY

Posted in building, historic preservation, New York, Uncategorized, under-utilized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SS United States Conservancy Philadelphia Fundraiser

As I work on the newest entry… it’ll be a good one I promise… the first building submitted by a reader… here’s some action you can take if you’re in the Philadelphia area.  A group I recently became involved with, the SS United Stated Conservancy is having a fundraiser on Tuesday December 14 at the Prime Rib in Philadelphia from 5pm – 7:30pm.

The cost is $20 and all proceeds will go directly to the Conservancy!  Can’t beat that.  Now, learn more here and I’m taking names so you better be there!

For those of you in the area, it’s the big ship down by IKEA.  It’s got a great story- you can read more about it here.

I hope to see some of you there!

Posted in historic preservation, Philadelphia, preservation, under-utilized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Hotel Plaza

Plaza Club Hotel

Hotel Plaza- Camden, NJ. 11.2010 ©sbethy

OK, this place is amazing.  Located in Camden, I first saw it coming home from a Riversharks game and I was immediately intrigued.  Let’s start by saying you probably know Camden (if at all) for it’s pretty bad reputation.  It has definitely spent some time as the nations most dangerous city (most recently in 2009– while Colonie, NY was ranked as the nations safest- Shot out!).  But what people often forget is that Camden was once a unbelievably vibrant and industrial city.
It’s hard for me to be in Camden and not because I fear for my life, but because the proof of the city’s opulant past is on every street and there is so much frustration in the fact that the city is at such a low point.  The bones are still there, the city just needs a lot of help. That’s the ironic thing about a city in such a state of urban decay.  Because Camden is in the state it’s in, there is no desire for development. Meaning, no one is coming in razing existing buildings to build CVS’ and Targets so the great architectural infrastructure is still standing (for the most part).  On the other hand, all these great buildings are sitting empty for so long it’s a shame there is no use for them and unfortunately by the time Camden does has the use for them, chances are they’ll be structurally unsound.

This isn’t a post on Camden itself as I’m not an expert.  All I know is that it used to be a prosperous city and now it’s not.  At all.  But just in case you don’t know about Camden a brief  50ish word lesson to bring you up to date-
In the late 19th and early 20th century it was a transportation hub and home to thriving woolen mills, carriage factories, blacksmiths, and even the Victor Talking Machine Company (eventually RCA Victor), as these manufacturers left Camden it’s economic downturn began and unfortunately it hasn’t stopped.  Today, Camden is most known for its aquarium, baseball team, Campbells Soup Company headquarters and its dangerous reputation.

Now onto the amazing, sadly abandoned Hotel Plaza.  There is VERY little I was able to find online about the hotel which makes this even more intriguing and a great candidate for me to spend some time doing archival research on.  When (ok “if”) I get around to that I’ll update the post with all my findings (I’m very optimistic).

Some History:

  • The hotel was built in 1927
  • Rumored to have been remodeled in 1947
  • Hotel was further modernized in 1950 (see article below)
  • Originally called the Plaza Club Hotel
  • The hotel was closed in 1985

What’s happening now?
Nada. Nothing.  Camden is trying.  The Aquarium and Riversharks stadium along the river are proof that they are and that it can work.  Currently, Rutgers is building an Early Learning Research Academy directly across the street from the Hotel Plaza slated to open in 2011.  I can only see that as a sign of hope.

Hotel Plaza

Hotel Plaza from across Cooper Street. 11.2010 ©sbethy

Plaza Club Hotel Postcard

Plaza Club Hotel Postcard. Courtesy of Paul W. Schopp Collection


Hotel Plaza Postcard

Hotel Plaza Postcard

Hotel Plaza sign

Hotel Plaza Sign. 11.2010 ©sbethy

Hotel Plaza Sign

Hotel Plaza Neon Sign. 11.2010 ©sbethy


Exterior Detail. 11.2010 ©sbethy



Hotel Plaza Medallions

Hotel Plaza Exterior Medallion Detail. 11.2010 ©sbethy

Cooper Street

Hotel Plaza on Cooper Street. 11.2010 ©sbethy


Rutgers sign

Rutgers development across Cooper Street from the Hotel Plaza. 11.2010 ©sbethy


Camden Courier Post Article

Camden Courier-Post Article from June 2, 1950


Plaza Motor Hotel Breakfast Menu circa 1964

Information gathered from:
The New York Times
Cached version of this random website: http://www.dvrbs.com/camden/CamdenNJ-PlazaHotel.htm

Posted in building, historic preservation, New Jersey, preservation, under-utilized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

New York Smallpox Hospital- aka ‘Renwick Ruin’

Smallpox Hospital Roosevelt Island

Renwick Ruin at the South end of Roosevelt Island- 2004ish. ©sbethy

Ok, now this is my favorite kind of site. Maybe because it’s spooky or maybe because it’s in NYC all I can say is that in general, I love architectural ruins. I traveled up and down the FDR along the East River for years on trips to visit my grandparents and I never noticed this building.  Once you know it’s there you can’t miss it- it’s not hidden, it just somehow blends in to its environs. I was lucky enough to gain access to the site in (I believe 2004) when it was off limits to the public through Open House NY.  When I found out that there was such an amazing ruin hidden in plain sight, it was a rush of excitement and curiosity.

Architectural ruins are almost more meaningful to me than restored spaces. Think about it, more is left to the imagination with a ruin.  No one has been through the site carefully restoring it to a chosen time period, but rather the mission is to keep the structure sound enough so it doesn’t fall down.  It seems easier to wander the grounds of a site like this and imagine the building in its original form, imagine the patients, the sounds they heard coming from Manhattan and the East River.  Plus for those of us who like spooky, it’s easier to believe that the site is still inhabited by some of its former tenants.

Some History:

  • Constructed in 1856 from designs by James Renwick, Jr. who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral
  • Originally constructed for the treatment of that “loathsome malady,” smallpox, New York residents afflicted with the disease were quarantined by law at the hospital on “Blackwell’s Island” (the name of Roosevelt Island at the time).
  • In 1875 the Smallpox Hospital became available to house nurses for a training program after a new hospital for the treatment of smallpox and other contagious diseases was built on North Brothers Island- where Typhoid Mary was quarantined for three years.
  • In 1921, Blackwell’s Island was renamed Welfare Island because of the general nature of its use.
  • In the 1950’s the hospital was abandoned
  • The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972
  • The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1976 (To this day it is the only ‘ruin’ listed)
  • In December of 2007 part of the North facade collapsed

What’s happening now?
Since the collapse in 2007, the Renwick Ruin has been completely stabilized for a low, low cost of $4.5 million dollars and is now open to the public.  The Trust for Public Land oversaw the stabilization which occurred just in time for the construction of Louis I. Kahn’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park which was originally proposed in 1973.


Four Freedoms Park

Final design of Four Freedoms Park with the Smallpox Hospital at the North end. Courtesy of http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/


Smallpox Hopsital, Roosevelt Island, NYC. Courtesy of Roosevelt Island Historic Society.

Information gathered from:
Roosevelt Island Historical Society
Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park
New York Times

Posted in building, New York, preservation, urban exploration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments