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