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


About sbethy

I have three college degrees including a Masters in Historic Preservation. Since many people aren't hiring preservationists right now I thought this would be a great outlet to document and hopefully publicize amazing buildings that I believe need attention. Originally from NY and currently living in NJ just over the bridge(s) from Philadlephia most of the places I'll feature will be in these areas. If anyone reading this has any buildings they are curious about or love and want to share, let me know and I'll do a little research, take some photos and you'll see the building highlighted. You'll see that I don't tend to focus on pretty buildings that have been perfectly restored. I tend to be drawn to ones that are more in a state of disrepair or are clearly underutilized. There is something about that aesthetic that I am drawn to and makes me wonder about its history- what was it's function, who worked/lived there, who built it, what happened to it, can it be saved? Also, whenever possible I am going to use all my own photography since I love taking photos as well.
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30 Responses to The Hale Building 1326-1328 Chestnut Street

  1. elyse says:

    I think this building is great!! A little asymmetry makes things interesting!

  2. Carl Rohrs says:

    Thanks for the new post!
    I really love this stuff! While Atlanta has great architecture nothing like this comes to mind.
    Keep up the great work, it is appreciated!

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you, thank you for the research on this building. It has been a source of fascination for me for a very long time. I hope they move ahead with the plans and bring back some glory to this marvelously over-wrought gem!

  4. Stan kornegay says:

    Did this building once house Rose Kravitz a Stylist? And was it once called Penfield Bldg?

  5. Vrcete says:

    Thanks for the sharing.
    I have been seeing this building for the past three year and wondering what it was.
    Nice documentation!
    Thank you so much!

  6. anon says:

    Thank you! This post is great. I grew up across the river in NJ and always wondered about this building. I hope the new plans come to fruition.

  7. ilcorago says:

    I do love the building too. It was actually built a bit earlier, in 1883. By1884 it is appears as the “Lucas Building.” It then served as a series of banks. From the 50s through the 70s the upper floors of the Sansom Street end of the building was home to Drucker’s Bellevue Health Spa, a men’s sauna, and yes, it was listed in gay guides in the 60s and 70s. I hope they save this quirky old building and are able to re-purpose it! You took great pictures, and I hadn’t seen some of the ones that you dug up in your research. It’s interesting that they had begun to slightly modify the entrance by 1936. I have a picture of it from 1940 with the front fully “modernized,” not too different than it is today. Thanks!

  8. I went on a architecture tour and the tour guide mentioned this building, also saying they “knew nothing about it.” I didn’t tip them. Glad I found this page. I hope this building is taken care of. The Wannamaker building across the street held up well.

  9. Dawn K says:

    Thanks very much for the info! Looked at this wonderful building on a walking tour today but learned more by finding your site!

  10. Shauna Bean says:

    I was wandering through Philly for my first time today, and as soon as I saw the building I knew it had to be something special. I dragged a friend with me while I took several pictures, including some of the address so I could research it later. Thanks for all of your info. I hope to return to the building one day and see it renovated and thriving!

  11. Spencer says:

    I moved to Philly back in March and every time I find myself in this part of the city I am in awe of this building and have been curious to uncover its history. Also I love the photographic timeline… really cool to see how it progressed into the mess that it is today. I too hope the developers can bring back some of it’s former glory.

  12. Bernard Grogan says:

    Hello!! Do you have any updates on this building since your original post? Thank you!!

    • sbethy says:

      Hi there! Thanks for your post. I don’t have any updates since my original post but I will keep an eye out and post anything I find out!

      • Sri says:

        Fabulous building. I work in the city and everytime I walk near the building, I am awestruck by the ambiance of the architecture and wish I could start my business in that building.

  13. Andrew says:

    My dad owned this building for the last 30 years as a location for Valu Plus. It is a beautiful historic building that fell into disrepair before it was purchased, but rehabbing it is incredibly expensive, espcially without the right use. The business has since been sold and he has been working on a deal to turn it into a boutique hotel with Starwood hotels. The deal is being worked on this week and hopefully will go through soon! I’m also an Urban Studies major so I have an interest in historic preservation.


    • Doug says:

      Any update on the Starwood Hotel deal? I work in the Wanamaker building and walk along Juniper on my way to and from work everyday hoping one day this amazing building will be restored and revived! Your post gave me hope.

  14. Thomas Jamison says:

    Awesome building. Just awesome.

    I developed my taste for such things working on historic church buildings for about 15 years. Gave it up for making a living, but what a pity such things are held in such low esteem today

  15. Kevin T says:

    Thank you so much for all the info! I have wanted to know more about this building for years now – I lived in Philly for two years and fell in love with the (upper floors of the) building. Just fantastic. I promised myself that if (when, truly) I win one of the huge lotteries, that I will swoop in and make this my home. Until then, I’ll be happy if Starwood can lend a hand, too! As it is, it seems like a crime against the arts and humanity to have it not well loved and taken care of.

  16. Tree Ayres says:

    I am originally from NYC myself and have always been drawn to old buildings- especially ones forgotten and dilapidated. I am now just shy of 42, but back in my teens I was a political punk who was a part of the squatter community in NYC that took over abandoned city-owned buildings and renovated them for the homeless. Anyway, back when I was 17 my boyfriend and I were staying in Philly at various squats- not quite as established as in NYC. We did stay a time in a huge abandoned building in what I believe was in the Center City area. I have been thinking about this building lately and have been trying to find out about it, but have not had much luck. I came across pictures of the Hale building and am very drawn to it… Could this be the building? As I said the building was huge with many floors- can’t recall how many. There were mainly small rooms- perhaps offices- on the upper floors, but there was also a huge, grand staircase and an old bar/nightclub on the lower level….? I think I recall a courtyard area…. There was a small, odd room we called the clown room as it had bright-striped walls… The roof had vegetation growing…. It was an ornate building as I recall. I believe there may have been tunnels under the building that went down the street…. Was told- don’t remember actually seeing them. There was an alley entrance we would sneek into. I believe there was a many-leveled parking lot on the other side of the alley. Not much too go on I know…. This building was a part of my youth and has significant meaning to me. People were known to go in there at night to vandalize it, but we loved it and respected it. As we lay trying to sleep at night we could hear people wandering about sometimes…. It was kind of creepy! I don’t know whatever happened to this building- demolished? Renovated? Still abandoned? Maybe the parking garage is no longer there… Who knows! If anyone could help please do- thanks! 🙂

  17. Tree Ayres says:

    Thank you so much for checking into it! I am very confident that the building I once knew and loved is the Victory building. I wish I could see pics of what it looked like inside before it was renovated. How wonderful that it has been given new life! I did see a renovated pic online of a huge stairwell inside…. A little different then how I remember, but we are talking 20 years ago! Memories can get a bit hazy…. 🙂 Any idea what the name of the notorious 70’s nightclub was that was housed there? I can’t turn anything up online. Would be helpful to see pics of that. Thanks so much again!

  18. I walk by the Hale Building every morning and have always been intrigued by the architecture, which by the way is very cool. I would love to see the interior of the building. Down the street at 1424 Chestnut is another fascinating structure, the Jacob Reed & Sons (now CVS) bldg. with its balconies and Mercer Tile, it is another architectural treasure.

    • sbethy says:

      I wrote about the CVS building in my thesis! It’s a great example of adaptive reuse unfortunately the manager and security guard refused to let me take photos in there!

  19. Charlotte says:

    I live and work near here. This was always one of my favorite buildings. The fanciful front façade was everything my childhood warrior princess self thought a castle should be. I was so happy to see them start work on it. I hate the proposed modern entranceway. There have been a number of restorations that have done beautiful masonry work, so there is no real excuse for it. I do kind of miss the bathhouse sign though. This used to be the red light district. 😉

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