The Philadelphia School, deterritorialized


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circa 1885

House on Girard Avenue

The reasons Robert Venturi likes Mount Sharon Baptist Church as much as he does are very likely the same reasons he likes the former National Bank of the Republic by Frank Furness. In Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture Venturi wrote:

"The city street façade can provide a type of juxtaposed contradiction that is essentially two-dimensional. Frank Furness' Clearing House, now demolished like many of his best works in Philadelphia, contained an array of violent pressures within a rigid frame. The half-segmental arch, blocked by the submerged tower which, in turn, bisects the façade into a near duality, and the violent adjacencies of rectangles, squares, lunettes, and diagonals of contrasting sizes, compose a building seemingly held up by the buildings next door: it is an almost insane short story of a castle on a city street. All these relationships of structure and pattern contrast the severe limitations associated with a façade, a street line, and contiguous row houses."

Although Mount Sharon Baptist Church does not exhibit the same degree of "violence" as the National Bank of the Republic, it nonetheless displays many of the same types of compositional juxtaposition and contradictory adjacencies.

Furness and Evans, National Bank of the Republic [Clearing House] (Philadelphia: 313 Chestnut Street, 1883-84, demolished).

Today known as Mount Sharon Baptist Church, the former house on the north side of the 1600 block of West Girard Avenue is probably just over 100 years old, and the name of its architect is not exactly common knowledge among Philadelphia architects and architectural historians. Robert Venturi said George Thomas thought the building might be by Wilson Eyre, but even Venturi did not know the architect for sure, at least not in the middle of summer 2001. The house, now church, raising these questions sits on a still cohesive block of Girard Avenue that is among other Girard Avenue blocks that contain many empty lots and more abandoned buildings than not. On the south side of the 1600 block of West Girard Avenue is St. Joseph's Hospital, and the anchoring effect of this large building/institution is probably why the smaller buildings across the street are still relatively unchanged.

2001.07.17 14:01
Re: Saturday
The building on Girard Ave. is not listed in the Teitelman book, nor is Peirce School, the building on 1500 Pine or 1500 Lombard which Scott Brown mentioned as being similar in entrance to the Girard Ave. building. It's a shame that so much of 19th century Philadelphia is now rapidly disappearing, especially in North Philadelphia.

2001.07.17 17:41
Re: Saturday
I think you mean the building at Chestnut and Juniper--the Keystone National Bank Building--because there is no building from Locust and Juniper listed in the Teitelman book. The architect for the Keystone building was Willis Hale. Although stylistically somewhat different than the Girard Ave. house, the Keystone building shares the same kind of decorative flourish, and Hale was an exact contemporary of Wilson Eyre, the architect that Venturi thinks might be the architect of the Girard Ave. house. I will try to soon take pictures of all three buildings (Girard, Keystone and Pierce) to make better comparisons.

2005.07.07 18:21
I wonder if Scott Brown remembers...
I wonder if Scott Brown remembers how I told her, at the 14 July 2001 Out of the Ordinary book signing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, how St. Helena (a native of Drepanum, today's Yalova, Turkey) was the first master architect and planner of Christian architecture. She (Scott Brown) at least said, "That's fascinating." Now I have to tell her how Eutropia, a native Syrian and the mother of Maxentius, was what one could call the brains behind Helena's (and Constantine's) architectural operations.
14 July 2001 was also the first and last time I shook hands with Steven Izenour. He died a month and a week later...
I also told Robert Venturi he was the reason I now often visit Stenton. Venturi said, "What!?" So I explained how he, in 1983, via an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine, said Stenton was on his list of favorite Philadelphia buildings. Venturi then said, "Oh, you forget things like that."
Odd how Venturi, later that afternoon, decided to take the group I was with to a house he recently "discovered" on Girard Avenue, his latest favorite Philadelphia building.



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