Favorite Spot: PSFS Building / Loews Philadelphia Hotel
Neighborhood: Center City
Address: 1200 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
I am: a country bumpkin from Tyrone, PA who moved to Philly in 2000, moved to Oregon in 2009, and moved back to Philly in 2013.
Current Home: West Mt Airy
Years in Philly: 10-15, give or take
My love note
After focusing so much attention on its namesake since registering PhillySkyline.com in 2002, that my favorite spot in the city is the PSFS Building probably comes as little surprise. But don’t take my word for it — when the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1969 named its “most important building in Philadelphia for the past century,” they skipped right over the building whose Quaker statue (in)famously kept all other buildings beneath it in favor of PSFS.
My reasons for loving the PSFS Building stem from personal, professional, and superlative places. On the latter of those, PSFS is possibly Philly’s most renowned architectural specimen. Completed in 1932, it’s widely recognized as the first International Style skyscraper in America, and its design was truly international: Philadelphian George Howe, who had designed other branches for the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, collaborated with Swiss partner William Lescaze to craft a progressive landmark for PSFS president James Wilcox. The tower was, along with Raymond Hood’s McGraw Hill Building in New York, one of two American buildings included in an International Style exhibition at the MoMA that same year.
At 492’, it was the second tallest building in Philadelphia, after of course only City Hall, and remained so until 1974, when 1818 Market surpassed it. However, in 1948, it garnered distinction as the tallest structure in the city, when WCAU installed a 256’ TV tower on the roof, making it exactly 200’ taller than William Penn’s hat. In addition to its forward design, PSFS — whose in-house slogan for the tower was “nothing more modern” — innovated “manufactured weather” with its early air conditioning and in-room thermostats, and it reserved the ground floor for retail space while putting its banking operations on the second floor. To get there, customers took an escalator past a Cartier clock and state-of-the-art furniture to the tellers. And on the roof, a landmark sign was installed to mask mechanical equipment. The signature “PSFS” — white letters on a dark blue background during the day, glowing red neon by night — was unusual in that acronyms were rarely used by companies of the day.
It’s also one of the finest examples of adaptive reuse in Philadelphia. With PSFS teetering and the building largely unoccupied in the early 90s, the FDIC seized the building and auctioned it off. (After 176 years, the company went under in 1992 and its assets sold to Mellon Bank.) The winning bidder, Loews Hotels, renovated the building and converted it, with an interior makeover from Daroff Design, into the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, conveniently located across the street from the newish Pennsylvania Convention Center.
But my love for the building is indeed personal. After years of enjoying the happy hour at Solefood (RIP, though I’m looking forward to the space’s rebirth as Bank & Bourbon later this year), my wife and I spent our first night as a married couple there, after tying the knot two blocks over at City Hall. Now that I’m divorced, the building and its incredible views are occasionally capable of forcing a lump in my throat.
But those views can get you through. As Phil Jablon can attest, they’re pretty spectacular from up high. The 33rd-floor conference/ball/board room was always sort of a worst kept secret among view seekers, and now that Level 33 is spelling the Loews’ restaurant component while the first floor is reconfigured into a steakhouse, even more people get to enjoy the view. (As an aside, the bathroom on the same floor is hands down the best in the city.)
In fall 2009, when I decided to move to Portland, Oregon and close the chapter on Philly Skyline, I hosted a farewell party in the Loews, a fun sendoff with fun people. Now here in 2014, I figure what better place to send a Love Note to say hey, it’s great to be back. PSFS: Philly Skyline For Sure.