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PSFS Building
 

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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PSFS Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society was the first savings bank to organize and conduct business in the United States.  From December of 1816 when the bank was established, the business would grow into one of the largest savings bank and a Philadelphia institution.  The idea of creating a savings bank in the United States came from a man named Condey Raguet.  Raguet was familiar with the already established savings banks in Great Britain and during the early 1810s, these banks saw rapid growth.  Raguet took the idea of creating a savings bank for Philadelphia and presented it to Richard Peters, Clement C. Biddle and Thomas Hale and arranged a meeting to institute the savings bank.  The meeting eventually took place on November 25, 1816 where twelve men agreed that the institution of a savings bank in Philadelphia would be worth pursuing.   The men conducted several other meetings to complete the concept and develop the banks structure.  The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society became the name of the savings bank because Raguet was under the impression that in order to receive a charter from the state legislature, eliminating the word “bank” and instead using “society” would make it more appealing.

 The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society was open for business on December 2, 1816 where the first office was located on the west side of South Sixth Street.  Interestingly enough, the first depositor of the bank was Raguet’s African American servant who deposited five dollars.  It was only a few months later, February, 25 1819 that the governor of Pennsylvania approved the Pennsylvania legislature's act of incorporating the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society.

 The growth of The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society was slow at first, but around 1817 there were already new branches opening in different locations.  Another notable progress that was made during the success of PSFS came in 1818 when the first home mortgage was issued. 

 By the 20th century PSFS had attracted the largest amount of depositors for any savings bank in the United States. The success allowed PSFS to establish a program where children learned how to save their money.  The company followed up with many other ways to target children at an early age realizing that they have the potential to become lifelong customers. 

 With all the growth, the building size became a problem, and during the 1820s the company would move locations three different times.  In 1826, the headquarters moved from Decatur Street to Walnuts Streets.   After outgrowing the size of the headquarters, PSFS was forced to rapidly relocate to a bigger building on the same street.  By 1833, PSFS had one quick move before finally purchasing property to build a bank structure that would be big enough to suit their needs.   

 In 1932, PSFS made the historical relocation to Market Street.   The new building concept was completely different from any building they have previously been headquartered, as well as a departure from traditional bank architecture as a whole.

 The decision to construct an entirely new and exciting structure came in the 1920s.  The new corporate headquarters building committee was led by PSFS president James M. Willcox.  Willcox was inspired by the great success of PSFS and wanted a building that represented the future greatness.    The inspiration from Willcox was brought to life by a bold and modern design submitted by George Howe and William Lescaze.  Howe and Lescaze designed a 27-story building that called for glass-walled floors that would wrap around a steel skeleton.   This was a significant departure from any architecture that was seen on skyscrapers at the time, which often consisted of rectangular windows that went through brick and stone walls. One of the most remarkable features of the design was a service tower raising the height of the building that formed a T-shaped spine.  Howe and Lescaze also wanted to make it the first fully air-conditioned year-round building. Also, the most difficult sell on the unusual design was the twenty-seven-foot red neon sign "PSFS" on top of the building.  The builders convinced Willcox after he refused by saying, “let’s make everyone curious about PSFS.”

 

Despite the depression that was occurring during 1929, PSFS proceeded constructing what would become America’s first modern skyscraper. The company spent roughly 7.5 million dollars to use the finest of materials such as marble, granite and wood. The skyscraper was a true masterpiece from the granite-faced base of the building and the limestone covered tower, to the Cartier-designed clocks and custom designed furniture, the building was a true innovator in modernism when it was completed in 1932.

 

In order to achieve the modern sleek look that the PSFS skyscraper ultimately desired, it was important that the builders incorporated the finest resources.  The granite used in the granite-faced base of the building was Stony Creek granite.  Although it wasn’t specified, one can speculate that the Stony Creek granite was derived from the Branford Quarries in Connecticut.  These quarries provided tons of stone for numerous landmarks built between 1870 and 1915.  Stony Creek granite provided strength, durability, and the convenience factor made this particular type of granite appealing to the construction of these types of structures.

 

The design of this building made a significant and lasting impression on American architecture. Although the building remains a part of the Philadelphia skyline, the company itself didn’t have that type of future.  PSFS eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1992 and became part of Mellon Bank Company.  In 1997, the building was bought by Loews Corporation which reopened in 2000 as the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.  All of the key features of the original design have been preserved and the signature rooftop PSFS still sits in place.

 

 

Souces:

 

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/historic_preservation/51824

 

http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/psfs-building/

 

http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1085

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_Savings_Fund_Society

 

Flesh and Stone: Stony Creek and the Age of Granite

 

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Flesh and Stone

Flesh and Stone - Stony Creek and the Age of Granite - buy at Amazon.com
Available on Amazon

Uncirculated: Shrink wrapped in clear plastic from original Italian publisher, 1999. Ships with fresh samples of sparkling Stony Creek pink granite for historians, collectors, geologists and classrooms. Additional samples available upon request.