(The article was originally published in the April 1944 issue of Skyscraper Management, the precursor to today’s BOMA Magazine. Back in 1944, BOMA International was still known as the National Association of Building Owners and Managers. This article was written in anticipation for BOMA International’s second annual conference hosted in Philadelphia. The 2020 BOMA International Conference & Expo will be BOMA International’s fifth time in the historic city. As we look forward to the 2020 annual conference, it is certainly interesting to reflect on how the commercial real estate industry—and Philadelphia itself—has evolved over time.)
The business "heart" of the City of Philadelphia is concentrated within an area of approximately three-quarters of a square mile—one and one-half miles east and west by one-half mile north and south. All the streets in the central section are laid out on the gridiron pattern. The north and south streets are numbered from the Delaware River west, being Front, Second, Third, Fourth, etcetera. The main north and south thoroughfare is Broad street, which takes the place of Fourteenth street; its southern terminus is the world famous League Island Navy Yard about four and one-half miles from City Hall—its northern terminus at City Line is about seven miles from City Hall.
The east and west streets are at right angles to the north and south streets with Market street being the main thoroughfare and also the dividing line between the northern and southern sections of the city. The east and west streets south of Market street in the central section are named for trees, the first being Chestnut, then Walnut, Locust, Spruce, Pine, etcetera.
There are two main subway systems. One is under Broad street extending from 2100 south to 5600 north—approximately seven and one-half miles. The other is the east and west subway under Market street extending between the two rivers a distance of about two miles; proceeding directly west is an elevated from the Schuylkill River to 69th street, a distance of four and one-half miles; extending northeastwardly from Market street at Front to Frankford avenue, a distance of six and one-half miles.
City Hall with its tower rising to the height of 548 feet is situated at Broad and Market streets, being built directly across both streets and towering above the entire central section.
Converging on this area are most of the transportation lines of the city—railroads, buses, trolley cars, subways and highways. The latest available estimates indicate that there are more than one million persons traveling into and out of this area every day.
The headquarters of the Thirty-seventh Annual Convention of the National Association of Building Owners and Managers at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel at Broad and Walnut streets is practically in the middle of the central section of the city. It is within a short walk of the majority of the principal office buildings, banks, hotels, theatres, department stores, etcetera.
Philadelphia's Office Buildings
With few scattered exceptions the office buildings of Philadelphia are located in the central section. There are 125 buildings with a total office rental area of 10,388,442 square feet. This total includes only commercial office buildings in which offices are offered for rent to the public and does not include one-purpose buildings; neither does it include space in any building of less than five stories in height.
The office vacancy as of October 1, 1943, totaled 1,222,869 square feet, thereby reflecting an occupancy of 88.22 per cent. The low point in office occupancy was reached in 1932 when it was 69.06 per cent. During the period from 1924 to 1932 new buildings were erected adding 6,129,702 square feet to office rental area. United States Government occupancy in commercial office buildings approximates 1,040,000 square feet, which is 10 per cent of the total area; in addition the United States Government occupies approximately 700,000 square feet of office space in buildings which are not classified as commercial office buildings, such as Penn Athletic Club and Manufacturers Club.
The largest office building in the city is the Fidelity Philadelphia Trust Building which is situated on the east side of Broad Street extending from Sansome to Walnut (diagonally across from the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel). It was erected in 1928 and is 30 stories in height—377 feet—a total rental area of 588,738 square feet and a cubical content of 11,500,000 cubic feet.
City's Tallest Structure
The tallest office building in the city is the Philadelphia Saving Fund Building at 12 South 12th street (southwest corner of 12th and Market streets), which is 491 feet in height—36 stories including observation tower. This is an unique building for Philadelphia because it is the only office building completely air conditioned. It was completed in 1932 and has a total rental area of 326,981 square feet.
The largest building in the city is the Terminal Commerce Building at 401 North Broad street which is a combined office, loft, garage and warehouse building. It is built on air rights over the Reading Railroad and extends a full city block from Broad street to 13th street. It was completed in 1931, is 13 stories in height and has a total rental area of 1,500,000 square feet.
There are 35 multi-story apartment buildings in the central section of the city which house a total of 3063 units. Many of the best of these apartment buildings are located within walking distance of our convention hotel.
Philadelphia's specialty shops are principally located on Chestnut street and the department stores on Market street. The largest department store is that of John Wanamaker. which extends from Juniper street (half-way between Broad and 13th streets) to 13th street and from Chestnut to Market street; it has a Grand Court which is the finest of its type in the world.
Going down the street we come to the department store of N. Snellenburg & Company on Market street from 12th to 11th (with an entrance from Chestnut street in the middle of the block) ; then Gimbel Brothers on Market street from 9th to 8th (with an entrance from Chestnut street in the middle of the block); then Strawbridge & Clothier from 9th to 8th on Market street; then Lit Brothers on Market street from 8th to 7th street.
Most of our historic shrines and buildings are situated in the eastern part of the business district—from 6th street east to the Delaware River. Of course, the most important of all is Independence Hall at 6th and Chestnut streets where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where is enshrined the Liberty Bell, symbol of our freedom.
Commencing at City Hall at Broad and Market streets and extending diagonally in a northwesterly direction is the beautiful Benjamin Franklin Parkway leading to Fairmount Park and the River Drive along the historic Schuylkill River and the Wissahockon Drive to suburban sections. Buildings immediately on the Parkway are subject to approval by the Art Jury and are restricted to buildings for governmental and institutional use, such as the main building of the Free Library, Rodin Museum, Boy Scouts of America, Academy of Natural Sciences, Benjamin Franklin Institute with the Fels Planetarium, Board of Education Administration Building, the Art museum, etcetera.
In attempting to describe the buildings of Philadelphia, it is most difficult to decide where to draw the line because the field of building management must of necessity include the maintenance and operation of the multitude of large buildings at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the Custom House, the Federal Court Building, the Main Post Office Building, etcetera, the great number of buildings comprising the Philadelphia General Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania, the Drexel Institute of Technology, Temple University, Girard College, Hahnemann Medical College, Jefferson Medical College and others. Also included in this list are the many large buildings of the utility companies, such as the Bell Telephone Company, the Philadelphia Electric Company, and the railroads.
Philadelphia has so many large multi-story buildings of every conceivable type which would be of real interest to building managers that it is to be regretted that our National Convention is restricted to four days instead of several weeks.
Philadelphia has so many large multi-story buildings of every conceivable type which would be of real interest to building managers that it is to be regretted that our National Convention is restricted to four days instead of several weeks. The Convention is primarily a war-time business meeting to seek the solution of problems of maintaining and operating buildings which are the business homes of our Government, of the Army and Navy, of firms directly engaged in producing arms and equipment in connection with the war. Philadelphia building managers stand ready to arrange trips or tours of inspection during the too few hours between business sessions.