Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ripping out the Guts of J. E. Caldwell

The nefarious work in the shadow of darkness, so I knew it was a bad sign last week when I saw the windows at J.E. Caldwell on Chestnut Street had been covered with brown paper that was taped down to the frames. Now my worst fears have been confirmed. One of my spies was walking by when an overheated workmen cracked open the door for air. Said spy used the opportunity to gather intelligence and it wasn't pretty. Every inch of the former jewelry store's French Regency-style oak cabinetry - designed by Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele - had been ripped from its moorings. Only the hand-cut Baccarat chandeliers remained. But for how long?
You can see some of the destruction in this photo, snapped last week by Rob Bender. Note the dumpster in the lower right corner. But my spy reports that much more is now gone, including the marble floors. The rumor is that Caldwell, which was Philadelphia's premier jeweler for 164 years before closing in 2003, is being turned into a restaurant. Surely a clever architect or interior designer could have found a way to incorporate the Trumbauer-Abele furnishings into the design. Tearing out the cases and marble isn't just barbaric, it's shortsighted. That kind of history can't be bought, and the remnants of the old Caldwell would have given the newcomer instant status and publicity. But such destruction is too easy in Philadelphia because the city's historic preservation law doesn't cover interiors.
The losses are really mounting up this summer, especially in retail spaces. H&M replaced Nan Duskin's distinctive Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa entrance on Walnut Street with a crude glass box. Last week, when I walked by Frank Furness' thrilling, three-story-high arched banking space in the old PSFS building at 7th and Walnut, I saw the contractors inside lowering the ceiling and installing what appeared to be plain white acoustical tiles. Now that Federated has dispatched the Strawbridge & Clothier store on Market Street to Ron Rubin's Preit, there is real worry about the fate of the Boar Fountain. These retail interiors are some of the most evocative historic spaces Philadelphia has. The destruction reminds me of one of those Philip K. Dick movies, like A Scanner Darkly, where the character's memories are wiped away. Soon we'll be a city of empty husks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's not rumor that the space will be a restaurant - it's an unfortunate reality - Fogo de Chao is the tenant, a Brazilian steakhouse, that's coming - since we need another chain restaurant on the block - they're in Dallas, DC, and a few other cities

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:12 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Ouch! I knew something was up when I passed by the old Caldwell's the other day and got a glimpse of the interior. What an atrocity.

And we sure do need another chain steakhouse. I don't know which hurts more, my eyes or my taste buds.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have eaten at Fogo de Chao in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo. Their food is good, but they are not the best that Brazil could have exported to the U.S. They will doubtless not offer authentic Brazilian churrasco because Brazilian meat is salted quite heavily and that won't work in the U.S.

It's really too late for the J.E. Caldwell interior, but you can register your complaint to the owners of Fogo de Chao at This is their Portuguese language website, but the fields should nonetheless be easy to understand. A copy of my comentarios below-pasted:

"Gutting the interior woodwork of the former J.E. Caldwell jewelry store was unnecessary. That woodwork was designed by two of Philadelphia's premiere Victorian architects, Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele. Philadelphians enjoyed the beauty of that interior for over one hundred years.

You could have worked with it and had an incredible dining interior that Philadelphians would have loved. You blew an incredible opportunity to have a truly landmark restaurant with a world-class interior worthy of heads of state. Now you instead simply have a good location. You will now instead have an interior that is probably a cookie-cutter of your other restaurants.

Your architect should be dismissed for lack of creativity."

8:49 AM  
Blogger DeWitt said...

this is depressing.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morons, they come here with their cookie cutter plans, and cookie cutter architects who have no vision or sense of time and place, and come in and ruin and gut some of our best buildings. Go away, just go away. Another chain. Yip. Pee.

9:38 AM  
Blogger normajean said...

I'm so sorry to see this interior lost. Another one you can add to the list is the beautiful panelling and fireplaces that once were in Ubiq on Walnut Street. The interior was a vestage from when the building was a residential mansion - now it's lost to a contemporary gallery that sacrificed it's uniqueness and beauty for drywall and strip lights.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if they bring their cookie cutters, maybe at least they'll have good cookies!! Look people, there is nothing that can be done here, nor should there be. Your comments are very elitist. Yes, this is a chain restaurant and they have their own decor. Whom do we blame for this company having the money to do this? Chain restaurants thrive for a reason (people love 'em). Maybe not your kind of people, but people nonetheless. Caldwell's was about as stuffy as they get. Oh Muffy, oh Buffy, what shall we do?!?!

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:26 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Your comments are very elitist. Yes, this is a chain restaurant and they have their own decor. Whom do we blame for this company having the money to do this? Chain restaurants thrive for a reason (people love 'em). Maybe not your kind of people, but people nonetheless.

Who is really being elitist here? A chain restaurant that used the Caldwell's interior creatively would appeal to ordinary people—unless the implication is that they don't care about nice surroundings. Most of the ordinary people I know, including me, like beautiful woodwork. It seems pretty elitist to assume that they wouldn't be upset by the loss of Caldwell's fittings, if they knew it was happening.

Caldwell catered to an elite—I'm so ordinary that I never even entered the store—but everybody can appreciate a nice interior. And people who never saw the old interior will not know what might have been, so they will accept the new restaurant as it is unless the food is terrible.

The food won't be terrible, but it's also likely that you'll find better and more imaginative cooking in a similar price range in a place that is locally owned. Not all our local restaurants are expensive. The problem with chains coming in is that they make it harder for local, creative chefs to set up and succeed. It's not elitist to suggest that locally-owned places are better for the Philadelphia economy and for the most part serve better food than the chains. That is the central concern about chains. The destruction of the Caldwell's interior just adds insult to injury.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Rita Novel said...

My favorite spy, Crystal Vanish, the twin sister of Rita Novel, told me that the Horace Trumbauer Architecture Fan Club loves all the comments here. The jewel guests of last year's HTAFC convention stayed at the empty J. E. Caldwell & Co., and it was actually some of those guests that made arrangements to acquire the paneling for their own heavenly abodes.

The hallmark of My Peace of Splendor is J. E. Caldwell & Co.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a tragedy.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The destruction of the Caldwell jewelers interior in any other old-line major city would have brought out activists to block the door way. Whether it was in Chicago, NYC, Boston or S.F. the community would have been outraged beyond belief; how did these fools get a demolition permit? Was city hall asleep at the wheel again? I thought this type of lunacy could only happen in lesser cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix, which have little to offer but low taxes and cheap land.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if they bring their cookie cutters, maybe at least they'll have good cookies!! Look people, there is nothing that can be done here, nor should there be. Your comments are very elitist. Yes, this is a chain restaurant and they have their own decor. Whom do we blame for this company having the money to do this? Chain restaurants thrive for a reason (people love 'em). Maybe not your kind of people, but people nonetheless. Caldwell's was about as stuffy as they get. Oh Muffy, oh Buffy, what shall we do?!?!

Oh please, these places rarely, if ever have "good cookies". They mostly appeal to the wide-loads from the mid-west who wouldn't know a good vegetable if it bit them in their wide load! Harumph!

What in the world is wrong with preserving beautiful interiors anyway? Couldn't they exhibit just a smidge of creativity? Even Home Depot, not heretofore known for being less than "craptastic" is starting to bring in a slightly better quality of goods, probably because they realized that people were going elsewhere for something better and different.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another steakhouse! Yay! Oh yay! Thats just what we need! After all, only about 3 major ones went belly up. Perhaps the wood is being used in a Brazillian Wal-Mart. Ah - if only.

Sure its one wood interior - but keep letting them go, and the exteriors, and Philadelphia's design and architecture will dissapear.


10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting, you would rather have a vacant building with dirt covered woodwork that no one can ever see, over a vibrant building that can now be used as part of center city's renaissance.

Inga, if you want to keep Philadlephia's glorious past intact I suggest you become a developer and buy some of these buildings and put them to use how you like. Lecturing developers on how to use formerly inactive useless property is absolutely ridiculous.

Maybe Philadlephia would be better off if you were a developer instead of a critic

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last anonymous is obviously a dullard. No one insinuated to keep the space vacant; only that the developer would have served their own interests and city's interest better by evaluating the existing site for its architectural significance. They probably did not have the brain cells. To say that an inactive property is useless is foolhardy; just look at the inactive hotel that developers erroneously want to turn into a 47 story tower. This would be an out of sinc ridiculously tall building for the area. As far as Inga being a developer, she obviously would do better than Dranoff or Miles and Generalis. So if the last anonymous desires to be mean spirited; may I suggest thinking before you speak. You came off like a dopey dunkey... and you know what they are referred to as.... ... Later...

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous, right above me: Maybe you just don't understand the significance of such an interior, one that could easily have been incorporated into the restaurant that will be occupying the space. Not vacant, not covered up for no one to see, but there for all who previously may not have had the opportunity to experience such beautiful work.

Also, it is certainly not "absolutely ridiculous" to lecture developers on how to develop. We can't just let them run wild, destroying historic structures and interiors at will, which is what they are doing. Exactly what kind of city do you want? One that is a cookie cutter of a hundred other places or one that has real character and that cares about its history?

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What good is character shrouded behind 4x8 sheets of graffiti laced plywood? What good is character if it's only going to be seen by a family of spiders?

Past history has proven Philadlephia's glorious character isn't such a profitable venture; hence all the abandoned underutlized buildings in this city.

Do you want abandoned buildings or do you want vibrant businesses? Rightly or wrongly 99% of people in the year 2006 are more interested in a quality meal at a clean enterprise moreso than if the finish work is 1935 cherrywood or 1943 Amazon bamboo.

If Inga wants to preserve Philadelphia's character she should start a development company, buy these type of buildings and attempt to make them profitable.Good luck with that endeavor. Ripping a developer who is in business to make money isn't the solution. If the building was so magnificient and marketable it wouldn't have been vacant in the first place.


Anonymous said... Exactly what kind of city do you want? One that is a cookie cutter of a hundred other places or one that has real character and that cares about its history?

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, will the realtors of this fine city start boycotting complete rehabs that have "Brazillian Cherry" know who you are!! LOL

This is another travesty of the times....welcome to homogenization...its all the rage in Philly!

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 12:04pm what's all this again and again about Inga starting a development company? About Philly's past character being profitable. If it were not for our history we would have nothing. The reason there have been so many empty stores is because of a past mayor named Rizzo / Goode etc. screwing the businesses with a high wage tax. This drove afternoon shoppers to the burbs. And the bad schools drove even more out. So where did you go to school 12:04pm?

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew, I don't quite know where to begin with you. There's a lot more factors other than a wage tax responsible for Philadlephia's terrible retail options.

75 % of the metro live out in the suburbs. 95% of the wealth live out in the suburbs. Philadelphia got left for dead and it isn't going to come back as Ingas idea of a living museum of past history. The last 100 years has proven that; hence the dozens of dollar stores and shoddy retail that litters center city. The architecture of the last 2 centuries is great but it's not much good if it is obsolete and unprofitable. King of Prussia retail does fine without 150 year old marble and cherrywood.

Do you want the J.E. Caldwell building remaining lifeless and dark, or do you want that building put to good use? In this particular case the developer and tenant felt they needed to make changes to the structure for their businesses to become profitable. They are taking a big risk, they are trying to add to Philadlephias comeback. If that means losing some interior cabinetry I'm personally o.k. with that.

Best case scenario maybe the finish work could have been saved but it's just too easy for Inga to sit back and fling arrows at developers who are trying to improve the fortunes of the city.

I was being very serious when I suggested that Inga start her own business and try to save some of this great old architecture if that is her passion. Ridiculing developers after the fact isn't going to solve any problems.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Developers who are trying to improve the fortunes of the city? Are you kidding? I have yet to see a developer who isn't first and foremost improving his/her fortunes.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Brazilian steakhouse could've reused the ornate wood on the walls!!!

Display cases might have had to go, but the rest would've added elegance. Instead, they probably went for the same look of their other restaurants.

Boycot the Brazilian steakhouse! I curse them. Let them go out of business for destroying our architectural glory.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To 11:21 Anonymous. It's not the free parking at King of Prussia silly. Without the suburbsn land sprawl king of prussia would still be a camp ground for general washington. You need to get a life or a real estate development job.. silly

12:03 PM  
Blogger urban vegan said...

sad. instead we are now faced with an onslaught of dreadful, cookie-cutter interiors.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There were boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes on the hillsides and they all looked just the same."

Why do we seem hell-bent on living in a world where all the cars, clothes, coffees and buildings all look alike???? It is demoralizing to the city to have all the uniqueness and culture ripped out and replaced by the ordinary and mundane. We, as a city, need to come together to save the fabric of the city, the beautiful buildings, that were designed and built with love and care in mind, and not just the almighty dollar.

We need to get our city council people, our state representatives and property owners to see that these buildings and the architecture of the past are important to us.

4:12 PM  
Blogger amusing said...

oh c'mon. Are you all pissed off that Starbucks is in the ground floor of the Victory Building? Inga celebrates modernism and embraces contemporary architecture. But all of us mourn craftsmanship, quality and irreplaceable design when it falls prey to "improvements". We are mourning a lack of matchmaking -- same thing happens in the burbs when you find someone buying an 18th century Quaker farmhouse and razing it for a McMansion.

Simply would be nice if "specialty" properties could be placed with "specialty" owners who could make use of unique qualities rather than yank them, smash them, obliterate them.

Fantasy world? Or simply an option no one has considered putting into practice yet? Real estate matchmaking.

Sadly, our marketplace is probably not "hot" enough and never will be? More "we aren't NYC" envy.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to how the developer got a demolition permit, the answer is simple: he got it as of right. The City's existing historic preservation ordinance doesn't authorize designation of interior spaces (though, oddly enough, it does permit "objects" to be individually designated). As a result, the City had no basis for denying the permit. If other significant, interior spaces are to be protected, City Council will have to amend the existing preservation ordinance to broaden its protections. Until that happens, decisions as to interiors will rest solely in the hands of developers.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Objects" designated include the Eagle in John Wanamakers (Macys store now)& the Wanamaker Bell on the top of One South Broad Street.

Philadelphia had an interior law that was tossed in a case involving the Boyd Theatre, as Inga wrote in the newspaper, and so NEEDS a new law. A new law might be carefully drafted to pass muster. Cities nationwide protect historic interiors, and Philadelphia must do so, too.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New is not necessarily better, demolition is not progress. Aesthetics and their history should always be an issue. We already have plenty of steakhouses and chain restaurants (yawn) with unattractive interiors, both downtown and out at the suburban malls. It is a travesty to take an architecturally (inside OR out) site and butcher it. If you want a chain restaurant, buzz out to the King of Prussia mall and wait 2 hours for a table and mediocre food with the rest of the morons. The stupidity of this is, it cost them more to eviscerate the building and destroy its exquisite interior than it would for them to have left the majority of it intact. De gustibus non est disputandum. Oh and, by the way, an appreciation for historically significant and beautiful artifacts is not elitist. Learn the difference between price and value.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the type of restaurant that went (a Churasscaria) in requires an open plan, thus this required the casework to be removed. Another type of restaurant may have been able to utilize the casework. This specific chain Fogo De Chao doesn't have a distinct or "cookie cutter" look. Each of its locations uses a local architect, and some re-occuruing elements but not a repetive design. Per the one image I've seen published, the proposed design will reuse a lot of the wood word on the walls and ceiling, plus similar lighting fixtures.

Ideal? Obviously not. Additionally this type of restaruant needs a large amount of floor space on a single level (the servers "gauchos" walk around with meats on large skewers and have to be able to easily move around tables), and there simply aren't many large spaces left in CC Philadelphia in the most desirable areas, so the availability of other spaces probably wasn't an option. So like it or not, Philadelphia is becoming a worthwhile location for national companies to locate in with their operations.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Cuprousone said...

Well guess what! After all of our hand wringing and whining, it actually sounds like a rather sensitive renovation.

And not an inappropriate reuse. Peter A. B. Widener started life as a butcher's assistant. And like the other Gilded Age magnates, he probably enjoyed a good chop.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the state supreme court ultimately upheld the city's historic preservation ordinance in the Boyd Theater case. The court found, however,that the ordinance did not specifically authorize protection of interiors (except to the extent necessary to structurally support a designated building's exterior.) Because of this ommission, the historical commission was found to have exceeded its jurisdiction in designating the Boyd's interior.

Unfortunately -- though the Boyd case was decided nearly 13 years ago -- City Council has never amended the preservation ordinance to allow designation of interiors.

4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sickening! I can't imagine that what this steakhouse chain is bringing to this city is worth what it has taken away.

3:20 PM  

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