Look Up! A marble tribute to a Civil War casualty

“Look Up!” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. The photo essays focus on different Philadelphia areas and their distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.

Historic Philadelphia’s 400 block of Chestnut Street is dominated by William Strickland’s Greek Revival masterpiece, the Second Bank of the United States, on the south side of the street. But opposite that temple of finance is a collection of handsome buildings that comprised what was known in the mid 19th century as Bank Row.

Standing out from its neighbors is the white marble façade of the former Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank, 427 Chestnut. It was designed in 1854 by John M. Gries, who a few years later built its neighbor to the east for the Bank of Pennsylvania, which failed during construction of the building. It was finished by its new owner, the Philadelphia Bank.

Both bank buildings reflect Gries’ appreciation for Italianate style. Their symmetrical design, arched windows, belt courses, and elaborate cornices are borrowed from Renaissance palaces.

But the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank has the most personality. Gries affixed the bank symbol of anvil and plow on the roofline, carved ram and sheep heads above the second-level windows, and added a couple of lion heads near the entrance to assure depositors. 

The bank also utilized the latest in architectural technology: iron doors and counters, a cast-iron truss holding up the roof of the banking room, and a ventilation system that changed the air in the building every hour.

Gries died just five years after he completed his Chestnut Street banks, from wounds he suffered while serving as a major in the Civil War. He was 35.

Farmers’ and Mechanics’ was renovated in 1984 and 1993 by the firm of Bower Lewis Thrower, and now is home to the American Philosophical Society and Franklin Hall.

“Look Up” Main Post Office Building

“Look Up” Arch Street Meeting House 

“Look Up” 19th Century towers finds peace in 21st Century

“Look Up” Greek Revival marries Victorian Gothic at Broad and Pine

“Look Up” Bookbinder’s

“Look Up” Spirit of ’76 on Chestnut

“Look Up” Eyre design in Chestnut Hill 

“Look Up” St. Charles Hotel

“Look Up” Beaux Arts beauty at Penn

“Look Up” Moderne and Machine Age Schools

“Look Up” Frank Miles Day mansions

 “Look Up” Thomas Ustick Walter’s columns

 “Look Up”  Jacob Reed Building

 “Look Up” Ronald McDonald House 

 “Look Up” Jeweler’s Row

 “Look Up” Abington’s flirtation with Hollywood

 “Look Up” Rittenhouse Square’s stables

 “Look Up” Fairmount’s contribution to the row home dynamic

 “Look Up” Drexel’s Poth Dynasty

 “Look Up” Wright’s Ardmore Experiment

 “Look Up” Contemporary neighbors in Society Hill

 “Look Up” Imaginative Eyre on Locust Street

 “Look Up!” Elfreth’s Alley has issues

 “Look Up” Architectural exercises on Boathouse Row

 “Look Up!” John Notman’s brownstone temples

 “Look Up!” 19th Century luxe on Locust St.

 “Look Up!: 20th Century evolution in East Falls

 “Look Up!” Rural retreats in Northeast Philly

 “Look Up!” Modernist lines on Haverford Ave.

 “Look Up!” Chestnut Hill’s modernist gems

 “Look Up!” The Art Deco Palace of Mt. Airy

 “Look Up! An architect’s legacy on Spruce Street

 ”Look Up!” The French Village in Mt. Airy

 “Look Up” and check out the nouveau mansions of North Broad

 “Look Up” and check out elegant Southwark

 “Look Up” and check out Henry Disston’s company town

 “Look Up: and check out Spruce Hill

 “Look Up” and check out Green Street

 “Look Up” and check out West Laurel Hill

 “Look Up” and check out Parkside

 “Look Up” and check out Awbury Arboretum

 “Look Up” and check out Nicetown

 “Look Up” and check out Overbrook Farms

 “Look Up” and check out Girard Estate

 “Look Up” and check out Rittenhouse/Fitler Square

 “Look Up” Furness Chapel


Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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