Look Up! Integrity Trust buildings are tales of two eras

A bank company founded on solid immigrant success eventually failed in a period of economic despair. But its architectural legacy lives on. 

 

“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.

 

The Integrity Trust Company was one of the largest banking companies in Philadelphia from the 1880s to 1940, and it left behind two handsome representations of divergent architectural styles.

 

The firm – originally called the Integrity Title Insurance, Trust and Safe Deposit Company — was formed by three prominent leaders of the German immigrant community, including brewer/developer Frederick Poth, real estate dealer Charles Ehrenfort, and Herman Wischman. They hired architects Paul and Seymour Davis in 1902 to design a building at 4th and Green Streets that reflected the rich detail and flourish of late 19th century Germanic architecture, which also characterized the breweries of that era.

 

The building followed the model set by Frank Furness of a corner bank with the main entrance on an angle that commands views from all directions, according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The design consists of horizontal layers, with a rusticated limestone base and orange-tan Pompeian brick walls. The arched entrance, which was originally capped by a small dome, has the company signature, “Integrity,” wrapping around the corner.

 

The Davis brothers were graduates of the University Pennsylvania, and the younger Paul brought Paul Phillipe Cret to the Penn faculty, according to the National Register nomination.

 

It was Cret who built another of Integrity’s landmark buildings. During the same period that he worked on the design of the Delaware River Bridge (now the Benjamin Franklin) and the Barnes Foundation Gallery in Lower Merion, he built the bank at 715-17 Chestnut St. In sharp contrast to the curves and garlands of the Davis bank on 4th Street, Cret created a blend of classical lines and elegant Art Deco features for the 1929 bank on Chestnut.

 

The Integrity Trust Company underwent a series of mergers during the Depression, and had to rely on a credit pool formed by stronger Philadelphia banks to survive the period. It weathered a scandal tied to a holding company of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1938, but the company was dissolved in 1940.

 

The bank building at 4th Street is now occupied by the Color Reflections printing company, and the Chestnut Street branch was most recently used by the Union Trust Steakhouse.

 

Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com.

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