Look Up! The Medici palace of Walnut Street

Outstanding features of the design by Day and Klauder have been preserved in its transition from finance to fitness center.


“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.


Unless you’re headed into the gym, it’s easy to miss the Drexel & Company Building on the northeast corner of 15th and Walnut Streets, which sits in the shadows of downtown towers. But the granite and iron layer cake is worth examining on many levels.


The company was founded in 1837 by Austrian born Francis Drexel, a portrait painter who became a banker. His son Anthony J. Drexel grew the brokerage firm into an investment bank and the most important financial institution in Philadelphia. In the 1920s, the company was led by Edward T. Stotesbury, who wanted a new headquarters in the city that would recall the majesty of the Medicis.


The building was designed by the firm of Day and Klauder in 1925-27, years after the passing of its noted architect Frank Miles Day. The design is based on the Strozzi Palace in Florence, and is characterized by its massive rusticated granite blocks, and four levels that step back as the building rises.


The bank was converted into commercial space in 1980, and the lower floors now house an LA Fitness center. But the original lanterns created by Samuel Yellin Iron Works still flank the entrance, and the hand-carved walnut ceiling has survived the transition from finance to fitness.


Contact the writer at ajaffe@planphilly.com


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