Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building
12 South 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Date Constructed: 1930-32
Architect(s): Howe and Lescaze; renovated 2008 Bower Lewis Thrower
Participating AIA Philadelphia Members: BLT Architects
When PSFS decided to build a new headquarters, the directors chose a site near the Reading Terminal and Wanamaker’s department store, where the already had a successful branch bank. George Howe was retained as architect. Howe had a national reputation for his pastoral suburban houses but recently had become an advocate of the International style emerging in Europe.
PSFS marked Howe’s break with his past. He left Mellor and Megis and entered into a partnership with William Lescazw, a Swiss architect. Together they designed the first International style skyscraper in the country. James Wilcox, president of the bank, supported the design and persuaded the conservative board to accept it.
PSFS is a masterpiece. It is the finest 20th century building in the city and one of the most important examples of the International style in the country. The exterior form is a sophisticated expression of the different functions within the building. The base contains a retail store on the first floor, with the banking room located above, following Ritter and Shay’s successful use of a similar arrangement in the Market Street National Bank building. Bank offices above are set back from the façade of the office tower, which rises to a complicated roof structure and prominent sign. At the rear of the building, elevator shafts and service elements form a separate unit. To emphasize further the contrasting elements of the design, different materials and colors were used. Highly polished gray and granite used for the base; sand-colored limestone is used for the façade of the bank offices. The office tower has exposed vertical columns covered with the same limestone and gray brick spandrels. The huge rear wall of the service core is made of glazed and unglazed black brick.
Even though PSFS was built at the height of the Great Depression, expensive materials and furnishings were used throughout. The stainless steel hardware and most of the furniture were custom designed by the architects, as there was no inventory of modern fixtures in the United States. This was also the second building n the country to be air conditioned. The most dramatic interior space was the high-ceilinged banking room. Subdued colors; stainless steel; and gently curved balconies give the room an exceptional quality. The PSFS building was beautifully maintained by the bank. However, in 1992 PSFS was purchased by another bank which became insolvent. The building remained vacant for many years until it was converted to a hotel. The main banking room became the ballroom and the 33rd floor board room and enclosed terrace were retained in their original character.