Buildings Then and Now: Drexel banked on Frank Furness for alumni center
There’s a good reason why the building seems to divert your attention to it: that’s how it was designed. Built in 1876 for the Centennial Exposition, Furness capitalized on the building's location at the main point from where fair-goers would arrive from Center City and head down Lancaster Avenue to the fairgrounds, now the western part of Fairmount Park. And there was no shortage of fair-goers—10 million people went, which is equivalent to 20 percent of the population of the United States today.
But like all Furness buildings, it wasn’t appreciated for long. It was originally a one-story building with a two-story façade; in 1899, Frank Miles Day constructed a rear addition to the building. Then, in 1956, Bud Ross divided the building's interior into two floors for its new tenant, The First Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Company. From there, it descended into a state of moderate disrepair, with a front sign added, not to mention it looked dirty.
Like most buildings in the area, it is now owned by Drexel University, which to its credit restored the building in the late 1990s to house its alumni center and an art gallery. The clock in its cornice now looks brand-new. It was renamed the Paul Peck Center after the alumnus who funded the renovation. Calling it the Centennial Bank wouldn’t make much sense, would it? And 32nd
Street has been closed off to traffic in favor of a promenade with perennial flowers lining the walkway.
For all of you architectural buffs out there, an exhibit at the Paul Peck Alumni Center honoring Furness, "Bank with Frank: The Commercial Architecture of Frank Furness,"
is taking place on Mondays from 3 to 7 p.m. now through Dec. 17.
Contemporary photo by the author