Ritzy Preservation Saves Philadelphia Landmark
by Diane M. Fiske
About 97 years ago, the Girard Trust Bank commissioned the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White to construct a monumental new facility in Philadelphia near the City Hall. Bank president Effingham Morris wanted to make a dramatic statement forecasting a change in Philadelphia's center of business by having the bank modeled after the Pantheon in Rome.
This summer, after several changes of ownership, a devastating fire, and a careful preservation effort led by The Hillier Group, the building is reopening as Philadelphia's "newest" hotel, the Ritz-Carlton. The hotel takes over the bank's 1908 domed structure and adjacent 1923 office tower, also by McKim Mead and White.
In the centrally focused pantheon of the original bank building, the round dome was supported by interior Ionic columns. The exterior brick walls were covered with marble. The 35-foot interior marble columns supported steel framing, and the floor was constructed of steel and terra cotta.
Strong Guastavino tile enabled the construction of an oculus, or eye, on the top of the dome continuing through an inner dome to a skylight so an individual could see through the two domes to the main floor through the two eyes.
A few feet below the main floor, a flight of elaborate marble stairs led from the main banking floor down to the vaults. The banking floor was made of Italian marble and alabaster.
The 1908 dome building being cleaned and renovated.
Photo: Jeffrey Todaro/Tom Crane Photography
Marble columns support the dome above the lobby.
Photo: Christopher Reed, The Hillier Group
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