Ritzy Preservation Saves Philadelphia Landmark
The tile construction of the domes was hidden from public view by plaster on the inner dome and marble on the exterior. The two domes were independent of each other, making it is possible for visitors to travel between the two domes on a walkway, after climbing a flight of stairs. The visitors could then peek into the 32-foot eye and see the main banking floor 120 feet below.
According to Hillier Group project architect James Garrison, the Guastavino construction meant that the Georgian marble inner dome could appear to be one united piece as opposed to several sections.
Rescuing an Aging Landmark
"Ninety years of exposure and thermal movement," Garrison said, "have caused some cracking in the marble and slight bulges in the drum. But overall, the structure remains in remarkably good condition." However, the exterior marble was badly in need of cleaning after years of accumulating soot and exhaust.
Lately, "the monument to the American Renaissance," as Garrison called the Girard building, had fallen into disuse. Mellon Bank had bought the building, but in 1998 Mellon closed the main branch of their bank. In 1991, the adjacent highrise office tower had closed after the Meridian Bank Building next door was destroyed in a dramatic fire.
Enter the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. In 1998, Ritz contracted with owner Craig Spencer of the Arden Group, developers for the project. Hillier architects and preservationists had already been commissioned for the project, and with the backing of Marriott Corporation, the Ritz's parent company, Hillier's work on the $88 million adaptive reuse was given the go-ahead.
"The buildings are extremely well suited for a hotel," said Garrision. "The dome building is perfect for grand public spaces like restaurants and reception. In the tower, the floors are similar enough to be efficiently maintained, but each room has unique elements."
Puttin' on the Ritz
The new Ritz-Carlton will include 330 guest rooms in the tower, including a $3,500 a day luxury suite in the penthouse, the former junior executive dining hall.
The Ionic columns on the gleaming white marble exterior lead to the large round main lobby floor surrounded by pillars. A round marble counter encircles the center of the main lobby through which the crystal chandelier of the grand ballroom below is visible. The counter that was formerly the main teller desk now forms the periphery for a bar where guests can have light snacks and drinks.
On either side of the lobby will be two restaurants, one a high-style Italian restaurant and the other a gourmet American dining spot. Up a half flight of stairs, through a door from the former safe deposit vault, a cigar bar and grill will serve smoking guests. A closed door and a strong air filtration system will prevent the smoke and odor from leaving the room.
Everywhere there is luxury. Throughout the building are fine carpets from New Zealand, crystal from the Czech Republic, and marble from Italy and Turkey. Silk upholstery—not wallpaper—covers the walls of the ballrooms, meeting rooms, guest rooms, and bathrooms.
The entire tone is set by the mahogany wood, soft colored carpets, and strong maroon, hunter green, and gold themes in guest rooms and public areas. For the truly luxurious, a private dining room seats 25 and features a huge fireplace. The room is the former bank president's office.
There are modern touches as well. Each room is decorated differently but each includes in-room movies, high-speed internet access, and even a computer butler to answer cyber questions.
With the frightening image of this structure being allowed to deteriorate and fading into history, the new Ritz-Carlton project embodies the best of adaptive reuse and preservation.
This article will be published in the July 2000 issue of Philadelphia's monthly "Art Matters."
Developer: The Arden Group
Architect: The Hillier Group Architects
Interior Design: Hirsch Bedner Associates
Structural Engineer: Cagley and Harman, Inc.
Construction Manager: L.F. Driscoll Company
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: R.G. Vanderweil Engineers
Environmental: React Environmental Services, Inc.
Lighting Consultant: Lighting Design Alliance
Editor's Note The PFSF Building is another architectural landmark in Philadelphia - considered the first Modernist skyscraper in the United States - which has been preserved by sensitive conversion to a hotel, by Loews.