In Crimes on Latimer, Marco Fontana opens his first office as a private investigator. It’s located in a building on Latimer St. near 12th Street. At some point in his adventures in that office, he mentions an abomination of a building that was built on the corner of Latimer and Twelfth — the Latimer House (at least that’s what people are calling it these days). You can’t tell from looking at the exterior what exactly it is. A slaughterhouse? A factory? Some kind of lair for a killer or a spy? A mad scientist’s hideaway? None of the above. It’s just a home with pretentious longings.
The dark and brooding building has always been an eyesore and an affront to the neighborhood in which it resides.
The drab building is a monstrosity. Dull gray, sulking, and out of step with its neighbors, it challenges people to guess what strangeness it holds. With evil glee, a sign on the building informs you that your comings and goings are being recorded. An unfriendly greeting which fits the building’s mood.
Latimer House completely defies the red-brick nature of its surrounding neighborhood. Red brick structures are part and parcel of this town and have been since colonial times. A number of new mansions have gone up in Center City over the past twenty years and just about all of them have been respectful of the neighborhoods in which they landed. Not Latimer House.
This fortress hunches on the corner, ferocious in it’s blank angry stare. It dares a passer-by to linger and look — mostly because there’s no reason to look and less reason to linger. There’s nothing pretty or uplifting about it. It’s a hunk of stone, out of place in a rich red-brick neighborhood. It symbolizes nothing except disrespect for the city, recalls no history, and lifts no spirits because it gives the city and it’s inhabitants a cold gray shoulder.
According to an article on the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine in 1993, the designers wanted a suburban home in the middle of the city. They didn’t want to look at the city and so they turned most of the structure inward to face a courtyard. The ribbon of windows, high above any human head, are broken by the corner window which is the nicest feature of the facade.
To be fair, the designers claimed to love city life: the noise and dust and clutter. At the same time, they designed the building “to make the inner city into fabulous suburban living.” The question that arises is: If suburban living is so fabulous, why destroy the character of a city neighborhood to recreate something so foreign to its nature? Just move to the burbs and live fabulously.
30 Mar 2015