Centennial National Bank (1876)
Frank Furness
3140-3142 Market Street, Philadelphi

Photo: Jack Boucher (1961). From the Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS PA-1525-02; HABS PA-1525-05.

The Centennial National Bank was chartered on January 19, 1876 as the “financial agent of the board at the [Centennial] Exhibition, receiving and accounting for daily receipts, changing foreign moneys into current funds, etc.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer 1/22/1876.) Designed by architect Frank Furness, the bank’s Market Street headquarters were opened for business in April of the same year. During the Centennial, a branch office operated on the fairgrounds.

Located at southeast corner of 32nd and Market Street, the bank was ideally positioned to attract the attention—and business—of fair-goers. Lancaster Avenue, the main thoroughfare from downtown Philadelphia and 30th Street Station to the Centennial grounds, originally terminated at the intersection. Set on a diagonal with an eye-catching three-sided façade, Furness’s structure capitalized on this prime location and served as a focal point for the avenue.

Constructed of deep orange brick and sandstone, with black brick trim, and capped with hipped gabled roof, the building’s chunky, robust design marked a significant turning point in Furness’s style.  Following the departure of his partner George Hewitt in 1875, Furness moved away from the British-influenced High Victorian Gothic that had characterized his earlier works, such as the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, and began to solidify the independent expressive vocabulary based on historical sources that would characterize his later work. Michael Lewis remarks that the bank was a response to what Furness perceived as the “strengths and weaknesses” of his recently completed Academy of the Fine Arts.  Among the flaws was “a scattering of architectural energy,” which Furness attempted the remedy in the bank by concentrating structural forces at decisive points and by heightening the contrast between solid and void to create powerful, three-dimensional facades, quite unlike the Academy’s flat front.

Originally one-story with a two-story façade, the Centennial National Bank has undergone a series of alterations since its completion. In 1893, the interior was altered, and in 1899 architect Frank Miles Day constructed an addition in the style of Furness. In 1956, alterations by architect Budd Ross to modernize the building for its new tenant, the First Bank of Pennsylvania and Trust Company, splitting the building’s interior into two floors while simplifying its exterior. Most recently, a major renovation by Voith & McTavish Architects for Drexel University has restored the building’s façade and created a new two-story addition designed to coordinate with Furness’s original style. In 2002, the Centennial National Bank was rededicated as the Paul Peck Alumni Center for Drexel University.

Sources Cited:

  • Lewis, Michael J. Frank Furness: Architecture and Violent Mind. New  York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001.
  • Thomas, George E. and Michael J. Lewis and Jeffrey A. Cohen, Frank Furness: The Complete Works. New York:  Princeton Architectural Press, 1991.
  • Webster, Richard J. Philadelphia Preserved. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1976.
  • “Centennial Matters,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 22, 1876.
  • Massey, James C. “Frank Furness in the 1870’s: Some Lesser Known Buildings,” Charette, January 1963.
  • McDonald, Martha, “From Bank Building to Alumni Center,” Clem Labine’s Traditional Building, May/June 2002.
  • Historic American Buildings Survey HABS/HAER/HALS list for Philadelphia and surrounding counties: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/
  • Philadelphia Architects and Buildings: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/10675

For additional information and references, see the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Web Site: