818 Chestnut Street
Ralph Bencker's 1936 renovation of 818 Chestnut Street shows an adoption of Art Deco ornamentation. While there usually are a combination of many elements, the limited alteration of the facade offers three strong elements of Art Deco. Included on the facade are strong metal work and geometrically altered plant forms. Above the doors and windows are metal spandrels, applied ornament using botanical references to create a repeating pattern of shapes. Also, the pediment has embossed reliefs that combine streamlines representations of clam shells and blooming flowers. The use of metal, applied geometric patterns and reliefs make Bencker's addition strong Art Deco ornamentation.
2212 Walnut Street
The WPEN studio is an Art Deco design with limited ornamentation. The actual storefront is bathed in copper spandrels and window frames. Geometric shapes include simple rectangles and hard edges, Gothicized columns bounding the door. The WPEN logo and black granite foreshadow the streamlined Art Moderne of the McGraw-Hill Building. The copper cladding and red terra cotta cornice oddly juxtapose with the moderne smooth granite. This building illustrates the strong metal work and geometry of Art Deco as well as the streamlined approach soon to be adopted in the 1930s on buildings such as Pennsylvania Railroad's Suburban Station. These important characteristics make the building one of Bencker's notable designs, one that has been historically listed.
Horn and Hardart Restaurant
Ralph Bencker's most prolific commission was for the Horn and Hardart Corporation. Known for its depression era Automat food counters, Horn and Hardart commissioned Bencker on a regular basis to design new structures and adapt existing restaurant space. From the mid 1920s through the 1940s Bencker designed for the corporation. Unfortunately, being small scale commercial storefronts, most of these structures have been modernized and no longer illustrate their industrial expressionism.
The Horn and Hardart designs were similar with fluted columns, extensive window metal work and functional interiors. Bencker designed different types of buildings for Horn and Hardart including Automat restaurants, bakery stores and an office building.
C/O Architectural Record 1929
C/O AIA/ T Square 1930
Best categorized as the WPA style, the Horn and Hardart buildings were heavily massed, stripped classical buildings. Ornamentation was usually kept to a minimum as the company continually expanded and renovated, needing capital to be spread over many projects. The masonry buildings had some botanical ornamentation, but the majority of detail rested in the strong geometric, vertical columns. Even on a small scale, the parapets were heavily massed and reflected Egyptian motifs.
The Horn and Hardart commissions are buildings that have strong masonry and metal ornament applied. These buildings can be called Art Deco but lack the polychrome and symbolism of great works. While the budget limitations set on Bencker may have prevented more ornament from being applied, its lacking makes the Horn and Hardart buildings classical designs with modern elements. There is not enough applied ornamentation to make this a great work of Art Deco.
C/O Architectural Record 1929