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.”
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.
- 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
- Webster, Richard
J. Philadelphia Preserved.
Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1976.
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
Architects and Buildings web site: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/10675