New York Mutual Life Insurance Company Building
1001-1013 Chestnut Street
First Phase Built 1873-1875
Henry Fernbach (1829-1883)







Left: George Eisenman (1975). From the Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS PA-1523-1. Right: From The BaxterPanoramic Business Directory (1880).










Located on the northwest corner of the 10th and Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company Building (christened the Victory Building following World War One) was built in three phases between 1873 and 1901. One of Philadelphia's first office buildings, the edifice was constructed by the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company to house its Philadelphia headquarters.

Seven-stories tall and constructed of brick faced with Rhode Island granite and strengthened by cast-iron columns and girders, the Victory Building reflects the ornate Second Empire style that gained popularity following the Civil War. Like its Second Empire neighbors, the Union League (1854) at Broad and Sansom Streets, and Philadelphia City Hall (1872-1901) at Broad and Market Streets, the building is characterized by the mansard roofs and rich sculptural ornamentation typical of style. The original building was organized around a reverse E-shaped plan that created a functional interior layout, including a grand central staircase flanked by light courts it and, on each floor, a long corridor lined by offices running the length of building. The elaborate interior featured marble and hardwood floors, multiple fireplaces, a carved hardwood elevator with a chandelier, a ceremonial staircase and skylight, and elaborate pillars and ceilings.

The original three-story building was designed by New York architect Henry Fernbach and completed between 1873 and 1875. Philadelphia's Public Ledger marked the building's first day of operations (August 26, 1875), with a lengthy article praising the “beautiful granite building” and remarking, “Those who have inspected the interior speak in unqualified praise of its beauty and convenience, and some well-informed gentlemen state that in these respects it is not equaled by any building in America, and is unsurpassed by any in Europe.”

Between 1890 and 1891, architect Phillip Roos created a three-story addition to cap Fernbach's original design, but preserved the original mansard roof by raising it to crown the new floors. At the turn of the twentieth century, the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company commissioned Roos (now of the firm Roos and Brosman) to design an Italianate ten-story brick and terracotta addition for the building

After the New York Mutual Insurance Company moved its headquarters from the Victory Building in 1920, the building entered a period of decline. Problems were evident by the 1950s, when law enforcement officers stopped an illegal gambling ring operating out of the building's penthouse. In 1974, the Philadelphia real estate developer Samuel Rapport--infamous locally for widespread “demolition by neglect”--purchased the building and let it deteriorate dramatically. A four-alarm fire in 1982 nearly destroyed the building completely.

In 1992 Rapport was granted permission by the Department of Licenses and Inspection to demolish the building, which had become a major public safety hazard, as well as neighborhood eyesore. Galvanized by the impending destruction of this landmark, the Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (the forerunner of today's Preservation Alliance), organized a successful and highly publicized campaign to stop the building's destruction. In 1998, following Rapapport's death, his estate sold the building for $1.1 million dollars to Lubert Adler Real Estate, who, with Philadelphia Management Co,,undertook a $20 million dollar renovation of the Victory Building for Thomas Jefferson University. Completed in June 2004, the Victory Building now houses Thomas Jefferson Medical and Health Science Bookstore, as well as numerous apartments.

Sources Cited:
  • Baxter's Panoramic Business Directory, 1879-80. Available on-line at the Places in Time web site: http://www.brynmawr.edu/iconog/inven2.html#b57
  •  Teitleman, Edward, and Richard W. Longstreth, Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974.
  • Webster, Richard J., Philadelphia Preserved.  Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1976
  • “The New Building of the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company,” The Public Ledger, August, 25, 1875.
  • “Symbol of Decay Enjoys Rebirth in Center City,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 23, 2004.
  •  Historic American Buildings Survey HABS/HAER/HALS list for Philadelphia and surrounding counties:  http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/habs_haer/
  • National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form for New York Mutual Life Insurance Company. (Available on ARCH: Pennsylvania's Historic Architecture and Archaeology, National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Historic Places. http://www.arch.state.pa.us/
  • Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/12422
 




For additional information and references, see the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site: 
http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/12422