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Merchants’ Exchange

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1832–1833, William Strickland; 1964–1965 exterior restored, National Park Service. S. 3rd and Walnut sts.

Even as the battle over the fate of the Second Bank of the United States (PH12.11) was raging in Congress, Philadelphians began construction of a new center for the regional economy. Its location near City Tavern (PH12.9), and within a few blocks of the port and the Second Bank, placed it advantageously for commerce. Office spaces opening directly off the side streets were provided for Philadelphia brokers, while Strickland's architectural practice and the early brokerage groups occupied rooms on the upper levels. The central exchange room in the great rotunda of the main floor was given expression on the exterior by a ring of columns that forms a semicircular volume to infill the diagonal where Dock Street joined Walnut Street. In the middle of that volume, and recalling the tower of the Royal Exchange in London, is a crowning lantern that was modeled on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, a fifth-century BC monument to the victor in a singing contest that was featured in Stuart and Revett's Antiquities of Athens (1762). The lantern contained a stair that permitted telescopic views of a heliograph across the Delaware River on the New Jersey shore that used a system of mirrors on towers to exchange information with the New York markets in less than five minutes. The tower also provided views down the Delaware, making it possible to announce the arrival of ships in the harbor and to begin trading their cargo even before they were moored. Speeding commerce has been a driving force in this nation from its beginnings. The Pennsylvania marble facade is memorable for its contrasting elegance between the delicacy of the Corinthian capitals (carved in Italy) and the brutal scale of the great columnar piers that flank the Walnut Street entrance. Altered by Furness and Hewitt (1871) and later by Louis Hickman when the Philadelphia Stock Exchange returned to the building (1902), the exterior was restored by the National Park Service, whose regional offices it houses.

A more modest Greek Revival essay is Thomas Ustick Walter's nearby Philadelphia Savings Fund Society at 306 Walnut Street (1839–1840; 1881 pediment, James P. Sims).

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas
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Citation

George E. Thomas, "Merchants’ Exchange", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-02-PH12.12.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 61-62.

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