Almost as soon as I'd ran up the stone steps and was through the door, I realized that this was no ordinary store. Not because of the amazing clothing-line, though I am sure it was an amazing line, but because of the building itself. I was a little shocked, on two accounts; firstly, it was quite obvious that it had once been a rather grand, private home, and it had been a very beautiful one, and much love, money and architectural thought had gone into it's creation. But something terrible had happened to it. The walls had been intentionally defaced and butchered to create a shabby- chic looking retail space.
As I walked around the grand old home, the clothes on the racks and the tables of girly accessories were invisible to me, and those that weren't, I only really noticed because they were in the way blocking my view. All I could do was stare at the defaced walls, the blatantly hacked- off moldings around the doorways... It seems they wanted to expose the lathe, around the windows too, removing the plaster to make the shop more rustic- looking, which was the Anthropologie theme. Perhaps Anthropologie had inherited it already damaged, who knows, it didn't really matter, the carnage was done.
I felt so sad for this building, for America too, as it seems that there is so little respect and love for it's own, short history. Old homes were allowed to be torn down, left to rot, or defaced like this one, under our very noses, and no one seemed to care. I saw customers walk in , not even noticing the beautiful building or what had been done to it. In my mind's eye I was putting back entire missing floors that had been removed and ceilings, and imagining the architectural details from the remnants that were left . There was a vast, ornate white stone or marble plaque, with frolicking children playing instruments, surrounded by flowers and fruit on the wall half way up the stairs. It greeted shoppers if they looked up to the landing. Luckily it hadn't been damaged. And half blocked by the new, ugly cement staircase, was a stained glass window on the left , sadly in need of repair and a good clean. In the roof above the stairs was a colourful, vast glass dome, which the store had thankfully kept.
I bet there was a story to this house, I thought.
To the right of the warehouse style concrete staircase, past the tables and clothes wracks, was the room to my right. An enormous, white, ornate, stone and very detailed fireplace was on the back wall, and I imagined the parties and dinners it had witnessed, and the gentlemen standing with their backs to it on a winter's night with a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other. It looked rather majestic, but very, very sad, almost forgotten, half obstructed by the clothing. This must have been a grand room. I looked up at the ceiling and nearly died! A fantastic display little portraits of all the Popes were incased in an ornate, honeycomb plaster circle. It covered the ceiling. It was clearly a replica of an important ceiling somewhere in Italy, and I will have to look it up. Who would have thought that one would come across dozens of old portraits of the Popes on a ceiling of a store in downtown Philadelphia? This was a true diamond, a piece of American history. And I wish I had the money to put it back together again.
I have since found out that the house was built by Sarah Drexel, daughter to the Philadelphia banker. This is one of the articles I have found on the home and the family. /http://www.library.drexel.edu/blogs/drexelarchives/2011/11/18/the-van-rensselaer-family/