40th & Ludlow
The three-story Consortium building has had a rich and surprising history masked by circa-1970s metal cladding and putty-colored paint that seemed to actively repel the pedestrian. Columbus Construction removed the metal cladding to unveil one of Frank Furness’s earliest commissions, completed in 1876 (the same year as his masterpiece Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) while working with then-partner George Hewitt: the West Philadelphia Institute.
One of a handful of privately run men’s institutes, this one offered a library (open to men and women “with no sectarian or partisan bias”), classrooms, and an auditorium. Philadelphia had more of these kinds of social clubs, libraries, societies, and improvement associations than any other city and the buildings they built and occupied lend particular character to Philadelphia street. The West Philadelphia Institute gave way to a dancing school and then later, in the 1920s, was purchased by the Philadelphia Electric Company for offices and an appliance showroom and expanded and substantially altered by the architect John Windrim.