Loews Philadelphia Hotel: The History of our Building
The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PSFS) was the first savings bank in the United States. During the 1920s, the Savings Fund began to outgrow its headquarters, the increasing volume of banking business and growth in population made it necessary to expand and in 1929. The bank commissioned the construction of a 36-story, 491-foot skyscraper that would provide for the banking and office activities of the Society.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the building was built and equipped at an estimated cost of $8 million and was opened in stages between 1932 and 1933. The $8 million cost was an overwhelming amount during the depression. Today, the building’s materials and features would be near impossible to afford.
The PSFS building is considered one of the most significant buildings of the 20th century. The building revolutionized urban landscape. The structure was the world’s second skyscraper to have central air-conditioning. The public referred to it has “weather in a box.” The public was convinced that central air conditioning was harmful to their health, so for one week, the engineer spent 24 hours a day in the building to prove it was not harmful.
The architects, George Howe and William Lescaze, made certain every detail of the building was perfect. From the marble and granite from 32 different countries to the rare woods used throughout the hotel. Cartier designed clocks were on each floor making a dramatic statement. In 1969 the local AIA voted it the most important building in the city in the last hundred years. By 1979 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the fortune of PSFS began to change as a nationwide economic downturn and deregulation of the banking industry led to a banking crisis. The company had expanded operations and acquired the name Meritor Financial Group. PSFS remaining the flagship of the parent company.
In 1989 and under heavy pressure from the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), Meritor agreed to sell fifty-four suburban branches to the Mellon Bank Corporation for $335 million. Mellon also purchased the right to use “PSFS” on its area branches. On December 11, 1992, Meritor Savings Bank closed its doors for business. The PSFS building became just another of the thousands of real estate properties in the hands of the FDIC.
In 1997, hotelier Jonathan Tisch and Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell announced in the PSFS boardroom that the PSFS building would be converted into a Loews Hotel. Conversion into a hotel began in 1998, and the Loews Philadelphia Hotel opened in April 2000. The hotel takes full advantage of the historical features of the building. The once three story banking room is now a beautiful banquet space that has preserved the historical features, such as the banks safe, Cartier clocks, and original marble. The Loews Philadelphia hotel contains 581 luxury rooms situated in one of the most significant and historical buildings in the country.
The famous PSFS sign
Having the PSFS sign on the roof of the building was the first time any advertisement was integrated into a building’s design. At the time the sign was put up, such acronyms were unheard of. Throughout the great depression the sign remained lit 24 hours a day. This reassured its customers that their money was safe and secure during hard times. Years later the decision was made to only have the sign lit at night. However, in 1990 the bank was placed into receivership and the federal government made the decision to turn off the lights permanently. This decision outraged the public, which caused the sign to be turned back on in a matter of days. To this day the sign still illuminates the Philadelphia skyline.
The 33rd Floor
The 33rd floor of the PSFS building was once set aside for the highest echelons of business. The top floor soon established itself as one of the most powerful business settings in the country. The floor was so exclusive and powerful that many of the PSFS top executives never even stepped foot upon the top level. According to urban myth, the elevator operators would get out of the car on the 32nd floor, to have the passengers go to the 33rd floor alone. As the elevator door closed the operator would yell “you’re on your way gentleman!”
The historical features of the prestigious floor have been well maintained as part of the hotel. Today the original designs remain in place as well as the unique style of the building remains obvious to this day.