Chateau Crillon

Philadelphia City, Philadelphia County, PA

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The Chateau Crillon (222 South 19th Street) was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.


Soaring high above the west side of fashionable Rittenhouse Square, the Chateau Crillon is a tribute to the effective marketing in the "Roaring Twenties" of center city high rise living. The building rises 27 stories above its narrow (34 x 190 ft) site, stepping back in the period mode at the 17th and 24th floors before terminating in the tall hipped "chateau" roof from which the name is derived. A strong vertical force is established by the three bay stacks that give three dimensionality to an otherwise flat composition. The tapering form, emphasized base and top and the vertical wall organization are all hallmarks of the great American tall buildings of the decade.

As with most tall buildings of the period the underlying structural steel frame is suggested by the height, while the walls remained a continuous surface to be embellished according to the tastes of the client and the architect. For the Chateau Crillon, the architect, Horace Trumbauer, used a rough textured yellow brick as the principal material with limestone detail emphasizing the corners, set backs and framing the decorative openings of the building's base. And too, it is the limestone detail that is chiefly utilized to establish the style -- here the Lombardic Romanesque, then being rediscovered by architectural historians. The pronounced lintels with great arches, the strongly marked corbel tables that form cornices, and the spiralled columns at the corners of the building mark the Lombardic mode. Such a design was probably suggested by the recent success of A. L. Harmon's great Shelton Hotel in New York, but also seemed to a reasonable analog to the slender residential spire, recalling campanile and tower of the medieval villages of north Italy. Similar solutions to formal problems were common for most of the great 20's skyscrapers here and in New York. At the same time, the solution was one that was traditional enough, and provided high enough level of detail to make it appropriate to its Rittenhouse Square location -- an important consideration for an architect whose principal clients came from the conservative Philadelphia upper classes and from those seeking to join their august circle.

With the unfortunate exception of the modern shop which disrupts the base and corner column at 19th Street, the facade is as the architect designed it. Even the ephemeral items of stained glass in the first floor transoms and the wrought iron lams and grates remain.

The plan of the Chateau Crillon is typical for the narrow site. An entrance lobby, originally detailed in the manner of the exterior gives access to the elevator banks that line the south wall. Though modernized, that lobby still shows Trumbauer's imaginative attempt to transcend the narrowness of the site by opening not into non-existent depth, but rather up to available height.


The Chateau Crillon is significant as a distinguished design by one of Philadelphia's foremost architects, Horace Trumbauer, and is urbanistically important as one of a group of high rise spines that crowded around Rittenhouse Square in the 1920s making it the principal Philadelphia locus of period Art Deco. Moreover, the building stands on a site that has been of continuous architectural significance ever since the square became a fashionable address in the 1840s. Here, in 1863, John MacArthur, Jr. built a great mansion for Julia Repplier, wife of one of the early coal magnates; and later it became one of the city residences of art patron and financier Henry C. Gibson.

In terms of Trumbauer's career, the Chateau Crillon comes at the end, after the architect had established his reputation as the designer of great neo-baroque extravaganzas -- the Philadelphia Museum of Art (with Zantzinger and Borie), the Free Library of Philadelphia, the mansions for the Widener and Elkins families in the northern suburbs and their summer "cottages" at Newport, as well as the massive center city buildings, the Benjamin Franklin and Ritz Carlton Hotels, and the Land Title addition. When tastes changed away from the classically-styled works of the turn of the century, Trumbauer like his most successful contemporaries was able to make the transition -- ending his career with the crisp, up-to-date Art Deco, here with Lombardic Romanesque detail. That same interest in current ideas is reflected not only in the styling, but in the construction details as well, here in particular the steel easements and the simple finishes of the interior, which contrasted with the traditional exterior, suggests the dual nature of the building as a modern living situation in the heart of old Philadelphia. In recognizing and dealing with both issues, Trumbauer suggests an urban sensitivity that is the hallmark of the best period work.

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