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  • Luke Wistar Morris

History of The Curtis Center Building

During the early 20th century, the Curtis Building became one of the largest and most consequential publishers in America. The Curtis Center crosses South 6th and Walnut Street, in close proximity to Independence Hall. This beautiful building rich in history was designed by Edgar Viguers Seeler and takes up the entire block and goes through South 7th to the west and the north of Sansom street. In 1990, the building was renovated by John Milner Associates and Oldham and Seltz.

The Origins Of The Curtis Center

Known for the famous and authentic publications such as Country Gentlemen, American, Jack & Jill and Holiday the Curtis Building was founded by the publisher Cyrus Curtis in 1891 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Curtis, who published the news magazine in Boston in 1872, The Peoples Ledger, then made his big move to Philadelphia in 1876. In 1879, he also established a publication called the Tribune and Farmer, where he created and his wife, Louisa Knapp, edited and worked together to manage the women’s section of Ladies Home Journal in 1889. Curtis then went on to invest in the Saturday Evening Post which would later become popular for its stories and illustrations by Norman Rockwell. In March of 1962, Robert A MacNeal, the publishing president, had announced that the Curtis Publishing company had lost money for the very first time in more than 70 years. In 1968, the company was then loaned $5 million from Perfect Film as per First National Bank of Boston, Curtis’ primary loan holder. After Curtis sold the Philadelphia headquarters to John W. Merriam for $7.3 million, he paid off most of the loan and then leased half of the building back again.

Curtis Publishing sold Ladies’ Home Journal and The American Home to Downe Communications for $5.4 million in stock in 1968, then sold the stock for cash to begin operating with. The attempts to rekindle the making of the Saturday Evening Post had been unsuccessful and eventually the six million Post subscribers were sold to Life for cash, a $2.5 million loan and contract with Curtis’ printing services. In 1969, the Post was finally shut down and the Federal Trade Commission informed Curtis to give cash refunds for the incomplete portions of the subscriptions. During that same year, Perfect Film had purchased the Curtis Circulation Company. In 1976, a children’s magazine, U.S Kids, a spin off of Curtis’ The Saturday Evening Post Society, was born.

The Dream Garden Mosaic

The Curtis Center Building features a promenade with a waterfall and fountain on the interior of the building along with artificial Egyptian palm trees and the glass mosaic, known as The Dream Garden. This beautiful work of art was designed by Maxwell Parish and made by Louis Tiffany of Tiffany Studios and required 100,000 of favrile glass in 260 colors all set in place by hand. The Senior Editor, Edward Bok, of Tiffany Studios commissioned the work of art in the Tiffany Studio in New York City for a month before displaying it in the Curtis Center building. The Dream Garden mosaic was sold to Steve Wynn, a casino owner in Las Vegas in 1998. He soon planned to move the mosaic to his Las Vegas casino but because of strong connection and love that the historians and artists had for this piece, his plan to move the mosaic, failed. The people of the city raised $3.5 million dollars to prevent the removal. Pew Charitable Trust provided the funds to prevent him from moving the mosaic and it now belongs to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

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