The old Jacob Reed's Sons store on Chestnut Street, now a CVS, is justly admired for its palazzo-style facade and arts-and-craft mosaic, created by architect William L. Price in 1905. But this baby's got back, too. The rear facade on Sansom Street is a minor-key version of the front, featuring a monumental stained-glass window that would be at home in a grand church.
Nowadays, we're lucky if our downtown buildings present one good face to the world. You certainly don't want to look at their backs - often so cluttered with loading docks, garage doors, ventilation units, and Dumpsters. Even when the rear facade opens onto an important street, as so many in Philadelphia do, they're rarely considered worthy of an architect's attention.
But when Jacob Reed moved his successful men's clothing business west to 1424 Chestnut, Sansom Street was viewed as a vibrant, if secondary, retail corridor. While it was natural that the Chestnut facade would get the royal treatment, Price still made sure that Sansom received a complimentary design befitting its station.
The rear window acts as punctuation, completing Price's architectural thought. The stained-glass window is roughly the same size and shape as the Chestnut side's two-story arched entrance, and it's framed with the same sawtooth limestone outline. Inside the store, Price made ample use of stained glass, inserting colorful windows between vaulted arches. The large Sansom Street window continues the theme outside.
Jacob Reed's Sons, the Brooks Brothers of its day, closed in 1983. Sadly, there is now a line of Dumpsters below the great window, and it is no longer backlighted to show off its true colors. But the window survives as an elegant reminder of a time when every side of a building mattered.