The Residences at the Ritz-Carlton at 1414 South Penn Square is one of Philadelphia's newest skyscrapers and a welcome addition to the Center City skyline. Officially opened in 2009 and topped off at 518 feet, many of us remember the plot as a super underutilized surface parking lot bordering 15th Street and the south end of City Hall, but a much different building formerly occupied the space for nearly 30 years.
At the time of its completion in 1972, One Meridian Plaza was the tallest building constructed in the city in about forty years, despite never having broken the old 'gentlemen's agreement' that no structure would be built taller than the statue of William Penn atop City Hall.
There it stood as a perfectly functional office building for 28 years until a fire broke out on the evening of February 28, 1991. A pile of linseed-soaked rags from a wood refinishing project ignited on the 22nd floor, and since the building's fire codes didn't require sprinklers on each floor (like they do today), the fire spread slowly over the course of 19 hours until it reached the sprinkler system on the 30th floor.
Low water pressure in the building was a nightmare as firefighters went so far as to dangle out of the surrounding buildings to try to contain the blaze. The 30th floor sprinkler system eventually did the job after the fire traveled eight floors, but three firefighters lost their lives in the battle. One Meridian Plaza stood as a burned out shell of its former self but posed no threat of collapse. After years of legal battles between the owners and the insurance company, the case was settled and the dismantlement of the building was completed in 1999.
Next time you're down in the area, take a moment to reflect at the firefighter's memorial at ground level and be glad that sprinkler systems are now mandatory for high rises.
· High-rise Office Building Fire One Meridian Plaza Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · 1 Meridian Plaza [You Tube]