Having started his career by producing one of
the first Greek inspired buildings for the new
nation at the Second Bank, William Strickland
created another masterpiece 16 years later,
with the Merchant's Exchange. Where the
Second Bank is a severe Greek temple,
conservative and staid; the Merchant's
Exchange is an exciting tour-de-force of
classically inspired form. In particular, the
semi-circular colonnade on the eastern façade
of the building is one of the most beautifully
executed elevations of the era.
There are aesthetic problems - the building
presents a bit of a split personality. The face of
the building, on Third Street, presents a
beautiful grand temple portico at the second
level of the structure. Unfortunately, visitors are
forced to enter around two squat columns at
street level which partially hide the main doors.
More successfully elsewhere on the ground
floor, Strickland designed separate shop fronts
facing directly out onto the street so that
merchants could keep their own hours and
have direct access without having to go inside
The Merchant's Exchange
Each shop front door is half glazed and flanked by very tall double hung windows. The shop fronts
are flanked by columns with Lotus leaf capitals. The upper floors have large double hung windows
with sidelights, an arrangement Strickland had used earlier at the Second Bank and a precursor to
the Chicago style window 50 years in the future.
Going back to the real magic of the building - on the east side, behind the giant Corinthian columns
of the portico, Strickland encloses the trading room floor with a semicircular wall facing the port.
The wall has enormous double hung windows over 10 feet tall which would have flooded the trading
room with light. The original view out these windows would have included the docks in the port of
Philadelphia. If the Corinthian columns marching around the semicircular trading hall at the second
level seem familiar, they should. It is very reminiscent of that most famous Federal era house, The
The trading room has a tile roof inspired by its Greek forbearers and topped by a cupola inspired
by the Choragic Monument to Lysicrates, lifted directly out of Stewart and Revett's Antiquities of
Athens. Two curving staircases, guarded by two sleepy lions carved by Italian sculptors working in
Philadelphia, lead up to trading floor level. As beautiful as these stairs are, as Roger Moss
suggests, they could only have been secondary entrances given their exposure to the weather.
Contemporary accounts indicate that the Third Street entrance was the one used most often.
Regrettably the interiors have been mostly lost and the building is now used as offices for the
National Park Service with some exhibition space.
Even so, it is apparent why this marble palace of commerce set a very high standard for
commercial buildings in the new Republic
Strickland's tour-de-force, created
just a few years after his Second
Bank, shows a more self-assured
mix and match attitude toward