Good Eye: Crozer Building's crowning glory

You don't need to visit France to enjoy a good château. Just wander over to Chestnut Street, where the nine-story Crozer Building lords over the 1400 block. Unlike the aristocratic French homes, this is a vertical château, and it was created for a burgeoning American commercial district.

Designed by Frank Miles Day & Bro. in the late 1890s for the American Baptist Publication Society, the Crozer Building is one of the earliest tall buildings in Philadelphia. At the time, architects were making the transition from masonry to lighter steel-frame construction. Because the innovation made it cheaper and more efficient to build tall, it set off a wave of skyscraper construction.

The new modern form proved a challenge for architects, who were used to drawing on historic styles. Here, Day taps into the French Renaissance, dutifully giving Crozer a triple-arched base, a more subdued brick shaft, a patterned cornice, and a steeply pitched crown. All the details are finely sculpted in luscious, red-toned brick and terra cotta, but it is the crown that is fit for a king.

Two stories high, the roof is a small pyramid, adorned with copper jewelry that culminates in a pair of regal finials. Four peaked dormer windows mimic the slope of the roof, clad in terra cotta tiles.

For all its grandeur, Crozer was a hardworking building. The American Baptist Publication Society printed religious material, and the building housed the presses as well as the group's offices. Unfortunately, the elaborate first floor was toned down after World War II.

What makes Crozer even more remarkable is the company it keeps: Next door is the former Jacob Reed store, modeled on an Italian palazzo. Now, that's a combination you won't find in Europe.

The Crozer Building is on the south side of Chestnut Street between Broad and 15th Streets.