Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Terminal Commerce Building / North American Building / 401 North Broad (1930)
401 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA (northeast corner of Callowhill Street)

Harry Kyriakodis (2007)

Occupying an entire city block at Broad and Callowhill Streets, this structure was touted as being the largest commercial warehouse building in the nation when completed in 1930. The Terminal Commerce Building cost $4 million to construct and was built by William Steele & Sons, a longstanding Philadelphia construction firm. The building offered about 13 million square feet of floor space, including showrooms and offices for the numerous firms that made their headquarters there. The massive edifice even had a freight station beneath it, which replaced the Reading's North Broad Street Freight Station and rail yard that had previously been on the site. Rail service was provided by the Reading's now-abandoned "City Branch" right-of-way, which passed underneath. The Terminal Commerce Building was reputedly used to manufacture tanks during WWII. And from the 1940s to 1973, it was the main U.S. Army Induction Center in Philadelphia, striking fear in the young men who entered or even passed by it. The Reading Railroad sold the structure in 1955, whereupon it became known as the North American Building. By the 1980s, it had become a low-rent office and light-industrial center. It more recently has been repositioned as a "carrier hotel" housing telecommunications, computer and other high-tech equipment. There are dozens of fiber optic lines into the building, large Internet servers, huge back-up power generators, and a number of telecom tenants. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Terminal Commerce Building-1
West facade along Broad Street. Photo Steven A. Ives (2007).