Built between 1832 and 1834, the Merchant’s Exchange was designed by prominent 19th century architect William Strickland and can be found bounded by Dock, Third and Walnut Streets. While it is now utilized as an office building, its original purpose was that of a brokerage house.
William Strickland (born in 1788) was a founder of the Gothic Revival in the United States and was also part of the Greek Revival. Two very prominent examples of his Greek design are the Second Bank of the United States (modeled after the Parthenon) and the Merchant’s Exchange. Unlike the Second Bank, (which was merely a blueprint at the time) the Exchange was a unique design which Strickland had tailored to suit its location. Its round façade faces towards the waterfront, while its Third Street side is a more typical rectangular Greek style. Strickland chose to model the copula which sits atop its round portico based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.
Copulas can be used to allow the entrance of light and air into a building, as well as providing a lookout post. Strickland’s intent, apart from aesthetic purposes, included all of these. The shape of the building’s round portico originally followed the flow of Dock Creek, a polluted inlet which was later paved over to become what is now Dock Street. From the copula, one could see the passing of ships in the waterfront. The interior of the Merchant’s Exchange boasts mosaic floors complemented by a domed ceiling covered with frescoes (the walls too) and supported by marble columns. The Merchant’s Exchange was declared a National Historical Landmark in 2001. —-Alex Graziano