Humming A New Tune At 13th & Mount Vernon Substation

 

One giant auto body shop to become many homes? | Photo: Bradley Maule

One giant auto body shop to become many homes? | Photo: Bradley Maule

A zoning notice on the multitiered façade at 1221 Mount Vernon Street has announced that the end is nigh for Nationwide Auto Body Shop. The mechanics, who have been there since the 1950s, will soon be closing up shop, and if the Zoning Board of Adjustments gives its green light, a major overhaul will turn the 116 year old building into 40 housing units.

In March 1897 at the site of the current building, a major fire swept through the substation belonging to the Union Traction Company, killing two employees. Union, the company formed by the merger of the Philadelphia Traction Company, Electric Traction Company, and People’s Traction Company, salvaged what equipment it could and rebuilt around it that year. Union only lasted five more years before filing for bankruptcy and reorganizing as Philadelphia Rapid Transit, who in turn went bankrupt in 1939. Transit operations were then assumed by the new Philadelphia Transportation Company, the immediate predecessor to SEPTA. SEPTA still owns the building directly next door, on the corner of 13th & Mount Vernon, and uses it to power the 15 Trolley and the Ridge Avenue Spur of the Broad Street Subway.

The property on which 1221 Mount Vernon resides, meanwhile, wraps around the SEPTA substation, fronting on Mount Vernon and stepping back 171′ alongside Camac Street, which appears to receive very little use (and which doesn’t even appear on Google Maps). The western side of the property forms a T and goes out to a 13th Street curb cut.

The 14,000 sq ft building, due to its original nature as a power station, is largely windowless, which might be about to change. Plans submitted to the Poplar CDC by architects Harman Deutsch, whose offices are around the corner at 631 North 12th Street and whose work can be seen throughout the West Poplar neighborhood, indicate a major overhaul.

On Camac Street, not much to look at . . . yet | Photo: Bradley Maule

On Camac Street, not much to look at . . . yet | Photo: Bradley Maule

As the plans call for forty new units, and people generally favor living in places with natural light, the roof will be entirely removed, save for the trusses. Its replacement will feature a skylight the full depth of the building to provide that light, as well as a community corridor between the units. The new roof will also feature decks for each of the units, the existing exterior walls to stay as parapets.

Along Camac Street, new windows will be punched out of the long, brick wall, and home façades added to make it less industrial and more homey. This twist on façadism will also be applied to the public face of the building along Mount Vernon Street. The crow-stepped gable will be repointed and the oculus will remain, but the same painted steel and stucco townhouse frontage will be applied to the front. At the rear of structure, currently used for Nationwide employee parking, six additional three-story townhouses will be constructed.

Slight redo: plans for the front of 1221 Mount Vernon | Image: Harman Deutsch Architecture

Slight redo: plans for the front of 1221 Mount Vernon | Image: Harman Deutsch Architecture

It’s a significant amount of change for the former substation, which was once a pseudo twin of the existing and active SEPTA substation next door. (See this 1900 photo from the Hagley Digital Archives HERE.) The change goes before the ZBA on Wednesday, April 3rd, at 2pm.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



3 Comments


  1. Correcting a minor historical point:

    The successor to the Union Traction Company was the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. It went bankrupt in the Depression and was reorganized as the Philadelphia Transportation Company; that was SEPTA’s immediate predecessor.

  2. Whoops, you’re right Sandy. I went and merged the two companies’ names. I’ve corrected it in the story — thanks for the heads up.

  3. great read, a skylight the depth of the building, you say. Sounds fancy.

Recent Posts
Social Entrepreneurs Wake Up Lower Walnut Street With Social Design Cafe

Social Entrepreneurs Wake Up Lower Walnut Street With Social Design Cafe

May 27, 2015  |  Walk the Walk

FRIEDA for generations, a socially-minded startup company, is carving out a home inside the long vacant Maryland Casualty Company office at Walnut Place in Society Hill. Joseph Brin profiles the organization's forthcoming cafe that aims to combine coffee talk, intergenerational networking, and local design > more

Mutually Beneficial Rivalry Coming To East Market Street

Mutually Beneficial Rivalry Coming To East Market Street

May 27, 2015  |  Morning Blend

The Gallery and East Market as more than the sum of their competing parts, the history of Ridge Ave, undercounting the transit constituency, and tracking a half-century of intra-Commonwealth migration > more

The Lost Backstreet Of The Bellevue Court Building

The Lost Backstreet Of The Bellevue Court Building

May 26, 2015  |  The Shadow Knows

The Bellevue Court Building on Walnut Street takes its namesake from a street that was erased in the 1990s by the construction of the Tiffany's & Co. jewelry store. The Shadow takes a walk down the forgotten thoroughfare with the building's beginnings and background > more

Making A Case For Please Touch Museum

Making A Case For Please Touch Museum

May 26, 2015  |  Morning Blend

The larger funding imperative for the Please Touch Museum, a community input meeting for the Ridge Avenue Pocket Park, and Vietnam Memorial rededicated at Penn’s Landing > more

Then And Now: North Broad And Lehigh

Then And Now: North Broad And Lehigh

May 22, 2015  |  Then & Now, Vantage

The square block at North Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue has been a bit worse for wear for decades. Though, with recent, high-stakes investment North of City Hall, that may soon change, returning the area to its former glory when the Philadelphia Phillies claimed the block for their first home stadium, Baker Bowl. Jennifer Rogers brings it all back with her series, Then and Now > more

Indego Goes Well

Indego Goes Well

May 22, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Indego’s first month by the numbers, spot zoning fears in Andorra, finding your way through East Passyunk, and vacant land in Fishtown being developed > more