When Google Street View launched in 2007, it caused an immediate loss in work productivity as everyone searched for themselves, then their family and friends, then their favorite places. In 2014, when Google added the time machine feature, it started the cycle again, as people could now perform the same search through layers of years. Through those layers of years, one can also witness the evolution of a city in real time. Timeline wise, Google Street View presents a perfect study for Fishtown.
Vacant lots fill in with new construction. Grimy garages become flagships. Barren sidewalks grow bioswales and street trees. In some cases, old buildings say their last goodbye to the Google Maps Camera Car.
Over the past ten years, as Fishtown’s identity has shifted from a mostly white, stationary, working class to a mostly white, mobile, creative class, long vacant spaces have filled up with new housing, with ground floor commercial space on commercial corridors like Frankford and Girard Avenues. But as Google Street View will attest, in just the past two or three years, the vacant spaces are filling up quickly, and development has turned toward older, vulnerable buildings.
Pilgrim Congregational Church, a church built in 1851 at Belgrade and Marlborough Streets, was demolished and replaced by five occupied homes in less than 12 months last year. Across Delaware Avenue from Penn Treaty Park, a set of four small wooden homes on Allen Street that possibly date to the 1790s have been replaced by five large new multi-unit homes wrapping up construction now. Even Jay’s Pedal Power, a 40-year bicycle institution at Palmer & Girard, succumbed and closed last year; it was demolished last month. And in a stroke of unfortunate coincidence, PennDOT’s reconstruction of the Girard interchange of I-95 took down the last remaining building (built in 1913) of the once mighty William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company and the Remington-Sherman Company safe manufactory (1905). Just beyond the boundaries of Frankford Avenue and York Street, an 1870s stable on Trenton Avenue, an 1889 church on East Cumberland Street, and a midcentury modern bank on Girard Avenue have all come down in the past year.
Nobody knows you can’t save everything better than a historic preservationist. And in many cases, it’s better to let old, deteriorated buildings go in favor of new investment, new business, new people. But if there’s a case to be made to save an old building, someone has to make it. The Philadelphia Historical Commission is famously underfunded, and without a comprehensive survey of the city’s historical stock, it’s up to the community to do the research and prepare a coherent nomination for the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, and that effort must meet a certain set of criteria. And as the designation of the four properties from 1101 to 1113 Frankford Avenue revealed in April, it’s not always a popular process, even with those who are committed to preserving and reusing buildings.
“Nomination is a confrontational process,” says Andrew Fearon, an architectural conservator and executive director of Kensington/Olde Richmond Heritage (KORH), the organization for preservation advocacy in the River Wards. “It’s too slow, and it effectively puts the nominator on trial.”
(DISCLOSURE AND NOTE: Andrew, along with historian Ken Milano and preservation advocate Oscar Beisert will lead a Hidden City walking tour of historic Fishtown this Saturday at 10AM that will end at the Trenton Avenue Arts Festival and Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby. Info and tickets are HERE.)
Fearon also advised the Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, a group that galvanized around the planned demolition of the former East Montgomery Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1875 and converted to apartments many years ago. It was an early Fishtown example of adaptive reuse for a house of worship. Along with the adjacent lot, used for parking and a small garden, the church was sold for $1 million in October to a group who planned to build townhomes on the lot (which has happened and is ongoing) and demolish the church for more townhouses. Ori Feibush, who brokered the deal, worked with the preservation advocates to have the church alone re-listed, and it was sold in late March to a private buyer who will keep the church intact.
The sale of the church, which was not (and is still not) on the Philadelphia Register, scored a rare victory for preservation and energized the group. “You don’t have to be an architectural historian,” says Fearon of the motivation to preserve the character of a neighborhood. “You just have to care.”
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Where yesterday’s post profiled Fishtown’s 37 properties on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, this one examines historic buildings in the neighborhood not protected by designation. For a list of resources on how to nominate a building, structure, site, object, or district, and to see sample nominations, visit the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s web site HERE.
This list begins with one I accidentally mistook on the Register by address. Penn Treaty Park—1301 Beach Street—was, in fact, designated in March 2012, but the PECO Delaware Station, 1325 Beach Street, was only nominated this year. Its nomination will be reviewed in June by the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s Committee on Historic Designation.
This list is by no means complete, and some of what’s missing may appear in tomorrow’s post on Fishtown’s best examples of adaptive reuse.
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ADDRESS: 1325 Beach Street
NAME: PECO Delaware Station
ARCHITECT: John T. Windrim
ORIGINAL USE: Philadelphia Electric Company Delaware Generating Station
CURRENT USE: Vacant
SIGNIFICANCE: Built on the site of the Neafie & Levy shipyard, the PECO Delaware Generating Station went into use in 1920, designed by the son of civic architecture great James Windrim. See Ryan Briggs’ 2014 story for more on the station HERE.
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ADDRESS: 600 East Thompson Street
NAME: Penn Treaty Junior High School
ARCHITECT: Irwin T. Catharine
SIGNIFICANCE: Penn Treaty Junior High, or Middle School, is a classic example of a Philadelphia building on the National Register of Historic Places that’s not on the local Register (i.e. the one with protection). Added to the NRHP in 1988, the school came from the prolific desk of Irwin Catharine, who designed so many of the School District of Philadelphia’s classic buildings, like Simon Gratz and Edward Bok.
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ADDRESS: 1421 East Columbia Avenue
NAME: Brownhill & Kramer Hosiery Mill
ORIGINAL USE: Hosiery Mill
CURRENT USE: Conversion to apartments
SIGNIFICANCE: The Brownhill & Kramer Hosiery Mill, on the corner of Columbia & Memphis, opened in 1886, and expanded in 1925. It’s less notable for its architecture (although it’s certainly a fine specimen of industrial hulk embedded within the neighborhood) than for its significance to labor. According to the NRHP nomination, Brownhill & Kramer was the site of “numerous and innovative labor strikes which had a significant impact on the development of unionization and bargaining power for hosiery workers in Philadelphia and nationally in the 1920s and 1930s.” View the nomination HERE.
* * *
ADDRESS: 2410 East York Street
NAME: H.W. Butterworth and Sons Company
ORIGINAL USE: Metal foundry, textile machinery
CURRENT USE: Mixed-use, residential
SIGNIFICANCE: On the northern border of (one definition of) Fishtown, this Italianate brick structure is one half of 2424 Studios, named for the other half on the corner of York and Gaul Streets. Originally established as a metal foundry, Butterworth was later a major player in Kensington’s textile industry boom. Read the NRHP nomination HERE.
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ADDRESS: 1050 East Montgomery Avenue
NAME: George Chandler School
ARCHITECT: Henry deCourcy Richards
SIGNIFICANCE: Richards isn’t quite as remembered as Irwin Catharine, but he was just as active for the School District, crafting dozens of schools including West Philly High and Kensington High School for Girls. This one, on the corner of Montgomery and Wildey, features a large tablet reading “1907” on the north and south walls. I-95 was constructed immediately behind it. Named for the first minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Kensington, Chandler School was added to the National Register in 1988. The building is now condos.
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ADDRESS: 1601 East Palmer Street
NAME: St. Mary’s Hospital, a.k.a. Neumann Medical Center
ARCHITECT: Edwin Forrest Durang
SIGNIFICANCE: Durang is far more known for his ecclesiastical designs, but this longstanding building overlooking Palmer Park has served a vital role in Fishtown and Kensington’s healthcare since 1890. This building replaced an earlier, smaller hospital opened in 1866 by the Order of the Sisters of St. Francis for the health of the Kensington poor. PhilaPlace has a brief history of the building HERE.
* * *
ADDRESS: 1401 East Susquehanna Avenue
NAME: Penn Home
SIGNIFICANCE: The Penn Home, founded for widows in 1848 as the Penn Women’s Society, is the oldest retirement home in Philadelphia. Since 1884, the society has provided personal care for seniors in the long gothic brick building with a grass courtyard. A relief of William Penn greets visitors from the keystone above the main entrance; a tower used to stand on the corner of Susquehanna and Belgrade.
* * *
ADDRESS: 208 East Girard Avenue
NAME: Order of United American Mechanics
SIGNIFICANCE: Hooboy. The Order of United American Mechanics, one supposes, would presumably put their support strongly behind Donald Trump, were they around today. The O.U.A.M. was a nativist, anti-Catholic organization formed out of the nativist riots of 1844. The riots and nativist sentiment even factored into the presidential election of that year, with Democrat James Knox Polk barely edging out openly nativist Whig Henry “Ol’ Coon” Clay. The O.U.A.M. campaigned against immigration and foreign labor into the early 20th Century. This building, their Kensington Hall, supported a strong membership, as anti-Catholic sentiment lingered from the riots decades earlier. It’s now a tattoo shop downstairs with apartments upstairs. Ken Milano’s The Philadelphia Nativist Riots: Irish Kensington Erupts (Arcadia, 2013) details the history of the riots in 140 pages.
* * *
ADDRESS: 1217 East Montgomery Avenue
NAME: Free Library of Philadelphia, Fishtown Branch
SIGNIFICANCE: According to the Free Library, the Fishtown branch was built in 1895 as the stable for a horse-drawn wagon fire company. The Community [of Kensington] Branch Library opened on Girard Avenue in 1947, and relocated to this building in 1950. Its name officially became “Fishtown Branch” in 1982, and its postmodern addition was installed in 1989.
* * *
ADDRESS: 241-43 East Wildey Street
SIGNIFICANCE: Two of the estimated 60 wooden homes still standing in Fishtown (a survey is being conducted). The pair is one of the finer examples at that, with an actual aged wooden exterior, i.e. not replaced by a vinyl or brick skin.
* * *
ADDRESS: 1542 East Montgomery Avenue
NAME: Atonement Lutheran Church of Fishtown
ARCHITECT: Harvey C. Hodgens
SIGNIFICANCE: While East Montgomery M.E. Church down the block and St. Laurentius just around the corner have garnered the headlines in recent days, Atonement Lutheran has quietly kept going. The inclusive church maintains an active Facebook page.
* * *
ADDRESS: 1648 East Berks Street
NAME: St. Laurentius Felician Sisters Convent
SIGNIFICANCE: This unusual midcentury modern convent was the final expansion of St. Laurentius Catholic Church, coming out of the Diamond Jubilee campaign of 1957. The building was dedicated with a mass in 1958. A common space fronts Berks Street, while 10 rooms for the nuns are situated on two stories behind it. Sold in 2014 after St. Laurentius closed, the convent is on a deep lot that seems like a prime target for demolition.
* * *
ADDRESS: 701 Gaul Street
NAME: Holy Name of Jesus Church
ARCHITECT: Maginnis & Walsh
SIGNIFICANCE: When St. Laurentius closed two years ago, its congregation was begrudgingly merged with Holy Name. The church features stained glass from Philadelphia’s renowned D’Ascenzo Studio. The church was founded in 1905 and this structure built in 1923.
The Holy Name complex also features a trio of other stately structures:
* * *
ADDRESS: 1125 East Columbia Avenue
NAME: Edwin Lentz Carpet Cleaning Company, Candy Factory
SIGNIFICANCE: Opened in 1897 by Edwin Lentz, a carpet man who ran Penn Carpet Cleaning and Quaker City Carpet Cleaning. The building, whose rear abuts the rear of First Presbyterian Church on Girard, was also apparently a candy factory at some point. It was converted to the Candy Factory apartments in 2008.
* * *
ADDRESS: 2154 East Dauphin Street
NAME: Ritter Conserve Company
SIGNIFICANCE: According to The City of Philadelphia as it Appears in the Year 1894, a production of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Philip J. Ritter Conserve Company’s “present factory… was built in 1874 and has frequently increased since that time.” They employed 300 people to make jams, jellies, and conserves. The building was later used by Carey-McFall, maker of artificial Christmas trees and ‘Betsy Ross venetian blinds’. The building appears to be apartments now.
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The list goes on. Other historical candidates in Fishtown include Church of the Living Word (2345 East Susquehanna Avenue, built as Fifth Reformed Church, ~1880s), Summerfield Siloam United Methodist Church (2223 East Dauphin Street, 1899, Richard Field architect), National Metalcrafters (325 Belgrade Street), Lutheran Settlement House (1340 Frankford Avenue, 1902), the much-maligned Fishtown Post Office (1602 Frankford Avenue, one of the few midcentury modern complexes in Fishtown), and the one building of the former Landenberger Hosiery / Morse Elevator complex that isn’t designated, 1045 Frankford Avenue (~1881), now Frankford Lofts. Surely there are others.
Two current demolitions of note: another wooden home at 227 East Allen Street has the orange notice of death posted to its window at present, as does a one-story brick garage structure at 2336 Fletcher Street.
Also worth noting: throughout Fishtown, there are eight distinctive residential courts. Situated off of actual streets, the courts, built at various times in the 1800s (Earl Court, for example, was built in 1860), are accessed via a sidewalk, usually with an unlocked gate. Fishtown native Roman Blazic profiled them on his blog HERE.
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Tomorrow, we’ll look at successful examples of adaptive reuse.
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.
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