The “In Memoriam” montage sequences for the year 2016 will run long. And in spite of a good first year overall for Mayor Jim Kenney, his hopes for stronger historic preservation met their maker time and time again this year. While Hidden City compiles our Lost Buildings list every year (see 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015), this year’s extends well beyond a Top Ten.
The silver lining in 2016—year of Philadelphia’s “World Heritage City” designation—is that the egregious and offensive threat to Jewelers Row from Toll Brothers has woken everyone up. The loss of the Boyd Theatre still stings, but it sat vacant for over a decade. The buildings marked for demolition at Jewelers Row (and faced with replacement by a now-29-story tower from a firm not exactly known for its design) still live and breathe, with tenants who live in and work in and contribute to the nation’s oldest diamond district.
With Paul Steinke at the helm, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia will continue to lead the fight to Save Jewelers Row. (See our interview with him, conducted before Jewelers Row news, HERE.)
Moreover, the Jewelers Row saga spurred City Council to better fund the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Last month, Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Mark Squilla, and Al Taubenberger sponsored a bill to create fees that have the potential to double the Commission’s budget. Here’s hoping that budget can fund a citywide survey or result in an emergency demolition delay policy like those in say Boston or Chicago.
Looking ahead, the threat certainly isn’t limited to Jewelers Row. University of the Arts, which you may have noticed on its eight-story banner draped on South Broad Street, this year celebrated its 140th anniversary. Like many universities, it’s experiencing unprecedented growth and understandably wants to continue growing. That puts the four-story Gershman Y, which the university purchased in 2000, at risk.
The four-story Georgian Revival building opened in 1924 as the Young Men and Young Women’s Hebrew Association thanks to the efforts of several Jewish household names: Greenfield, Lit, Snellenburg, Gimbel, Fleisher, and more. The morning after Yo La Tengo performed a tribute on the 50th anniversary of the Velvet Underground’s concert and Andy Warhol film projection in the same Y auditorium, lawyers for UArts argued in opposition to the Preservation Alliance’s nomination of the building at the Commission’s Committee on Historic Designation. See Liz Spikol’s extensive overview for the Jewish Exponent HERE.
As we speak, the 19th Century Quaker Jobbing Upholstery and Mattress Supplies warehouse in Kensington is being cleared for demolition. The old Shanahan Catholic Club off of 47th & Lancaster in West Philly is also being prepped for demolition. And the nine-story, midcentury Nabisco building that once gave the Far Northeast its cookie smell along the Boulevard is set to come down too.
The Weisbrod & Hess Brewery barrel house on Martha Street in Kensington . . . the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s former headquarters at 2012 Chestnut Street . . . the Germantown Boys Club at 25 West Penn Street . . . Horace Trumbauer’s Strawberry Mansion Music Pavilion . . . the ever-threatened trio of buildings on the 1900 block of Sansom Street (Rittenhouse Coffee House, the Warwick, and Oliver Bair funeral home) . . . In a city best known for its history, there’s an awful lot of history at risk of being history.
All of those, however, stand as possible losses. In 2016, Philadelphia’s real losses were many many. Here then is this year’s collection, the Lost Buildings of 2016.
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Name: Mt. Sinai Hospital
Address: 1400 South 5th Street, Pennsport
Architect: Louis Magaziner
The Story: The Jewish built environment in the city of Philadelphia has suffered thousands of paper cuts for decades. La Salle University demolished Willis Hale’s Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum in 2007 after the complex stood in fire-damaged ruin for years. In 2014, the 87-year-old West Philadelphia Jewish Community Center, built next to the El on 63rd Street, was razed. Two years ago, while converting the former B’nai Reuben synagogue in Bella Vista into apartments, its developers deliberately chiseled off the building’s Jewish iconography and replaced them with generic symbols. As outlined above, the Gershman Y could be next. And this year, the long shuttered Mountain of South Philly finally came a tumblin’ down.
Designed by Jewish immigrant Louis Magaziner, Mt. Sinai Hospital was cobbled together over several buildings and several years in the early 20th Century to serve South Philadelphia’s Jewish population. After several iterations and expansion in the 1980s to cover almost the entire block between Fourth, Fifth, Reed, and Dickinson Streets, the hospital closed in 1997. In a South Philly in constant demand of housing, multiple proposals to convert the hospital to apartments came and went. Housing will in fact replace the hospital; Southwark on Reed’s 90 “historically inspired townhouses” are already under construction. See Michael Bixler’s essay on the last days of Mt. Sinai HERE.
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Name: Wallace Storage and Carpet Cleaning / Please Touch Museum
Address: 206-210 North 21st Street, Logan Square
Architect: Albert W. Dilks
The Story: At the Wallace Storage and Carpet Cleaning Company’s building, its name and address 206–210 handsomely etched in stone, one could picture life in 1902 Philadelphia: the carpet cleaning operation in the walk-in first floor, storage and perhaps apartments above. In 1983, the Please Touch Museum moved in, and with its neighbor the Franklin Institute across the street, formed a kid-friendly district. Please Touch moved into Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park in 2008, leaving a large, deep property unlisted on the Historic Register available. An art dealer last occupied the building, and this year it came down.
As with its immediate next door neighbors, where a 1960s School District building came down for eight multimillion dollar homes, the former Please Touch will be replaced by eight multimillion dollar homes. The ones fronting 21st Street will feature a faux historic façade.
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Name: William Penn High School
Address: 1333 North Broad Street, North Philadelphia
The Story: This year’s entry in Temple University’s ongoing legacy of demolition comes from William Penn High School. The nine-acre complex of five connected buildings had grand ideas of serving North Philadelphia’s high school population (including an Olympic-sized pool and TV studios), but as Inga Saffron described it, it became a “magnificent failure,” falling short of its altruistic goals. The School District of Philadelphia voted to close William Penn in 2009, and its final bell sounded at the end of the 2010 school year. An athletic complex with track, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey facilities opened this fall.
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Name: Penn Tower
Address: 1 Convention Avenue, University City
Architect: Geddes Brecher Qualls & Cunningham
The Story: Geddes Brecher Qualls & Cunningham’s 1962 headquarters for the Philadelphia Police Department is a landmark in brutalism, in precast concrete construction, in Philadelphia’s postwar, urban renewal era development. As the police have prospective plans to relocate, fans of the building hope to Save the Roundhouse. The firm’s 20-story Penn Tower, not so much.
Opened in 1972 as the Hilton Hotel, the since-renamed Penn Tower, with doctors’ offices and shoddy rooms for extended stay Penn Medicine patients, was already marked as expendable with the 2006 publication of PennConnects. In fact, “the Penn Tower will be demolished” was explicitly mentioned as one of the plan’s design goals. Its replacement has a slightly higher pedigree: Foster + Partners will follow their Comcast Technology Center, opening late next year, with the New Patient Pavilion for Penn Medicine, featuring 500 inpatient rooms, a new emergency department, and a golden hue to a round, 16-story tower.
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Name: Whitman’s Chocolate
Address: 401 Race Street, Old City
Architect: Gravell & Duncan
The Story: While our discerning tastes may deem this industrial structure unremarkable, it’s just that: industrial, a large example of it from an era when little was built. During World War II, most efforts went toward the war. At the Whitman Chocolates facility, one could argue that’s what was happening through their candy production. As Oscar Beisert noted in his eulogy of the building, Whitman’s popular chocolate sampler box featured a wartime “Land, Sea and Air” tin edition, millions of which went to those overseas on the frontline. The facility’s location next to the Philadelphia approach to the Ben Franklin Bridge made it a prime candidate for adaptive reuse, and its industrial hulk and Old City location might have supported a high-rise addition, but it will instead be replaced by a four-story, 200+ unit apartment building.
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Name: Norman Blumberg towers
Address: 2311 West Jefferson Street, Sharswood
Architect: Bellante & Clauss
The Story: The removal of the twin, 18-story Norman Blumberg Apartment towers in March marked the latest, and perhaps last, of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s efforts to move beyond the failed tower-in-the-park housing projects model. Along with the two towers, 15 lower buildings on two city blocks (between 22nd, 24th, Oxford, and Jefferson Streets) were demolished, creating a blank canvas on which low-density single-family homes will be placed as part of the Sharswood/Blumberg Neighborhood Transformation Plan.
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Name: Society Hill Playhouse
Address: 507 South 8th Street, Society Hill
Architect: J. Elvin Jackson
The Story: In 1902, David Garrick Hall opened on Eighth Street between Lombard and South, a social hall with a stage named for the leading 18th Century Shakespearean actor. By 1959, it had become a grungy bingo hall, and husband and wife Jay and Deen Kogan bought it with the intent to bring theatre back. The great Ed Bacon-era Society Hill urban renewal project was underway, and the Kogans posted the name Society Hill Playhouse on the pediment when the theater opened in 1960. For the 50th anniversary of the group’s founding, then Councilman-At-Large Jim Kenney and First District Councilman Frank DiCicco introduced a resolution recognizing and congratulating the Playhouse for 50 years of entertainment service, much of it on the cutting edge of taste. As Peter Crimmins reported for Newsworks in March, Sherman Hemsley, Richard Roundtree, and Bacon’s son Kevin were among the actors who took the stage there.
In early 2016, Toll Brothers had planned to demolish the Playhouse and garage for 17 condos. After clashing with neighbors and altering their plans, Toll bailed and a new developer (named only 507 Partners LLP) scooped up the properties, where they’re now building 26 apartments with a green roof.
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Name: Terrace Hall
Address: 3818 Terrace Street, Wissahickon
The Story: The Roxborough sub-neighborhood of Wissahickon is no longer under the radar. The quiet neighborhood, nestled up against the park lending it its name, has at last felt the pressures of Philly’s tide-turning real estate boom, spillovers from Manayunk and central Roxborough. Terrace Hall may be its most concrete evidence to date—or rather, Wissahickon schist evidence. The multipurpose building of with the native stone exterior served a number of purposes over 128 years: farmer’s market, blacksmith shop, fraternal hall, concert venue, glassmaker studio. See Michael Bixler’s profile from just before demolition HERE.
Like Mt. Sinai and Whitman Chocolate, there was once a proposal for residential conversion of the old hall. In 2009, neighbors rejected a plan that would have created 50 condos with 37 parking spaces. Now, the 37 parking spaces remain, but for 32 new construction homes.
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Name: The National
Address: 111 North 2nd Street, Old City
Dates: ~1880s (original buildings), 1957 (orange façade)–2016
Architect: Sabatino & Fishman (façade only)
The Story: The National, one of Philadelphia’s finest specimens of the midcentury, met its maker in early 2016. In 2017, it will resurrect. As I wrote in these pages last February, the National’s orange terra cotta tiles, granite channels, glass storefronts, and stainless steel signage will be completely rebuilt, per the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s condition for Dale Corporation’s 192-apartment development. (The building’s exterior was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2002.)
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Name: Wynne Theatre
Address: 2001 North 54th Street, Wynnefield
The Story: Named for the namesake of the Wynnefield neighborhood, William Penn’s personal doctor Thomas Wynne, the Wynne Theatre opened in 1928, the same year and same design team as the Boyd Theatre. While not as spectacular as nor as egregious a demolition as the Boyd, the 1663-seat Wynne did stand as a neighborhood landmark, showing movies through the 1950s, and later serving as a catering hall that closed in 1993.
Fifteen years later, Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation engaged Community Design Collaborative to help think through redevelopment of the site. The result, Wynne Senior Residences, developed by Pennrose and designed by Kitchen & Associates, will feature the rebuilt façade of the theater and incorporate the truss sign reading “WYNNE” in both directions on 54th Street.
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Name: 235 South 24th Street
Address: 235 South 24th Street, Fitler Square
The Story: For the most part, the Fitler Square neighborhood looks the same now as it did 50 years ago, largely unchanged and built out with well kept brick and brownstone homes. Dranoff’s One Riverside tower is a major addition, rising 22 stories above the Schuylkill River Trail on what was a riverfront surface parking lot as recently as two years ago. On 24th Street opposite the rear side of Dranoff’s Locust on the Park Apartments, one encountered an odd courtyard surrounded by low buildings with a belgian block entrance. In the mid-1800s it was a lumberyard; it was later horse stables for Philadelphia Police and Fire. Crane’s Ice Cream and Baking Company occupied the building next door at the turn of the 20th Century; a ghost sign with their brand was revealed during demolition.
For the past quarter-century, the courtyard was home to Penn Lighting Associates, who bought the complex in 1987 from R.M. Shoemaker Company, a large construction firm that moved to Conshohocken and was subsequently bought out by Skanska. The farthest south building, 249 South 24th, features inset details and a pitched roof. It was built in 1920, according to Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (via PAB). Nicknamed “the townhouse” by Penn Lighting, it was most recently home to Qb3 Design. That firm, who designed the acclaimed Split Level House in Northern Liberties, designed this complex’s replacement, Fitler Nine, nine enormous (5,000 sq ft) homes currently under construction. As a nod to the previous arrangement of buildings, the homes will share a courtyard. All but one of the nine have already been sold. Interestingly, the boundary of the Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District snakes exactly around the complex, making the demolition and rebuild a by-right project.
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Name: Dyottville Homes
Address: 1122 & 1130 East Hewson Street, Fishtown
The Story: Kensington’s industrial history goes back as far as English settlement. Amongst the fishers and shipbuilders, glassmakers fired their kilns on the banks of the Delaware River. In the 1820s, Thomas Dyott bought and operated Kensington Glass Works and his village of worker houses became known as Dyottville. In the early part of PennDOT’s ongoing I-95 construction project, significant portions of Dyottville (and earlier Lenni-Lenape remnants) were exposed—see Mike Szilagyi’s story for Hidden City HERE.
Ten Dyottville homes on East Berks Street were added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1967; their contemporaries half a block away on East Hewson Street were not. In May, when Hidden City and Kensington/Old Richmond Heritage led a walking tour of Fishtown history, we made a stop on Hewson (a street named for another glassmaker, John Hewson) to take note of 1122 in particular. When we did the tour again in November, it was a pile of rubble.
(Side note: an exhibition of the artifacts unearthed during the I-95 project closes tomorrow at Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, NJ. See HERE for more info.)
* * *
Name: Stop & Go Parking; Coca-Cola
Address: 2126 Market Street, Center City
The Story: The last remaining building on the painful stretch of the 2100 block of Market Street has, just this week, come down. While the 2013 building collapse continues to play out in court, the memorial park is under construction at the site of the Salvation Army, the plots of Hoagie City and two adult bookstores are now vacant lots, and this final building will join them as a lot. Built some time around 1920, Coca-Cola bottled 20,000 cases of soda a day and kept offices here. Most recently, it was a parking garage. The building was included in the properties Brandywine Realty purchased from Richard Basciano last year for $16 million. Brandywine is expected to build a high-rise on the site.
* * *
Name: Modernist Parking Garage
Address: 219 South Broad Street, Center City
The Story: Here’s another demolition no one’s terribly sad about. But the hulking concrete parking garage on South Broad Street, midblock between Walnut and Locust, did represent a certain era. It featured classic midcentury turquoise panels set in stainless steel mullions facing Broad Street, slightly off center, in the first major parking garage on the city’s primary artery (under which, of course, a subway passes hundreds of times a day). Prior to the garage, a private club called the Natatorium (featuring a swimming pool, as the name suggests) stood from 1861 through 1926. The garage did not age well; its concrete was spotty and rust-stained, and for the last decade of its life, it wore a fading five-story banner advertising the Avenue of the Arts. The garage’s demolition revealed a ghost sign for boxer Lefty Lew Tendler’s restaurant. The 15-story Cambria Hotel, designed by DAS Architects, will rise in its place.
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OTHER DEMOLITIONS OF NOTE
A few other examples of the changing times.
• 4000 block of Chestnut Street, West Philadelphia: This great block of circa-1855 brick twins has suffered greatly under the growth of ‘University City’. 4042-44 were undesignated and demolished earlier this year, replaced by a bland five-story apartment building. After this initial alarm, the twin next door at 4046-48 was nominated, but after the demo permit was pulled, and it was not designated. Its demolition began this month. 4050-52 were nominated and designated, and while 4054 was also designated with those this summer, its owner currently seeks rescission of that designation.
• 3401 South Lawrence Street, South Philadelphia: In deep South Philly, a state-of-the-art wholesale seafood market opened in the 1950s. In 2016, state-of-the-art has a wholly different definition, and Samuels & Son now command most of the seafood flow. See longtime Oyster House owner David Mink’s reflection on the wholesale market for Hidden City HERE.
• 6610 Germantown Avenue, Mt. Airy: The Fletcher Townsend Funeral Home featured touches from several eras: an enlarged ~1880s home, 1960s-style green awnings (presumably installed when the funeral home moved in), and a later driveway and garage. Glenn Falso’s Mainstreet Development purchased and demolished the property this year. A four-story, 38-unit apartment building is now rising above Germantown Avenue, the fourth large-scale development in Mt. Airy in a year, after a half century of little building. The 28-apartment Westview opened this year on the former site of Tourison’s Hall, the 32-condo Pipers Glen is under construction on the site of Thomas Ustick Walter’s Garrett-Dunn house, destroyed by fire in 2009, and across Carpenter’s Lane from the Weavers Way Co-op, a 24-unit apartment building and coworking space is under construction.
• 4501 Kelly Drive, East Falls: Tucked between the historic upriver boathouses of Undine (Frank Furness’ Castle Ringstetten) and Bachelor’s Barge (The Button), the West River Japanese Restaurant (poorly named considering it was on the East River Drive) was quickly demolished over the past month. In its place, a new through street between Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive will be built across from a planned Fairmount Park boat launch.
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Happy New Year from Hidden City. Here’s hoping next year’s list will be shorter.
Thank you to the following for their help in compiling this list: Kevin Angstadt, Dave Quinn, Inga Saffron, Pete Woodall, Andrew Fearon, Ashley Hahn, Ruth DeCou, Patrick Grossi, and Ben Leech.
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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