Arsenal Adrift

 

The Hospital (left) and Building 124 awaiting demolition. photo: Rachel Hildebrandt

Demolition has stalled at the Frankford Arsenal, where developer Mark Hankin has proposed a suburban-style shopping center to replace dozens of historic structures. Hankin, who is from the same family that turned Willow Grove Park into a shopping mall, purchased most of the Arsenal–think “Navy Yard north” for its historic and architectural significance–in 1983. Mayor Nutter and other officials joined Hankin in announcing the proposed shopping center in July, 2010.

Then, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported that demolition would take eight months and construction would begin during the first quarter of 2011. Over a year later, demolition appears to be paused. When I visited, there were no signs of activity at the site and many of the buildings slated for demolition remain, standing forlorn behind piles of rubble and empty foundations.

Rubble and empty foundations. Photo: Rachel Hildebrandt

The developer certainly understands what’s at stake. In 1979, the US Army commissioned John Milner Associates to assess the Arsenal’s buildings in order to guide future development. Milner ranked each of the 246 buildings on a scale of 1 to 4, with category 1 buildings defined as “historic properties of great significance,” while category 4 buildings contain “little or no historic value.” He recommended preserving category 1, 2, and 3 buildings.

With plans to demolish three category 1 buildings, one category 2 building, and a few dozen category 3 buildings, Hankin was in the process of clearing 45 of the Arsenal’s 85 Arsenal’s acres. Now, the Arsenal adrift, we wonder if there is hope for a reevaluation of the project. Neither Hankin or leasing manager John Swanson were willing to provide us with additional information, but watch this space for further news and analysis.

About the author

Rachel Hildebrandt, a graduate of PennDesign, is a native Philadelphian who is passionate about the changing city she inhabits. Before beginning her graduate studies in historic preservation with a focus on policy, Rachel obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College and co-authored two books, The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (2009) and Oak Lane, Olney, and Logan (2011). She currently works as a senior program manager at Partners for Sacred Places.



1 Comment


  1. It’s amazing how poor choices are made when it comes to development in the philadelphia area. I’ve seen so many beautiful classical structures demolished because of big box development. And all big box development always finds a way to place itself right along waterways as well. Now I know who runs america and it’s not people who respect the past or future of philadelphia.

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