Van Straaten & Havey, the elegant silk yarn mill built in 1919 and a centerpiece of the Wayne Junction National Historic District and featured recently by the Hidden City Daily as one of the city’s most vulnerable mills, is likely to be torn down, pending a Rule 106 review. That review, necessitated by the use of federal (HUD) funds for the demolition, is unlikely to reverse the demolition permit.
National historic district status does not prevent a building’s demolition.
“That’s one of my favorite buildings in that district, but it’s in really bad shape,” says Matt Wysong, Northwest Philadelphia community planner for the City Planning Commission. “If you go online, you can see that the roof has collapsed. There’s a fear that that front wall might collapse.”
The building has been owned since the 1980s by the Eddie Francis Cancer Foundation, which appears to have little programming and no website. The nonprofit owes $135,453.22 in City of Philadelphia real estate taxes. The Van Straaten & Havey building was last used for textiles in the 1940s and 1950s when it was No Mend Hosiery, Inc.
“I don’t see any scenario where the owner would want to step in and put money into it to stabilize it,” says Wysong, “but we need to get more stakeholders together to talk about what the future of that site might be.”
Wysong says the timing is particularly critical because the real estate developer Ken Weinstein recently purchased the Max Levy mill building also in the Historic District, and because restoration work is ongoing on the Wayne Junction station. Moreover, Nicetown CDC is moving forward with a transit-orientied-development a block away on Germantown Avenue.
Nevertheless, the loss of the Van Straaten & Havey building means losing one-tenth of the Historic District’s buildings. The District was created in 2009, following a nomination by the Planning Commission and the creation of a transit-oriented-development plan. At that time, SEPTA agreed to renovate and reengineer the Wayne Junction station.
A city historic district, which does nominally protect buildings from demolition, is still pending though unlikely to be enacted into law.
Wayne Junction, notes Wysong, was a hub for technology, from late 19th century to 1950. He calls it “a Silicon Valley of the early 1900s.”