Developer Plans Demolition Of Third Regiment Armory For Six-Story Apartment Complex–Updated With Rendering

February 20, 2013 | by Christopher Mote


Proposed rendering of project at Broad and Wharton | Image Landmark Architectural Design

Proposed rendering of project at Broad and Wharton | Image Landmark Architectural Design

Residents of South Philadelphia were treated to a presentation Tuesday night on a plan to bring new density to a crucial stretch of South Broad Street, albeit through a development that likely spells the end of a historic military building.

The 1898 Third Regiment Armory at Broad and Wharton Streets, whose history can be traced to Benjamin Franklin, will be fully demolished and replaced with a six-story apartment building under the preliminary plan proposed by developer Michael Carosella and architect Vincent Mancini of Landmark Architectural Design. The new L-shaped building would have 50 units and a courtyard entrance along Broad Street, with room for 52 parking spaces on the surface level behind and under the building. According to Mancini, there would also be racks to accommodate 17 bicycles and a green roof deck.

Carosella, who has recently torn down two Graduate Hospital churches for residential development, is negotiating to acquire the armory from the Tolentine Community Center and Development Corporation, which has struggled to maintain it with limited operating expenses and onerous legal burdens. Until recently, Tolentine was blocked from reselling the property as a condition of acquiring it from the State of Pennsylvania. During its ownership, sections of the building’s roof and at least one floor have collapsed, producing a string of citations from L&I.

From the start of the community zoning meeting held by the South Broad Street Neighborhood Association in the Morgan Conference Room at Methodist Hospital, demolition of the armory appeared to be fait accompli. The presentation focused largely on how the design for the new building allowed for more open air by occupying slightly less than half of the full parcel and included deep enough setbacks in the rear to placate neighboring residents. Some attendees objected to the lack of retail in the development. Also raised as a point of contention was the keeping of the retaining wall that divides the site from residential properties on Titan Street immediately to the south. Despite these concerns, the design of the project was met with a generally positive reception.

On the question of reusing the original building, Mancini highlighted the architectural challenges posed by restoration–among them the fact that the current building’s ground floor is set halfway below ground level, creating a sense of detachment from the street for residential use.

Third Regiment Armory, Broad and Wharton St. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Carosella said that he had surveyed the inside of the armory and deemed restoration to be impossible. Though he considered ways to salvage the facade while tearing down the rear shed, he ultimately concluded that only new development would be feasible.

“We looked at how we could restore it,” he said, “but with the damage and the money needed to fix it up, it won’t work. So then the question becomes, how do we go about creating something that has the best impact for the area, to serve as a gateway for that section of South Broad Street.”

Although they will be rentals, the presenters touted the size of the units, which will include two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the availability of parking as essential to encouraging long-term occupancy.

While sentiment for the armory’s history was palpable among the crowd, the opinion that it was well past its prime resonated more strongly. “That building is falling down,” one attendee declared.

Located at the intersection of the Passyunk Square and Point Breeze neighborhoods, the armory was used by the Pennsylvania National Guard before Harrisburg began renting the premises in the 1980s to Tolentine, which bought the whole building in 2003. State Senator Larry Farnese introduced legislation last year to lift the no-resale clause to spur redevelopment.

The preliminary hearing will be followed up with an updated presentation once the project is set to go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Construction activity may commence at the site before the end of the year.


About the Author

Christopher Mote Christopher Mote covers stories of preservation, planning, zoning and development. He lives in South Philadelphia and has a special fondness for brownstone churches and mansard roofs.


  1. fmd says:

    The fact that the building cannot be reused is understandable, but I think not factoring in the history of the building into the new designs is unfortunate. I didn’t hear any architectural vision in that meeting. And there was no mention of reusing/salvaging any materials. I think it would be sad to see another building like 777 South Broad on Broad.

    As for retail, I have no problem with no retail. We’d likely end up with crap retail anyway–another T Mobile? Crown Fried Chicken? MSG Chinese Take-Out? Look at how relatively unsuccessful 777 South Broad has been with retail. If this project is successful maybe it will help spur development of nearby vacant commercial properties instead, but I am skeptical. Not much happened around the Marina Apartments and even further north on Broad closer to Kimmel there isn’t a lot of decent retail. What’s the newest thing we’ve gotten? A head shop and a Psychic? Classy. The “Avenue of the Arts” has always been kind of a joke to me.

    1. Me says:

      Do you really think a Crown Fried chicken or tiny Chinese Restaurant would get located in the ground floor of a brand new retail space on Broad St? Wake up and comment when you have something intelligent to say. We’d have many new businesses along Broad if neighbors didnt make it so difficult for people to propose anything fun or different, like an interesting bar/venue.

  2. barryg says:

    The reason that all the lots are empty on South Broad to Washington is that they are all owned by the city and Kenny Gamble (Gamble also owns the building with lackluster retail at Broad & Spruce, as well as the decrepit vacant building directly across from the Kimmel entrance. South of Washington has a lot more potential though the landlords need to wise up — the guy who owns the empty restaurant with the awning (cant remember the name) and the family that owns the empty fur shop all have indicated they have no plans to develop or sell the property.

  3. fmd says:

    You mean that old Italian restaurant next to Broad Street Diner? Philips? The owner passed away a number of years ago. His wife still lives in the apartment on the third floor. She is super nice, but rather elderly. I don’t know if she has kids–I think she may have at least one.

    I thought that decrepit building across from Kimmel was owned by University of the Arts? They used to have rehearsals in there. And 1807 and Friends used to have their concerts in there.

    I would love to see that turned into a little chamber music hall/theater since there is so much great chamber music in this city and it’s always getting crammed into weird venues here and there.

  4. Matty says:

    Its a shame to see the building go but I understand, the building is on its last breath structurally. I also would like to see the historic armory being incorporated into the new building. I personally like the fact that there is no retail, its such a farse considering the area. S. Broad is nothing but cheesy low end shops and take outs so that would really be a turn off to see a low end retail at a nice apartment building. If they are able to build and rejuvenate the area then better retail would come but I think Philly will screw that up like they always do. But the new building would be a good stepping stone none the less.

  5. JakeL says:

    The Google image view shows the patchwork roof job going on, as well as a ‘Say No To Impeach Bill Clinton’ sign. I would imagine whoever put that up didn’t imagine we’d be able to view the sign from our laptops a decade later.,-75.166917&spn=0.000765,0.001132&t=h&z=20

  6. Ajs1512 says:

    When a developer says a building is “unsalvageable”, it usually means that they’d much rather build a new building than restore an old one. Given Carosella’s track record in demolishing two very old Graduate Hospital churches, I dont think they had any intention of reusing the Armory. Claims of financial hardship and the apparent high costs of restoration, are an easy way to pacify local residents who would have otherwise liked to have seen their neighborhood buildings preserved.

    It’s really a shame that more Philadelphians aren’t invested in their city’s history.

  7. llcooj says:

    The new building looks like more of a fortress than the old one.

    1. Michelle says:

      And how! A gussied up prison. I’d never want to play bingo in that thing.

  8. dddff says:

    Please stop tearing down old and historic buildings! Any old building could be converted into another use with a little creative design. There are more then enough undeveloped sites in the city to building on that would not require the destruction of a 120 year old building. I am sure that you could fit 50 units in there and maybe add another floor or so if need be. Retail on the ground floor is always wonderful, but not always necessary.

  9. Aaron says:

    It should be noted that at least 2 attendees expressed concern that 1:1 parking ratio is actually way too much. The parking lot at 777 Broad St is never more than half full. This place is *literally* on top of a subway stop. More than 20% of residents in this neighborhood walk or bike to work. Many do not even have access to a car.

    I was extremely disappointed to learn that over half the square footage of this plot will be paved over with asphalt, and an additional 52 cars will be invited into the neighborhood.

    Overall, this proposal is extremely boring and disappointing.
    100% homogenous apartments, minimal amenities, no common space for residents, a ground floor full of cars, and walled off on all 4 sides.

    There’s nothing transit-minded or urbanist about it, nothing innovative whatsoever, and it’s a real missed opportunity to activate South Broad.

  10. bigred says:

    is this all being done “open market/ market rate” or is there piles of gov’t funding involved somehow in this?
    I can see why it might not make sense/cents to save the rear of the building, but the front 4 story brick building looks like its all there, and just waiting for someone to rebuild its cornice, and put in the correct windows.
    This is just another, unfortunate, example of the almost complete lack of vision and leadership in Philly’s preservation community. Sad and sad

  11. The Soldat says:

    “Mancini highlighted the architectural challenges posed by restoration–among them the fact that the current building’s ground floor is set halfway below ground level, creating a sense of detachment from the street for residential use.”

    That is a basement level, the first floor is a half story above ground. Not to mention how many other apartments or shops are located in similar structures with half raised basements. It is a shallow excuse by the developer to destroy a building he cant be bothered to renovate.

    “Carosella said that he had surveyed the inside of the armory and deemed restoration to be impossible. Though he considered ways to salvage the facade while tearing down the rear shed, he ultimately concluded that only new development would be feasible.”

    Again, more bullshit from a greedy developer. What he means to say is “We want a newer larger building so we can make even more money than otherwise”. There is no way restoration is impossible considering that in hundreds of cases bunt out shells of buildings have been restored and reused. He wants a taller and newer building to maximize profits. So yet again the stupid people of this city will roll over and let the historical brick and mortar structure be leveled to be replaced with an ungly, cookie cutter, POS made of drywall and drywall.

    1. Alex says:

      Agreed. I can’t believe an attendee actually said that “the building is falling down.” There are old buildings that are indeed falling down in this city, but the Armory is not one of them. It makes you wonder if the developer just bussed in a bunch of people from somewhere and paid them off to voice their support.

      Historic preservation has faired terribly in this city for the last couple years: Church of the Assumption, St. Boniface, mansion at 40th and Pine etc, etc…And as usual the Historical Commission is nowhere to be found.

  12. ben says:

    While this old armory may be a tear down I am very disappointed with the rendering presented. It looks much worse than 777 s Broad and Symphony House imo. Horrible design with cheap materials that reminds me of the new hotel going up on 12th and Arch. South Broad Street should develop with buildings that dignify the importance of the thoroughfare. Standards need to be set much higher. Powers that be should pass on this one and demand much more from the developer. And if I were the developer I would hire a new architect and go back to the drawing board.

  13. WeBuiltThisCity says:

    I can understand the economic constraint that would require this building to be torn down. But I;d rather have the parking lot at Broad and Washington than this faux-brutalist monstrosity. It insults the neighborhood by creating large blank walls and parking lots on 3 of the 4 sides, and doesn’t even care about Broad Street.

    The zoning here is also completely inappropriate, freaking single family residential on Broad Street. EMBARRASSING AND DISGRACEFUL. This allows the developer to be well within his right to claim a hardship and get approvals for this garbage. Very poorly done City. How can the civics around there not have addressed this freaking years ago. Horrifying. You deserve what you get here.

    This entire situation makes me embarrassed for the state of planning and development in Philadelphia.

  14. Naveen says:

    That armory building is awful. Bleak and characterless. Old doesn’t always equal good.

    As to the renderings of the new building. Well, new doesn’t equal good either.

    1. The Soldat says:

      It is bleak as a result of lazy property maintenance. It used to look quite handsome with crenelations on the roof and other decorative brick work. Not much work to restore both the historic character and restore the visual appeal of the building.

  15. Aaron says:

    Lots of opinions in the comment threads, why weren’t any of you at the meeting?
    Attendees heaped praise on the developer and didn’t provide any of this very valid criticism.
    I was literally laughed at when I suggested that maybe 1:1 parking was too high for Broad Street.

    Why don’t you all put your money where your mouth is and actually show up to the zoning meeting to voice your opinion? I can tell you that the urbanist voice at these meetings is severely outnumbered by the “free parking” contingent.

    We can make a difference in our neighborhoods, but you have to be willing to work for it.

    1. fmd says:

      I was at the meeting and voiced my concerns/opinions. I was surprised there seemed to be so much support for it.

    2. The Soldat says:

      If I had know about it I would have been there. If there is another let me know and I will say exactly what I wrote above to the developers face.

  16. lazy-laze says:

    This is truly disgraceful.

  17. Boyd Walker says:

    I do not live in Philadelphia, so I certainly would have had a hard time making the meeting. But I am interested in the connection the Armory has to Ben Franklin, and its other history. Should it maybe be preserved for its history, even if currently it has not been well maintained and is in disrepair. I agree, especially from the google image provided, that the front could easily be maintained with the new structure put up to replace the Armory shed at the back. That way the appearance from the street would be of the historic building, and the neighborhood could also benefit from new development. Besides, if all you have to do is neglect a building till it is falling down if you want to tear it down, doesn’t this set a bad precedent for owners to let buildings fall into disrepair in order to eventually demolish them. The history of the building could certainly be an attraction for new tenants, as well.

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