Philadelphia Int’l Records Out, 40-Story Hotel-Condo In At Broad & Spruce

November 20, 2013 | by Bradley Maule


Coming soon to the skyline? | Photo: Bradley Maule

Coming soon? A 40-story proposal, estimated in red line tool | Photo: Bradley Maule

If the lack of the Royal Theater’s redevelopment in the 13 years that Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies has owned it seems perplexing, imagine how strange South Broad Street will seem if the very building where he and Leon Huff made their musical magic (and their millions) with Philadelphia International Records is demolished. Because sources tell Hidden City that will happen under a Dranoff Properties plan to develop a mixed-use, hotel-condo tower on the Southeast corner of Broad and Spruce Streets called Avenue Place. (Natalie Kostelni reported Dranoff’s preliminary plans for a mixed-use tower in the Philadelphia Business Journal last month.)

Multiple sources indicate the 40-story design comes from Kohn Pedersen Fox and that au courant hotel brand SLS will anchor the tower. Symphony House II this is not. Two vacant buildings owned by Gamble-affiliated parties would presumably need to be demolished to make way for the project.

301-309 South Broad Street, center, longtime home to Philadelphia International Records, likely to be demolished | Photo: Bradley Maule

301-309 South Broad Street, center, longtime home to Philadelphia International Records, likely to be demolished. 311 S. Broad visible at right | Photo: Bradley Maule

301-309 South Broad Street, home of the offices and studio of Philadelphia International Records, has been closed since a fire destroyed most of its interior in February 2010. Officially 1344-52 Spruce Street to the City, it’s owned by the Great Philadelphia Trading Company, the real estate division of Philadelphia International Records. Great Philadelphia Trading purchased the building in 1991, but PIR has kept offices and studios there since 1971. Little historical information exists for the three-story, neoclassical building of brick and limestone trim, but it was likely built in the 1920s. At one time, it featured a wraparound sign on its cornice, and has for years carried a large billboard on its roof. More recently, Utrecht Art Supplies occupied the ground floor space until Dick Blick bought out Utrecht and closed its two Center City stores.

311 South Broad Street, which Gamble’s Assorted Music Partnership purchased in 1997, opened in 1910 as Superior Laboratories, and was later a popular nightclub called Piccadilly Dine & Dance. According to the Athenaeum’s Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, the three-story, brick, granite, and terra cotta design came from an A. Levy. The building’s southern wall provided the backdrop to the PHS Pop Up Garden this past summer.

The two properties are separated by tiny Cypress Street, which goes through from Broad Street to Juniper and on to 13th, and would possibly need to be struck from the grid to accommodate such a large development. In order for that to happen, City Council would need to write a bill authorizing that change, which the Streets Department and Planning Commission would need to review and approve first.

It’s not the first major proposal for this block of South Broad Street; in 1995, University of the Arts proposed a 17-story tower on the Pop Up Garden’s empty lot (profiled as such by GroJLart for Philaphilia), but the plan fell through largely from the opposition of near-neighbors backed by the Washington Square West Civic Association. WSWCA declined to comment on the Dranoff proposal.

TSOP shop, 309 S. Broad, closed since a fire 2010 damaged the building | Photo: Bradley Maule

TSOP shop, 309 S. Broad, closed since a 2010 fire damaged the building | Photo: Bradley Maule

Nor is this the first time action has been planned on these parcels. Despite their age and location on South Broad Street, neither 301-309 nor 311 holds historic designation. Both indeed fall within the Broad Street Historic District, on the US National Register of Historic Places since 1984, but that’s an honorific distinction and contains no measures to prevent demolition. The Philadelphia Historical Commission does, however, keep files on many buildings even when they’re not designated. The one for these two properties contains a letter to the Commission in 1982 asking, “If we request either one or both of these properties be certified ‘historical’, and our request was granted, what restrictions would be imposed if any, that would prevent us from demolishing either or both locations and erecting a: 1) skyscraper, 2) parking facility, 3) hotel or 4) other complex.” The letter was penned on The Mighty Three Music Group letterhead by former business affairs manager Earl Shelton on behalf of Gamble, Huff, and Thom Bell.

An SLS would be Dranoff Properties’ first official foray into hotels, although they partnered with New Orleans’ HRI Properties to propose a new, 267-room Starwood Hotel at 18th & Vine when the Family Court relocates to the building under construction across from Love Park. Headed by reigning Hotelier of the Year Sam Nazarian, Los Angeles-based SLS Hotels burst onto the luxury hotel scene, opening locations in Beverly Hills in 2008 and South Beach Miami last year, and locations in New York and Las Vegas will open next year. In a July 2013 press release announcing SLS’ expansion into China, parent company sbe included mention of opening one in Philadelphia “within three years,” archived at the Wall Street Journal HERE.

Kohn Pedersen Fox, one of the world’s preeminent architecture firms, is no stranger to Philadelphia, either. A rundown of KPF’s contributions to the local landscape include Mellon Bank Center, One and Two Logan Square (and the adjacent Four Seasons Hotel), 6 and 8 Penn Center, the US Airways International Terminal, Wharton’s Huntsman Hall, the erstwhile American Commerce Center, and several others. Philadelphia native Gene Kohn, KPF’s chairman, is himself a Wharton graduate, and in 2010 he won the Alumni Award of Merit by the University of Pennsylvania. KPF’s broader accolades include the tallest (or once-tallest) buildings in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Seoul, among others.

Carl Dranoff, left, and Kenny Gamble, right, at the opening of Symphony House, 2007 | Photos: Bradley Maule

Carl Dranoff, left, and Kenny Gamble, right, at the opening of Symphony House, 2007 | Photos: Bradley Maule

A 40-story tower would be the tallest building on South Broad Street by far. (Symphony House, for example, is 31 stories.) It would also nestle very closely with Center City One, the 30-story brutalist tower next door on Spruce Street, built in 1974.

Hiring KPF for Avenue Place represents a higher design shift for Dranoff, whose neighboring properties on the Avenue of the Arts include Symphony House and 777 South Broad, as well as Southstar Lofts, currently under construction at Broad & South. And it’s an interesting evolution of the unusual partnership that Dranoff and Gamble have developed, including those projects and the Royal Theater, for which Dranoff serves as an advisor.

Carl Dranoff declined to comment on the project or confirm any of the players involved, but did say, “we’re evaluating the feasibility of a major project on that site. We’ll announce it when the time is right.”


About the Author

Bradley Maule Bradley Maule is a former 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 (Oregon), Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.


  1. fmd says:

    Who owns that unfortunate little building next to it? I think UArts used to, right? THAT should be turned into a cute little chamber music hall and named after Samuel Barber (christ, SOMETHING in this town should honor Samuel Barber)

  2. Allison K says:

    Thank goodness not BLT!
    Philly has a Barber connection???

    1. ross says:

      yes Samuel barber went to school at Curtis. Many of his pieces were debuted by the Philadelphia philharmonic. I really hope this project does not go as planned, since Dranoff’s building are routinely hideous and the building at 311 south broad is a gorgeous and unique piece of architecture.

      1. Astralmilkman says:

        I gotta agree with you on 311 south , I’ve always loved that structure and wondered why somebody didn’t put a restaurant in it . Loved the terra cotta and those windows always reminded me of the apartment I grew up in . The two buildings north of that little gem they can demo tomorrow , not much to look at and the whole historical connection doesn’t in my book give it any protection.
        Sorry music lovers ! Symphony house isn’t the most attractive lady on the block but she’s not that bad . Hopefully SLS will demand a great design ! One can only hope . Views looking onto the kimmel centers glass roof should be nice though.

  3. ECC says:

    Carl strikes again – we can only hope he is out of his pepto-bismol ziggurat phase.

    1. Astralmilkman says:

      HA HA HA , ditto to that my friend !

  4. Michael Penn says:

    I’ll sit back and watch this never happen.

  5. Thor says:

    Mike Penn Dranoff is one of the few developers in Philadlephia I wouldn’t bet against.

  6. David Curtis says:

    Pedersen with an “e”

    1. Bradley Maule says:

      Thanks — fixed.

  7. shadowbat says:

    I know this block quite well. Shopped at Utrect while at Uarts and walked Cypress Street many many times. I was wondering when something was gonna be done with these buildings….

  8. Thomas K. says:

    Although I would be sad to see those buildings demolished. What I really don’t want to see is Cypress Street being taken off the grid. Our small narrow streets helps make our city truly unique. I remember going on a Detroit message board when they were discussing our city. One of the things they loved about our city is our smaller streets. I can easily go on and on about this subject, but in short, as long as this development does not take out Cypress Street and is instead two buildings (perhaps joined together by a sky-walk?),I’m willing to see those two beautiful buildings destroyed for progress’ and South Broad Streets’ sake.

    1. Brandon says:

      This part of Cypress really isn’t quaint anyway. It’s basically a dumpster alley. It also doesn’t extend west of Broad, so I see no value in keeping it. You’re only striking one block.

      1. Inquizative says:

        For the sake of progress,I agree. We will never miss it. Cypress street is worth the sacrifice, it you consider it a sacrifice. Anyone know the situation with Broad & Washington? That’s huge void of blight?

    2. Astralmilkman says:

      I love the little streets as well. I like to ride my motorcycle in center city and have always tried to find alleys and little streets ( not sure what the difference is ! ) to cruise slowly thru. Maybe some tour group could put together a alley tour for mopeds and motorcycles , MMMM . Complete streets try to give the street back to the pedestrian , little streets aren’t big enough for cars so they’re already ours. If they could keep 301 and use it as part of the structure without losing cypress , that would be ideal .

  9. Davis says:

    Barber lived in West Chester.PA as I recall.

  10. Michael says:

    Mr. Maule should move back to Tyrone, PA. I take great exception to his calling the building where I live a “30 story brutalist tower”. Our building has charm and wonderful people who reside there. As far as Dranoff’s plans are concerned in so far as they impact on Spruce Street and on Broad street, I will leave that for another time and place.

    1. Bradley Maule says:

      Michael, brutalist is a style of architecture popular in the ’60s and ’70s whose primary trait is raw concrete. Center City One is a 30-story brutalist tower. Thanks for reading.

    2. Robert says:

      I’m going to back Bradley up on this one: that tower is definitely in the Brutalist style. Nothing wrong with that; Philly produced the best architect in that style, Louis I Kahn, and his influence through his students is all over this city.

  11. Squidward says:

    Michael, don’t take it personally. It’s the name of an architectural style: “Brutalist architecture is a style of architecture that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, spawned from the modernist architectural movement. Examples are typically very linear, fortresslike and blockish, often with a predominance of concrete construction.”

  12. Michael says:

    Please accept my apology Mr. Maule. My bad. Next time I will check things out before I put anything into written form. Again, I apologize!

  13. Scarlet says:

    I honestly think that this has got to stop; all the destruction that is happening in these large cities, tearing down old, beautiful, historic, classic structures with character and history just to be replaced with UGLY giant, mass of glass structures and for what….. MONEY! GREED! Progress, to justify our existence on this earth to stay the super power country that we are supposed to be and must live up to. In the meantime we are WIPING OUT our past, our history and our culture, creating a new one that is,in my opinion, not very attractive at all. I really believe there needs to be more preservation efforts put in place to let things be as they are. there is no reason for this tearing apart of our history and culture. I agree with Thomas K stating that our narrow streets and alleys make Philadelphia a completely unique city. One of the features I truly love to admire over and over again. Our forefathers walked these streets and alleys and they should remain. Think about what the cities and this country will look like in years to come. I shutter at the vision in my mind. Stop the destruction of our history and culture NOW!!!

    1. PH says:

      @Scarlet, I agree 100%. Philly would be better if the existing skyscrapers were torn down because they are just concrete shoe-boxes. The smaller size, material and decoration of these older buildings are pleasing. When building new, Philly should follow the rule in Paris – a limit of 7 stories.

  14. Alex says:

    I find it hard to believe that the surrounding neighbors and the WSWCA would approve of a proposal to build a 40 story tower on the block, considering that a plan to build a 17 story building was rejected back in ’95. If I owned property on Watts or Juniper, I probably would be a bit peeved in having a 40 story skyscraper loom over my three story row house.

    1. LOPEZ says:

      but then you might think to yourself “jeez, I live in Center City, which just so happens to be filled with tall buildings. I guess if I don’t want to live near tall buildings I should move to Malvern.”

      1. Alex says:

        But then you might think “Geez, maybe some people like things just the way they are. Maybe some people don’t want to live some god awful city like Houston or Hong Kong.”

        You’re point really doesn’t make any sense. Just because there already are skyscrapers in Center City doesn’t mean they should be built anywhere and everywhere.

        1. Veillantif says:

          But then you might think, “Uh oh, the zoning code isn’t the same as it was 18 years ago. Now septuagenarians like myself don’t get to be gatekeepers of everything we’re not used to. Pretty soon now we’ll be as built-up and urban as [gasp] Texas!”

  15. Edan says:

    Anyone against this project needs to have their head checked. Philadelphia is a huge, East Coast city! It needs more towers, more density and more life. 40-story towers belong on Broad Street. Where else would a tower of this size go? The deadzone that is the riverfront? No, it belongs in the heart of the city on a large street across from a world-class concert hall. Life, density, energy, excitement — get used it, that’s Philly’s future, not the dull city of years past.

    1. Alex says:

      Take an urban design course. Skyscrapers and density aren’t everything. In case you haven’t noticed, the most beautiful, fascinating and livable cities in the world aren’t dominated by glass towers.

      Where else would a tower of that size go? Uh… JFK Blvd or Market St? Perhaps it’s time to stop playing Sim City and start thinking about what makes great cities truly great.

      1. Astralmilkman says:

        DITTO … But like I said before , keeping 301 as part of a hotenact condo entrance and keeping cypress as well would be the best of both worlds . Unfortunately that thinking doesn’t remind me of any dranoff projects . 🙁

        1. Astralmilkman says:

          Hotel and condo entrance……. Sorry

      2. Anthony Zul says:

        Edan is exactly correct. Broad Street not only deserves towers of this magnitude, but they belong there. As a student of Architecture, and Urban Planning, I fully agree that there is absolutely no reason that tower shouldn’t be built at that location.

        Sometimes I think people forget they live in a huge East Coast city.

  16. James says:

    No one has stepped in to fix the damaged building after the 2010 fire. It is not historically certified and it is time for it to be replaced with something better.

    1. Alex says:

      Its always baffled me as to the number of anti-preservationist who read HCP, considering that quite a few of its article are devoted to preservtion issues.

  17. phl says:

    It may not be necessary to tear down the Philadelphia International Records building. The empty lot and building south of Cypress St. may be a site big enough for this new building. If Kenny Gamble is an investor with this Dranoff project, also, then he may want to save his former studios, or maybe would want to build a “Philadelphia Sound” museum as part of the new tower (wouldn’t that be cool!). Anyway, it would be a shame to lose the Philadelphia International Records building, it was the recording studio for 300 number one songs!

    1. Astralmilkman says:

      No it would not be cool ! That building is to put it politely UGLY !! 301 is structure worth saving.
      A museum really ? Maybe they should house it in one of the other buildings he’s let rot.

    2. Clare says:

      It is a sacrilege that there is still no museum for the the Sound of Philadelphia. It is some of the greatest art ever produced in the USA. The songs are played somewhere in the world every 15 minutes. It’s such a part of the air we breathe that people take it for granted.

      Motown and Stax both have had museums for many years. Philadelphia International Records merits one just as much if not more!

  18. Frank Rizzo says:

    Have your buddies re-write the zoning code, and voila you can now build to 800 ft where before you could only build to 80 ft. That’s not pay-to-play though.

    How is a tax-abated property going to make up the tax revenue that Gamble pays currently on 309-311, roughly $60,000.00 annually?

    Another giant giveaway thanks to crony-capitalism.

  19. Astralmilkman says:

    Ok … I see your point but these two ugly ducklings gotta go to slaughter. 311 should be saved , perhaps as an entrance to the condo part . Also cypress should be saved cobblestones and all.
    That MIGHT give the developers enough room to get in and out of whatever garage their planning without causing additional traffic. They might have to add a cobblestone or two to widen it a bit. I’m not sure how large the lot is . But even if it can’t be used for the coming and goings of the clientele it should be saved . It’s part of what makes Philly special. I can certainly see a space/museum as part of a new developement if done right. But not a stand alone. With such a prime location I don’t see why tax abatements are needed. It’ll be fun to watch this develope.

  20. Robert says:

    The Philly International Records building at Broad & Spruce was the headquarters of Cameo/Parkway Records before Gamble and Huff bought it. It contains recording studios originally built by Cameo, but I don’t know how much use they got during the PIR era; their best work was recorded at Sigma on N 12th, I believe.

  21. soren says:

    geez. this is going to be pretty cool! High-density, guys, is always awesome-I mean I know you guys worship at the alter of Jane Jacobs and wasn’t that her thing? And yeah, I know what you all are thinking, another vertical suburban cul-de-sac like the symphony house is replacing a piece of unique and storied architectural history, but come on guys: think about all the really neat diversity it’s going to bring- like families from New Jersey or empty nesters from Bucks County. And I can’t wait to meet some of them at the nearby starbucks. And to all those sorry sallys out there who reference the stagnating real estate market in the city, blah- if we build it they will come. I mean, would Allied forces have flown to Dresden if someone hadn’t bothered to build the darn thing in the first place. I mean come on!

  22. Absolutely! I’m sure the condos will have unfathomably high price tags. It always makes me wonder who’s buying these condos. The city keeps building more and more massive residential space but very few businesses of the same scale.

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