Hats trimmed free of charge, but that new tower’ll cost ya about $102M. Next Tuesday, February 25, the Architectural Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission will review the MIC Tower—Mellon Independence Center Tower—a new proposal to build a 30-story, primarily residential tower to the rear side of the Lit Brothers block on Market Street.
As plans to revitalize Market East gain steam between the Market8 proposal, Kmart’s closing and its possible replacements, and the Girard Estate block, the Mellon Independence Center has thrown its hat in the rebirth ring with a 429′ mixed-use tower. Carefully crafted by New York’s Stantec Architecture to defer to the existing Lit Brothers structure, the tower would be set back 180′ from Seventh, Market, and Eighth Streets; its façade would primarily consist of white and gray hues, to intentionally not distract from the Lits complex. Likewise, its north-south orientation and setback would largely protect the Market Street view corridor.
The MIC Tower would require only a partial demolition of the rear center of the complex and still manage to preserve the façade along Filbert Street, including its bronze wall and masonry footbridge over Filbert. A new basement and lobby would provide the residential component with an entrance, the ground floor would feature new retail, and the first five floors above it would be converted for office use. Above that, 29 floors of residences would rise to 410′, with a 19′ screen masking the mechanical unit on top.
The Lit Brothers complex was cobbled together with buildings constructed from 1859 to the turn of the 20th Century, all in a uniform Renaissance Revival style. Those that the Lits developed came primarily from the firm of Collins & Autenrieth. And while Lit Brothers became the name synonymous with Philadelphia retail (alongside Wanamaker and Gimbel, among others), it was the Lit Sister who laid the groundwork for the historic cast iron block.
In 1890, Rachel Lit established a dress shop on Eighth Street just above Market. Seizing on the commercial explosion on Market Street, her brothers Samuel and Jacob founded the Lit Brothers store at Eighth & Market in 1893, and by 1907 they had acquired the entire block down to Seventh. [Worth noting: in 1793, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson kept offices at 717 Market Street. He, of course, spent much time in 1776 at Jacob Graff’s house across the street penning the Declaration of Independence.]
In 1928, the Lits sold their company to Albert M. Greenfield’s real estate company, and the following year it merged with City Stores. In 1970, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added Lit Brothers to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places did the same in 1979—the same year City Stores filed for bankruptcy and put the block up for sale. By 1981, with no buyers, they applied for demolition, leading a coalition of concerned citizens to rally to save it. One protest that year drew 800 people carrying signs reading “LET LITS LIVE” and “LONG LIVE LITS”. Demolition was stayed while the building decayed. Its once prominent sign on the roofline, reading “LIT BROTHERS, A GREAT STORE IN A GREAT CITY”, had deteriorated to a point of necessary removal. In 1985, Mellon Bank signed a lease to occupy 60% of the building, and in the renovation, the complex was renamed Mellon Independence Center. City Stores still exists as CSS Industries, with home offices at 1845 Walnut Street.
In 2012, the Historical Commission approved plans for an LED sign to be installed on the same roofline, adding a 21st Century flair to the original theme, but drawing the ire of Scenic Philadelphia and residents from nearby towers including The St. James and the Ayer. The St. James, two blocks south of Lit Brothers, rises 498′ to its roof.
The MIC Tower is the first item of business the Historical Commission’s Architectural Committee agenda for next Tuesday, February 25, at 9am in Room 578 of City Hall. The plan will then go before the full Historical Commission on Friday, March 14.