Two weeks ago, Baum’s Dancewear put signs up signaling the company’s November move to 1805 E. Passyunk Avenue. In June, the Cohen family, which owns the business, sold the building, at 106 S. 11th, to the real estate company Brickstone, which will renovate it for apartments and stores. Baum’s opened in 1887.
In performing arts circles, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never heard of Baum’s–Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown told the Inquirer she’s shopped at the store since she was 16–Center City’s mainstay retailer of theatrical costumes and dancewear. Baum’s opened in Kensington then moved to South Street and then to the handsome S. 11th Street building 75 years ago.
But the building, of course, has a story–many stories–of its own. It begins with George B. Evans, a celebrated merchant who more or less invented the modern drug store chain. In the span of 15 years, he managed to grow from a small, three-man operation into numerous stores around the city. His flagship store was at 1106 Chestnut Street (next door to the original location), where space was so commodious that he filled the walls and shelves with artwork and decorative trinkets. Customers started asking to purchase the tchotchkes, leading Evans to expand his operation into an all-around variety store. This was a popular move, leading Evans to decide to build a large addition on Chestnut Street just a few years later.
The L-shaped addition to the Chestnut store was begun in 1894. It extended 1106 Chestnut Street back to Sansom Street and included three rowhouse-to-commercial structures that faced 11th Street: 106, 108, and 110. These three buildings, combined by an earlier occupant, were restructured and redesigned into a new grand entrance for the George B. Evans flagship store. The whole project was complete and ready to welcome customers in November, 1895.
The George B. Evans empire continued to expand so rapidly during the following decade that the Chestnut Street store was expanded yet again, this time absorbing its neighbor at 1104 Chestnut Street, the building where Evans first started. With this expansion, the connections to the 11th Street wing, located on the first and second floors, were walled back up and the properties were again separated. By 1905, Evans leased 106-110 South 11th to another Philadelphia legend: the Horn & Hardart Company, which was trailblazing through the city with a new concept: the fast food restaurant. The building became one of the earliest Horn & Hardart locations, back when there were only nine in existence (the number would eventually reach 85). This one wasn’t one of their famous Automats, but what they deemed a “Service Restaurant.” The Horn and Hardart Company would take ownership of the building in 1917.
While Horn & Hardart kept going at street level, the Aldine Engraving Company took up space on the upper floors. After Aldine moved out and over to 3rd Street in early 1935, the Horn and Hardart Company commissioned their go-to architect, Ralph Bencker, to redesign and modernize the restaurant on the ground floor. Local contractor Ralph R. Rust, Inc completed the work.
A few years earlier, in the two buildings immediately to the south, J. Baum Inc, a bridal and costume store owned by the Baum/Cohen Family, had set up a second location in the storefront of 114 South 11th Street and later expanded into 112. The family had kept both their 11th Street and Bridal Row (500 block of South Street) stores open until the upper floors of 106-110 South 11th became available in 1936.
After the Horn & Hardart closed in the early 1950s, Baum’s, Inc took ownership of 106-110 and commissioned the Lansdowne-based architecture/engineering firm Kain & Hooven Associates to go about the herculean task of combining 106-114 South 11th Street into one massive 15,585 square foot complex. The new storefront took up four of the building’s five addresses, 106-112 South 11th, leaving 114 as a leasable retail space. The new Baum’s opened on September 8th, 1955. Nature’s Food Centres, a Boston-based health food chain, leased the 114 space through to the mid-1970s.
In 1976, Baum’s went about modernizing the 11th Street headquarters and expanded its operations into the full length of the building. Standard Builders, Inc of Overbrook Hills carried out the job, installing a new street-level facade and widening the connection between 112 and 114 South 11th. Nearly 40 years later, the building carries this configuration.
On June 27th, 2014, the Cohen family sold the building for $1.8 million to Brickstone Realty, which has renovated the Lits, Wanamaker, and Widener buildings in the neighborhood. Recently, Brickstone’s managing partner John Connors has been adding to the company’s Midtown Village portfolio. A large mixed use project is underway around the corner from Baum’s on Chestnut Street, and they picked up the long vacant Mercantile Library and another old Horn and Hardart’s at 11th and Ludlow.
Brickstone plans to renovate and restructure the the old Baum’s building into 12 one-bedroom apartments and will split the retail space into three.