Engine 46 – Marked as a Belgian Restaurant and Gourmet Chocolate Shop
Engine 46 in Pennsport is a neighborhood culinary destination waiting to happen. Built in 1894, the former firehouse at 1401 S. Water Street was designed by John T. Windrim for the City of Philadelphia. The structure’s Flemish Revival brick façade and ornate turret serves as an elegant and lively welcome sign once Reed Street emerges from I-95’s dark overpass.
By the 1960s, Engine 46 was no longer used by the fire department and sat abandoned until it was used as an auto repair shop for almost two decades. In 1994, Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments remodeled the building for a steakhouse restaurant, Engine 46, which closed in 2006. Current owners Cedar Realty Trust proposed a Checkers fast food restaurant to replace the firehouse site in 2013, going so far as to obtain a demolition permit, though the franchising partnership fell through. The building currently sits vacant and available for lease.
The old fire house’s potential reuse for themed dining is too seductive to avoid, so with our design concept we felt it only appropriate to celebrate the origin of Flemish architecture with a Belgian restaurant and gourmet chocolate shop. Our concept board conveys the richness of Flemish architecture and interior design. We also pulled inspiration from the middle ages and a concept menu that would reflect that of the Lowland Burgundian Era–specialty game meats with rich sauces and complemented by potato dishes, red wine, and an extensive list of Belgian beer. A model for this nationality immersion concept and vertical integration of bar, restaurant, and sweet shop, might be the Gran Caffe L’Aquila on Chestnut Street in Center City.
We envision a warm, low-lit space with a subtle rawness for the interior. The lower level would feature stone or stone veneer walls while the main and upper levels would feature warm woods and rough plaster as well as rich fabrics to dive the space depth as well as absorb some of the sound from the highway. Lighting and furniture draws from a rustic, weathered aesthetic with modern sensibilities.
The lower level of Engine 46 will feature minimal dining and a small bar, though it would also facilitate small, private parties. The circulation will be complemented by stone archways, as seen in the image on our concept board. The flooring will be a clay tile throughout the restaurant’s public spaces. The restrooms will feature blue stone tile and the service area would be finished with stained concrete.
The main level will feature a waiting area, coat room, and bar area. At the entrance, a hostess stand would be located adjacent to the waiting area and coat room. With a ceiling height of just over 12 feet, the opportunity to do something interesting with the ceiling, like the decorative wood beams shown in our concept board, seemed appropriate. The beams would run throughout the public spaces on the main level and would be treated with a tawny finish.
The second level of the restaurant will house the main dining room. In this space we endeavored to take advantage of the available views. Larger tables would be most appropriate since the largest windows in this building tend to be in an alcove of sorts. The dining room floor will be filled out with banquette seating.
A secondary public staircase will provide access to the third level. The amount of stairs the waitstaff would need to climb makes the upper level probably impractical for dining. Instead, this space will be utilized as a boutique Belgian chocolate tasting room and confectionery shop.
With the exterior of the building we propose restoring all of the original features and detailing of the façade as needed. Custom window pieces that accurately reflect the original historic detailing, including the use of rippled glass, would replace the modern panes. A practical decision as much as an aesthetic one, today’s modern rippled glass still offers the same look, but has the ability to provide better insulation values. Overall, potential renovation plans for the exterior of Engine 46 would would remain true to Windrim’s eye-catching Flemish design.