After four years of writing The Shadow Knows column, with 97 stories–just shy of a century!–under my belt, it’s time for an update. Here’s a look at 13 different buildings. Some have happy endings, others do not fare so well. But all on this follow-up list have one thing in common: change. Look around–the city is humming right along with bold redevelopment and smart reuse and that, for the most part, is a good thing.
The Saint James Hotel a.k.a. Walnut Square Apartments
Back in early 2012, I wrote about Walnut Square Apartments, built as the Saint James Hotel in 1901. In the story I lamented that the façade of the building, known for leaks in bad weather, was in need of improvement. In 2014, I saw scaffolding going up and I thought my prayers were answered. Unfortunately, I was wrong. While the owners were spending $1 million on repairs and upgrades to the façade, none were cosmetic. The bricks on the building’s party wall were replaced with bricks that do not match the old ones. A balcony on the north façade was removed and replaced by dryvit panels. A cornice that was deemed dangerous was also removed.
However, I wasn’t the only one who noticed this. The Philadelphia Historical Commission placed a verbal Stop Work Order on the renovation, and the owners of Walnut Square had to file an application stating that the work already done was legally sound. The owners cited financial hardship, especially concerning the stone balcony that was removed without approval from the City.
The Historical Commission first met with the owners in April, 2015, then again in August, and finally in October. The third time around, the building owners came armed with lauded real estate lawyer David Fineman, who proved that other façade details had been removed over the years, even after the building was added to Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1973 and before ordinances in 1985 and 1991 concerning preservation of historic properties and firmly establishing the Historical Commission’s authority over such matters.
The Commission ultimately voted to deny the legal approval of the balcony replacement, masonry patchwork, and the mismatched brick color on the east façade, recommending instead that the building’s owners clean the old bricks in order to compare colors. As of today, those repairs haven’t been made and no changes seem to have taken place.
Philadelphia General Post Office
Another early Shadow Knows story features the old Philadelphia General Post Office, a Rankin and Kellogg design built between 1931 and 1935. In 2007, the building was purchased by the University of Pennsylvania and immediately flipped to Brandywine Realty, who engaged in a three-year renovation and restoration project and then penned a log tear lease with IRS for office space.
At the tail end of 2015, Brandywine sold what they now call Cira Square to the Seoul-based Korea Investment Management Company for $354 million. This, along with selling off other properties in Brandywine’s portfolio, fueled speculation that the company was preparing for something big. On March 2nd, they officially announced the biggest and most game-changing project in University City since Penn Center, dubbed Schuylkill Yards.
Mount Sinai Hospital
Mount Sinai Hospital, the great mountain of South Philly, is now coming down. After years as a blighted and empty hulk, all hopes of its redevelopment are now squashed. It is set to be replaced with a project by Concordia Partners, injecting 95 single-family houses on the lot. While this is somewhat of a disappointment considering the potential of the old hospital, its still positive that the land parcel will see some use.
The 1924 Nurse’s Home, which pre-dated the rest of the complex, will remain as an apartment building. Our own Michael Bixler recently toured around what is left of the hospital–see his photo essay HERE.
Frankford Chocolate Factory
The Frankford Chocolate Factory, built as the Howell & Brothers wallpaper mill in 1865 (with several additions built in the following decades) was just purchased in November by a consortium of buyers out of Kennett Square, PA for $7.8 million. Long vacant, many are looking forward to forthcoming plans for the building, whether it be reused and preserved or redeveloped for new construction.
At last! After all these years, 223-227 Chestnut Street, the blighted former textile import, German Consulate, stock certificate printer, U.S. Public Health Service hospital, and Native American Museum has finally been rehabbed after being sold at a Sheriff’s Sale at the end of 2013 to Posel Management. Now leased with office tenants, the cluster of 19th century buildings is back in active use, despite having lost the lovely wrought iron façade pieces that were too far gone to restore. This is one of many positive development steps that Old City has made in the last couple of years– many long-term lots and blighted buildings are now in use, being built on, or being rehabbed. Still, plenty of long-vacant building and surface parking lots pockmark the neighborhood.
(Note: the original story about 223-227 Chestnut Street was written by Ryan Briggs. The finished rehab job brought such joy to my heart that I had to include it on this follow-up list.)
De La Salle in Towne
The 1895-built Evening Home and Library Association, most recently used as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s De La Salle In Towne, an education center for disenfranchised and troubled boys, is now for sale. A local firm, JLL Realty, is representing the seller and is marketing the parcel as an “infill opportunity,” loosely implying that the property could be demolished and be a site for new construction. Of course, the building was placed on the Philadelphia Historical Register in 1995, meaning the owner can’t legally demolish the building. The price is undisclosed and efforts to get a price from JLL Realty have gone unanswered.
Lacey & Phillips Building
The mid-19th century Lacey & Phillips Building at 30-32 South 7th Street has found new life. The storefront has been vacant for eight years; the upper floors longer. Now, the building has been restored is ready for tenants.
The upper floors have been remodeled for full-floor luxury apartments. The apartments feature distinctive interior details like the beautiful, large wooden sliding doors built by one of the new owners. This owner, who chooses to remain anonymous, is a history buff who was happy to see my original article about the building and, due to the history revealed, named his development Lacey & Phillips, after the building’s original use.
The bi-level store front is still vacant, but is being marketed by James Elliott at Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty. The target tenant is a restaurant, and the new owners have installed an air-handling system for a future kitchen. The street level of the space has 36 feet of frontage, hardwood floors, cast iron corinthian columns, and 15-foot ceilings. The basement area under-sidewalk storage, a feature of commercial buildings in the oldest areas of the city.
One of the owners of the building recently completed the handsome restoration of 1300 South Street, a 19th century commercial space that now houses the Sansom Street Kabob House. He is also involved in the future rehab of a warehouse at Moyamensing & Moore Streets in Pennsport with plans for a large retail and restaurant complex.
Front and Thompson Public Bath
Opened in 1907, the Front and Thompson Public Bath was enjoyed by thousands of Philadelphians over the course of five decades as a public swimming pool. Readers who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1970s say that the public pool’s nickname was “Fronties.” After decades of use as a brush manufacturing shop, along with the former owner’s myriad of creative endeavors, the space will soon reopen as PlayArts, a play-based arts and enrichment space under the designs of architectural firm Bright Common. Renovations lean heavy on sustainable design, with a goal of making the building as close to zero-energy use a possible.
13th and Sansom
Legendary developer Felix Isman’s 111-year-old speculative building at the northwest corner of 13th and Sansom is finally seeing the end of a decade of incremental renovations to the exterior, including the building’s distinctive bay windows. William Proud Masonry Restoration, the company that first helped repair and restore the façade years ago, is wrapping up the work this month.
The 13th Street corridor has been through a lot of changes in the last decade and there’s even more to come: a pedestrianized and dumpsterless Drury Lane, renovation of the nearby Hale Building, and new murals by Shepard Fairey and James Burns.
West Philadelphia Title & Trust Company
Site prep is well underway on the new addition to the old West Philadelphia Title & Trust Company building, built between 1925 and 1926 under the designs of Paul Philippe Crêt proteges Davis, Dunlap, & Barley. When completed, the 90-year-old building and its glassy new addition will be re-named the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science & Economics. The new addition was designed by Toronto-based architecture firm KPMB Architects.
About a year ago I told you all about one of the more overlooked buildings in the city, the Miles Building. In that story I lamented on how the street level retail saw no signs of being filled. Well, all that has changed. The large retail space has been leased by by the Michael Salove Company and will be converted into a new restaurant. Jacob Cooper from MSC tells me that the details are still under wraps, but that the new tenant is “an upgrade for sure” over its previous use as a Saladworks chain restaurant.
Shortly after the publication of my story about the Finnegan’s Wake building, built as a box factory in 1905, plans were proposed by Stockton Real Estate Advisors for a complete conversion of the building into a mixed-use office space with ground-floor retail under the designs of local firm Atkin Olshen Schade Architects. A few months later, the plan was changed, reducing the height of the project from 74 to 60 feet.
The new development requires a zoning change–Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a bill, which re-zoned the building from CMX-2 to CMX-3. It was passed by City Council and signed by former Mayor Michael Nutter in June. Since then, nothing has happened. Neither the sale, nor the zoning change, have been recorded with the Office of Property Assessment. Efforts to contact both the owners of the building and Stockton Real Estate Advisors has gone unanswered.
9th Street Derelict Row
Just a few weeks ago, I told you about long-derelict properties that should have been repaired/restored/re-developed long ago. In the story I identified the row of derelict buildings at the northeast corner of 9th and Locust. The future of the two properties were unknown until now. The Wills Eye Hospital, which has been slowly acquiring each lot on that block over the course of 20 years, plans to demolish the historically certified row and replace it with an annex to its existing hospital. There is no set date for when this work will begin, and $30 million still needs to be raised to get the project started. After decades of sitting fallow, one of the last beat-up sections of Washington Square West is set for redevelopment. If so, it will result in the loss of buildings long on their way to demolition by neglect.