Industrial Heritage On Washington Avenue Destroyed

 

Editor’s Note: On Friday, April 27 the demolition of Frankford Chocolate Factory at 2101 Washington Avenue began. The property’s owner, real estate developer and OCF Realty president Ori Feibush, moved quickly to raze the collection of buildings despite mounting concerns over the destruction the historic industrial landmark. (Read the full details of the situation HERE.) Feibush purchased the old factory on April 16 for $15.5 million. The developer plans to clear the lot, save a small corner building and smokestack, and build a five-story residential and retail complex.

The Civil War-era carpet factory was built in 1865. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. A nomination for placement on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, submitted in December last year, is currently in the hands of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. The City’s Committee on Historic Designation unanimously recommended the buildings for designation on April 18. Although the Historical Commission has legal jurisdiction over the property, given that the nomination was submitted before the current owner applied for demolition permits, a public meeting was never held to allow appointed Commission members to assess the property’s historic value and vote on the nomination.

In March, less than a month before Feibush finalized his purchase of the property, the factory was suddenly upgraded from “unsafe” to “imminently dangerous” by the Department of Licenses and Inspections after loose bricks were reported on a nearby sidewalk. Two engineering reports, both paid for by Feibush, claimed that the structure was unstable and dangerous. L&I did not pursue their own independent engineering assessment of the building following the claims. Feibush denied a request from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to allow an independent engineer to assess the current state of the building. 

The following photographs of the interior of Frankford Chocolate Company were taken in August 2012. Although six years have passed, these images illustrate the potential for saving the 153-year-old nationally landmarked historic structure and adapting it for future use. 

***

Inside Frankford Chocolate Factory. Photographs by Rob Masciantonio.

About the author

Robert Masciantonio attended Shippensburg University where he received his BA in Political Science and History. A proud native of Delaware County, Masciantonio carries a lifelong fascination with Philadelphia's deep, layered past. He has an strong interest in photography and architecture, with an emphasis on industry and institutions. Masciantonio is currently pursuing a degree in Structural Engineering.



28 Comments


  1. There is no way this building was beyond repair.

  2. I encourage you to publish the photos and video I shared from a few weeks ago. Showing the property from how it was years before the rain leaders were broken and the roof failed is a disservice to your readers and perpetuates an untrue narrative.

    • Michael Bixler

      The article is entirely transparent. It clearly states a timeline regarding the issues surrounding the property and then clearly states the year that the photos were taken. Recent videos of the interior, provided by owner Ori Feibush, can be viewed on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hiddencityphila/

    • Watched your videos on FB, which were not exactly impartial either. I’m no expert, but the shady way this was done suggests you don’t even believe your own story. “Developers” like you are a plague.

  3. CORRECTION: That is NOT a shot tower. It’s the smokestack for a boiler plant that Wanamaker added after taking over the property in 1912.

  4. Michael Daigeaun

    Ori, why do you not share the line to the photos yourself? Also, why not let an independent engineer visit the site if you were offering the chance for people to take a tour?

    Obviously, you receive a lot of press as a developer in this city. This would be a chance to really step forward and be a shining example of preserving community.

  5. If these photos were from only 3 years ago, 2107 Kimball Street would be visible in the 5th photo down as that house was completed in early 2014.

  6. I am all for preservation but if these are the best shots of the space, I don’t understand the outcry.

  7. If anyone had been hurt from this crumbling danger collapsing, you’d be nailing Ori Feibush against the wall. It was an old brick factory, the most distinguishing historical feature, the smokestack, is being preserved – the rest of it serves no useful purpose in the modern era. I’m glad its getting knocked down before someone got brained with a brick; nice of you to imply that it was all a lie and that L&I should pay tens of thousands of dollars to conduct an assessment to create a court case (again, costing the city TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS in legal costs and tying up our court system with a worthless case) to, what, force the developer to save a big brick block? WHY?

    • Robert Masciantonio

      Probably because a 153 year old “big brick block”, ignoring any history or aesthetic appeal, is infinitely superior in construction to any modern fire-trap particle board and siding construction currently going up in the city.

      Modern building materials just no not compare. If any modern plywood palace of the type currently being built in the city were left vacant for the time this has been they would fall in on themselves. That is my feeling, and I work on buildings for a living.

      That is aside from the fact it is one of the largest and last Civil War era factories left in the city and has become something of an iconic fixture of Washington Ave.

      • AMEN Robert Masciantonio

      • Yes, its a giant brick block, it will last forever; and also be extremely hard to do anything useful with, or only at great cost. A developer is not going to pay those costs, so it would just sit as a big vacant brick block. Alternatively, you types want the city of Philadelphia to offer “incentives” aka money and tax write-offs that ultimately come from the public purse, to preserve buildings that serve no public function. Priorities, people; big brick blocks are not worth saving.

        I’m just going to ignore your whole “fire trap plywood palace” spiel because its nonsense – do you want to conveniently forget that all of the 4 alarm fires are in rowhomes built in 1900, like at 239 Chestnut in February? Or the very recent fire on the 6900 block of Oakland, on a property built in 1950?

        This article has to be amended by your editors multiple times since I read it, with the dates of the pictures continuously pushed back and the text changed. I respect the honesty of trying to get the story right, but we have a fundamental disagreement about what is in the best civic interest of the city of Philadelphia; with our city having to come up with a billion dollars in two years for the School District, and all of its ancient, expensive to repair and maintain buildings, I really cannot drum up much sympathy for an big brick block that serves no community purpose.

        • 1) Cecil Baker was going to “pay those costs” until he sold several of his projects including the one at 4th and Willow.

          2) There are plenty of incentives no matter which way it went. A 20% tax credit for the property owner and 10 year tax abatements for the townhome owners.

          3) “Priorities” can mean different things to different people. You generalize too much

          4) 239 Chestnut was not a row home, and had thick brick and mason walls. If it and the surrounding structures were timber with no firewall most of the block would be lost. Like the 7 destroyed and damaged row homes under construction at 20th and Wharton streets.

          5) The city’s misappropriation and questionable spending has nothing to do with this. But if you want to bring it up, just how many buildings could be saved and infrastructure fixed with their secret deal to Amazon that serves “no community purpose” besides boosting egos ?

          • 1) Cecil Baker didn’t pay those costs. You are fully in support of the point I was making; if paying those costs made sense, why did he sell the parcels instead?

            2) The ten year tax abatement should be killed. Further money from the public purse, on top of the ten year tax abatement, is further money that is needed for the school district.

            3) “Historical” can mean different things to different people, you tend to label anything old as historical.

            4) The intentional arson of the 20th and Wharton street row homes? Your example is the intentional arson against a different Ori Feibush (OFC Realty) property? Amazing. Why don’t you mention the intentional arson of the Fishtown properties as well in your case against the fire safety of these buildings; they keep getting set on fire, they must be unsafe.

            5) A city is an organic thing, made up of the people who live in it; buildings are not alive, and aside from the value of their use to the people of the city, they don’t have intrinsic value. Sometimes, that use is that the building is of historical importance, and the value is carrying on history and legacy; those buildings should be preserved. The city shouldn’t have chased after Amazon at all, it was a fool’s game and a huge waste of money.

            Most of the commentators on Hidden City have a fetish for buildings and ascribe to the buildings the characteristics of life of the inhabitants; this is total nonsense. https://hiddencityphila.org/2016/03/the-blum-come-down/

            “At Blumberg, the dramatic effect came from the twin towers coming down simultaneously, their 50 years of memories drifting southward in a giant golden cloud in the early morning sunlight.”

            The 50 years of the inhabitants memories are not possessed by the buildings, they are possessed by the people. Spending large sums / losing revenues on tax abatement, on Amazon boondoggles, on corruption, and on preservation of buildings that are simply old but without any real historical value is not in the civic interest of the living, breathing City; its people, not its buildings. Buildings go up, buildings come down, the character of the City changes over time.

            When I say “your types” I mean this blind devotion to antiques while ignoring the reality of change which is common to the faux nostalgia for a Philadelphia urbanity that never existed in the way the commentators here tend to envision it; as if one could touch a wall and grasp the lived experiences of the people who inhabited a place. It is a romantic notion, and its also complete nonsense.

            The devotion to this romantic ideal is to the detriment of the city of Philadelphia’s growth and change.

          • Just to clarify, Cecil Baker is not a developer and did not sell properties. He is an architect, employed by various developers.

        • “you types.” Go peddle this garbage to people who don’t know any better.

  8. Didn’t have to read anything else.

    “L&I did not pursue their own independent engineering assessment of the building following the claims. Feibush denied a request from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to allow an independent engineer to assess the current state of the building.”

  9. The best response that I’ve read so far.

    “Today this “developer” kicked off Philadelphia Preservation Month by demolishing the Frankford Chocolate Factory on Washington Avenue, one of the city’s last Civil War-era factories. And for what? More cheap, poorly constructed, over-priced “luxury” townhouses that are going to be falling apart in five or ten years.

    He claims that the abandoned factory is what was keeping Point Breeze and Graduate Hospital down. Not all the industry along Washington Ave; not the crumbling concrete viaduct; not the multitudes of vacant, trash-strewn lots. No, this empty brick factory that was sealed so tightly it hasn’t even been vandalized or tagged with graffiti.

    A lot of the rowhouses in the immediate area were probably built for blue collar families, the kinds that would have worked in that factory. It would have been amazing to rehab it into condos, townhomes, or even *gasp* actual affordable housing. The stand-alone building on the corner could have been anything – a cafe, a community center, maybe even an indoor pool for residents? Simply put, keeping the site and rehabing it would have enhanced the neighborhood, brought even more life to it, and served as a model for historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

    The building was (belatedly) put on the National Register of Historic Places back in December, but as the Kenney administration has shown (see: Boyd Theatre & Jeweler’s Row), that doesn’t amount to anything. Philadelphia is open to any developer – come one, come all! Historic Preservation in Philadelphia is a joke. Rather than actually saving this building, Ori Feibush had to go and be all Ori Feibush and tear it down just to build generic bullshit that’s already an eyesore before it’s even finished. Way to kick off preservation month, indeed. What a jitbag. I may not live in Philadelphia anymore, but I am angry and ashamed for the city right now.”

  10. Awe, poor thing. Read today’s Inquirer. Hidden City’s Blogger is THE reason this building was torn down so quickly. Someone’s on the take. Shame on you.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/inga_saffron/grojlart-hidden-city-ori-feibush-frankford-chocolate-factory-dennis-carlisle-20180503.html

  11. Funny, this Chocolate Factory meets the same fate as Notman’s Church of the Messiah up in Richmond. Same developer, same last minute L & I “imminently dangerous” report coming in after the PHC’s designation committee voted for recommending it for historical register. However, with the Chocolate Factory nomination, the nominator Carlisle, a Hidden History columnist GroJLart, was given a job by the developer, which seems really bad for preservation efforts to have a Hidden City columnist go to the dark side…makes one wonder who is this L&I guy writing these imminently dangerous reports?

  12. “I hate the lack of transparency.” Ori Feibush in 2015. Pot meet kettle.
    http://aldianews.com/articles/politics/elections/developing-2nd-district-ori-feibush-style/38792

  13. I think we have reached “peak loft” when a beautiful old building complex like this has no potential. Raze the newer cement block structure on Kimball (imagine how nice that little block would be with some trees and open air) – maybe even cut the thing back to just the original building in the center and line it with newer townhouses and amenities. I just can’t believe that the center structure has no worth anymore to today’s buying/renting populace. Sad.

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