Preservation

Lost Buildings of 2018

December 27, 2018 | by Hidden City Staff

 

A record-breaking 400+ demolition permits were approved by the City of Philadelphia in 2018 despite empty promises of better preservation policies by Mayor Jim Kenney and our deceptively superficial “World Heritage City” designation. | Photo: Michael Bixler

A city churns. It evolves and adapts to economic and political change, new technology, to taste and ideas. In Philadelphia the churning takes on a particular character, of accretion over time, so that one can observe the city’s layers while walking down the street. Having these rich and abundant layers means that old buildings regularly acquire new forms or are sometimes demolished and replaced. Occasionally in this city’s history that process has happened at grand scale. Indeed, we wouldn’t have skyline unless this were so. Nor university campuses. Nor a Parkway with an array of architecture that spans from 1901 to 2012.

Demolition helps create the layers, but so, critically, does preservation and adaptation. When these processes are out-of-balance, Philadelphia begins to lose its character. Shed too many layers too quickly and the city risks much more: vital touching stones of history, lived experience, and iconic beauty. All this is sacrificed for mostly roughshod contemporary buildings that reveal the city’s poverty more than anything else. As we come to the end of 2018, a record year for demolition with over 500 permits granted to private real estate developers, preservation is in crisis. Without an adequate legal mechanism for delaying the issuing of demolition permits, allowing the Historical Commission to rule on a building’s significance, this crisis is likely to continue.

Real estate developers, exploiting the city’s once pioneering, but now weak preservation laws and inadequate Historical Commission, the budget-draining Ten Year Tax Abatement law for new construction and owners of legacy properties hoping to cash out quick, are wreaking havoc seemingly everywhere, punching holes in the streetscape wherever they can at an increasing rate. They are likely motivated by a finite real estate boom and the prospect of tighter preservation rules that could emerge from the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Task Force, which released its findings to Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council earlier this month. No one who has experienced the wanton loss of significant buildings these past few years while public officials stood by silently should expect swift action. The Task Force itself took 18 months to complete its work.

What was lost during those 18 months? More than one intact 19th century mill complex, including the Frankford Chocolate factory, a Breyers Ice Cream factory, Christ Memorial Church, Mario Lanza’s childhood home, Webb’s Department Store, and the Christian Street Baptist Church in South Philadelphia. These are some of the most painful losses of the year, but there are dozens of others across the city, like the early 19th century, vernacular Georgian-style brick homes with central dormers at 1520 Frankford Avenue in Fishtown and 1347-49 Kater Street in Hawthorne. Here our contributors and staff have documented 24 of them. The lost buildings list is an annual tradition (omitting 2017) at Hidden City Daily, something we must do, if only to account for the loss during this period of profound change.

See Lost Buildings 2012, 2013 (Part One and Two), 2014, 2015, and 2016.

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Howell & Brothers Factory/Frankford Chocolate Company in Graduate Hospital | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Howell & Brothers Factory/Frankford Chocolate Company
Address: 2101 Washington Avenue, Graduate Hospital
Dates: 1865-1900s
Architect: N/A
The Story: Long before it became, by some accounts, the most prolific maker of chocolate bunnies in the world, this block-long red-brick industrial loft began life as the Howell & Brothers Paper Hangings Manufactory, one of the nation’s largest and most innovative Victorian-era wallpaper factories. But only five months after it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and poised for rehabilitation, the former Frankford Chocolate Company factory on Washington Avenue was demolished by new owner Ori Feibush after portions of the 150-year-old landmark were declared imminently dangerous by the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections. The Philadelphia Historical Commission was reviewing a nomination to protect the building at the time of its demolition, but its authority to do so was superseded by the L&I declaration. Former owners believed the building was structurally sound before its sale to Feibush, who resisted calls for an independent engineering analysis before demolition commenced. Apartments, townhomes, and retail are planned for the site.

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Christ Memorial Reformed Church in West Philadelphia | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Christ Memorial Reformed Church
Address: 4233 Chestnut Street, West Philadelphia
Dates: 1887
Architect: Isaac Pursell
The Story: Even without its original 170-foot steeple, which collapsed after being struck by lightning in 2004, the former Christ Memorial Reformed Church in West Philadelphia was one of the city’s most impressive and monumental Gothic Revival churches. Although the main sanctuary was damaged and never fully repaired following the collapse, an attached seminary, rectory and chapel remained occupied until this year. Local developer Guy Laren purchased the church in 2007 for $712,000 and made minimal repairs to the complex. After quietly securing a demolition permit this April, he sold the site to New York-based 4233 Chestnut LLC for $10.5 million. The demolition permit preempted efforts to nominate the building, widely considered the masterpiece of prolific church architect Isaac Pursell, for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Complete demolition of the entire complex began this fall and remains in progress. Development plans for the CMX-4 site have not yet been announced, although a by-right apartment tower is likely.  

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Christian Street Baptist Church in Bella Vista | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Christian Street Baptist Church/Protestant Episcopal Italian Mission and Church of L’Emmanuello
Address: 1024 Christian Street, Bella Vista
Dates: 1890
Architect: Frank Rushmore Watson
The Story: Condominiums are planned for the former site of Christian Street Baptist Church, designed by Frankford native Frank R. Watson and built by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century as the Protestant Episcopal Italian Mission and Church of L’Emmanuello. The beloved neighborhood landmark was demolished by Ori Feibush’s OCF Realty after a nomination to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places failed due to an obscure technicality in the city’s historic preservation ordinance. Although the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted 5-4 in favor of protecting the building from demolition, abstentions by two commissioners actually left the motion short of the required majority of those present. After discovering this technicality days after the Commission meeting, OCF then applied for and received a demolition permit, rejecting a preservation-minded buyer’s matching offer before razing the church and selling the vacant lot for redevelopment. 

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Creswell Iron Works in Logan Square | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Creswell Iron Works 
Address: 113 North 23rd Street, Logan Square
Dates: 1840-1884
Architect: N/A
The Story: Creswell Iron Works was demolished earlier this summer despite being historic, adaptable, and in good shape. The 133-year-old distinctive cluster of industrial buildings was one of the last industrial relics left in Logan Square. The foundry has long been a magnet for artists and creative types. Parts of the iron works has been used for a recording studio, a speakeasy, band practice space, a car detailing shop, overnight food truck parking, and storage. A conversion of the buildings into apartments failed due to the 2007 recession. The foundry continued to be used for a mixed martial arts club, artist studios, and apartments. Tenants were evicted after L&I approved a demolition permit in April. Plan for the parcel includes 16 new residential units and a parking garage.

S.J. Creswell Iron Works was founded in 1835 and specialized in architectural iron products, specifically columns, lintels, brackets, girders, and stairways. The company also made castings for wood and iron bridges. Manhole covers with vault lighting made by the company can still be spotted in Center City as can others bearing the Creswell name. After stints at different locations on Race Street the company settled in at 113-27 North 23rd Street, the former site of a tannery and machine shop, in 1885. At peak production the entire iron works complex employed over 85 workers and spanned 23rd Street down to Race Street.

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U.S. Tire Company Building in Callowhill | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: U.S. Tire Company Building
Address: 329 North Broad Street, Callowhill
Date: 1911
Architect: George Pauling & Company
The Story: When the Pennsylvania Ballet first announced plans for a new home on North Broad Street in 2007, it pledged a full restoration of the former U.S. Tire Company Building, a handsome four-story industrial loft clad in gleaming white terra cotta. This promise was reaffirmed in 2012, when the ballet controversially demolished the adjacent Willys-Overland Motor Company building for new dance studios. Both buildings were listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Callowhill Industrial Historic District, and ballet officials then cited their commitment to restore the U.S. Tire Building as justification for the demolition of Willys-Overland. But in 2018, after more than a decade of inaction and deferred maintenance, the Ballet unceremoniously razed the U.S. Tire Company Building as well, claiming the structure no longer fit into their plans for the site. These plans have not been made public and the site is now a vacant lot.    

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Philadelphia Transit Company Substation | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Philadelphia Transit Company Substation
Address: 613-23 N. Front Street
Date: Early 20th century
Architect: N/A
The Story: This fetching industrial building at 613-23 N. Front Street was likely built by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company in the 1920s, yet it’s specific origins and architect remains unconfirmed. The parcel the building sits on was originally owned by the People’s Traction Company in the late 1800s. By 1940 it was owned and used as a power substation by the Philadelphia Transit Company. The building was is beautiful shape inside and out after it was renovated for potential office space. However, it lingered on the rental market and sat vacant for roughly five years. It was sold in 2016 to developer Michael Grasso of Metro Development who planned to demolish the building despite requiring a zoning variance for a planned Super Wawa gas station and a 350-car garage. The Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, Central Delaware Advocacy Group, and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation all oppose the plan. Grasso went ahead and destroyed the adaptable substation anyway. 

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Lycoming in East Falls | Photo: Bradley Maule

Name: Lycoming
Address: 3005 West School House Lane, East Falls
Dates: 1907
Architect: Wilson Eyre
The Story: As West School House Lane meanders down toward the Schuylkill from Germantown to East Falls, a bucolic landscape emerges to span these urban neighborhoods. This quiet setting nestled near the Wissahickon Valley became a haven in the 19th century for emerging industrialists, including Quakers like Justice Strawbridge, to establish private homes on larger lots than typically found in Philadelphia. The result was an enclave of country estates on a curbless road well within the city limits, maximizing proximity to commercial activity as well as a quiet retreat from it. Lycoming was the wistfully-named homestead of William Jay Turner, an attorney who in 1907 commissioned renowned architect Wilson Eyre, Jr., to design a house in the latter’s popular English cottage idiom within a setting of large shade trees. With distinctive Arts and Crafts details and stucco-clad out-buildings, including a combination stable and car garage, Lycoming expressed a gentleman’s country retreat at a transition point between the Gilded Age and World War I.

In 2018, it is a different Quaker who is now shaping the landscape of West School House Lane. Despite heritage principles of “mutual respect, equality, and community,” current property owner William Penn Charter School has destroyed Lycoming and a few of its old growth, shade trees in order to realign a playing field for the decidedly un-Quaker sport of football. Turner had bequeathed the house to serve as a home for “aged and needy gentlewomen.” Yet, the oldest school in Philadelphia sought not to incorporate this architectural patrimony into its sprawling campus after purchasing Lycoming in 2016. Instead, they have joined the unsustainable actions of Philadelphia University (now Thomas Jefferson University) who in 2006 demolished the delightful residence “Red Gate” by Germantown architect George T. Pearson for railroad magnate Frederick Kimball. Through these selective demolitions, this stretch of West School House Lane between Henry and Wissahickon Avenues has all but completed its transformation into a private school thoroughfare. Don’t be surprised if gates and a guardhouse go up at either boundary street one day.

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Mario Lanza Home in Bella Vista | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Mario Lanza Childhood Home
Address: 636 Christian Street, Bella Vista
Dates: N/A
Architect: N/A
The Story: What happens when existing buildings with historical markers meet the wrecking ball? Nothing, nada, niente. Much like the inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, state markers provide zero legal protection to historic structures in Philadelphia. In July, the childhood home of opera singer and MGM Studios personality Mario Lanza, located at 636 Christian Street and differentiated by a state marker, was demolished to make way for residential development.

Mario Lanza, born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in 1921, performed with the YMCA’s in-house opera company and attended Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts as a teen before debuting professionally in 1942 at the age of 21. The Italian American tenor’s fledgling career was interrupted, however, when Lanza was drafted during WWII.

By 1945, he was singing again, performing throughout the United States with well-known contemporaries. He eventually captivated Hollywood luminaries such as Louis B. Mayer (cofounder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios). It was Mayer that signed Lanza, launching a decade-long career in film that would assure his place as “the most famous tenor in the world” and “the last of the great romantic performers.”

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Schweiker Building in Brewerytown | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: W.G. Schweiker Metal Cornice and Skylight Works
Address: 2623 West Jefferson Street, Brewerytown
Dates: 1880s-90s
Architect: N/A
The Story:

Let’s start with the human tragedy here: North Philly contractor Harvey Figgs died in early June when part of the Schweiker building collapsed during demolition. The building had been classified as unsafe by L&I in 2017. No negligence on demolition company Gama Wrecking’s part has been reported, ***Update; OSHA cited Gama Wrecking in December, 2018 for three violations including failing to brace walls or floors and issued a $45,000 fine*** however we might point out that for all of L&I’s concern with buildings spontaneously collapsing, several recent incidents show that the demolition process itself is also hazardous. Along with the Salvation Army building collapse at 22nd and Market that cost six people their lives, there was the chunk of the former Whitman Chocolate factory at 4th and Race that fell on top of an empty school bus in 2016 during demolition. And this year, part of the former Frankford Chocolate Factory at 21st and Washington fell onto adjacent power lines causing a electrical outage for nearby residents.

The Schweiker building itself was a marvel of pressed metal, a corner row house with a mansard roof topped by a supersized cornice advertising the firm’s products: “Skylights, Cornices, Heaters & Ranges.” And like the tile and stone dealers on Washington Avenue that cover their facades with products they sell, so too did Schweiker. The building’s exterior was sheathed in metal made to look like stone blocks. Inside, metal wainscoting covering the walls from top to bottom; the crown molding was made of metal as was the coffered ceiling. A small sign for “Rev. Prewitt’s Auto Service” added a layer of strangeness. MM Partners had planned to redevelop the property into 10 live-work spaces but the company wound up selling the building in 2017 to Rollup LLC of Churchville, PA. A four-unit apartment building is planned for the site.

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Philadelphia Pneumatic Tool Company in North Philadelphia | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Philadelphia Pneumatic Tool Company
Address: 2040 West Lippincott Street, North Philadelphia
Dates: 1902
Architect: N/A
The Story: This building was constructed in 1902 for the Philadelphia Pneumatic Tool Company founded by inventor Julius Keller. Keller immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1880 and worked for several years as a tool manufacturer before filing for several patents and establishing his own company. According to a contemporary trade publication, he was considered one of the country’s leading experts on pneumatic tools, having designed and built some of the earliest chipping and riveting hammers, rammers, and drills using compressed air. Keller’s family eventually moved west, and his company was absorbed by the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company. After Keller’s company left, the building served as the Brown-Phelps Hosiery Company, then a warehouse for B.F. Goodrich, and lastly a plant for the Ero Manufacturing Company. By 2018, the building was vacant. On May 17, a five-alarm fire tore through the building and required 200 firefighters to put it out. By the time the smoke cleared, the structure had partially collapsed, and L&I subsequently deemed the building to be imminently dangerous.

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PW&B Swing Bridge No. 1 in Grays Ferry | Photo: Bradley Maule

Name: PW&B Swing Bridge No. 1
Address: Schuylkill River at Grays Ferry Avenue, Grays Ferry
Dates: 1902
Architect: American Bridge Company
The Story: The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Bridge No. 1 was a swing steel truss that once connected Grays Ferry with Southwest Philadelphia. Built in 1902, the rail bridge served PW&B, Penn Central, and Conrail during it’s years of active use. Conrail abandoned the Bridge in 1976 and left it permanently open over the Schuylkill River. In 2012, plans took shape to reuse and incorporate the 116-year-old swing bridge into the Schuylkill River Trail master plan to connect Gray’s Ferry Crescent Trail with Bartram’s Mile. Conrail transferred ownership of the bridge to the City in 2017. An engineering assessment of the old swing bridge deemed it unfit to repurpose. It has been dismantled and will be replaced with a pedestrian boardwalk that will replicate the general look of the original steel truss.   

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Breyers Ice Cream Factory Stables in North Philadelphia | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Breyers Ice Cream Factory Stables
Address: 901 West Cumberland Street, North Philadelphia
Dates: 1908
Architect: N/A
The Story: The former Breyers Ice Cream Factory Stables was demolished by the City in September after being flagged as imminently dangerous by the Department of Licenses and Inspections. This four-story concrete loft was the last surviving remnant of a sprawling Breyer Ice Cream factory established in 1904 at the corner of 9th and Cumberland Streets. It was constructed in 1916 as a stable and storage loft for Breyer’s famous horse-drawn delivery wagons. The building was later expanded and converted into a Cushman Sons bakery in the late 1920s after Breyer’s shifted production to a new factory in West Philadelphia. The rest of the complex was demolished and replaced by Veterans Playground in the 1950s. The building was most recently owned by the Church of the Living God Healing and Miracle Center.      

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Arctic Cold Storage/Kensington Brewery in Fishtown | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Arctic Cold Storage Co./Kensington Brewery Brew House
Address: 1224 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown
Dates: 18741897
Architect: N/A
The Story: The former Arctic Cold Storage Co., one of Fishtown’s last historic brewery buildings, is currently being razed after scaffolding clung to the facade for years. Fishtown developer Roland Kassis originally planned to repurpose 1224 Frankford Avenue for his long-stalled hotel project, but recently eliminated it from the plan due to the building’s three-foot-thick walls and low ceilings. The original Leopold Street building where Moritz Ruoff began brewing in 1874 will be saved and incorporated into the 114-room boutique hotel. Artist Shepard Fairey’s mural “Lotus Diamond,” painted on the north-facing party wall in 2014, is now completely destroyed.

William Heimgartner bought the brewery from Ruoff in 1889. Heimgartner was producing over 5,000 barrels of beer a year by the time he acquired the property fronting Frankford Avenue in 1897. There he built a seven-story brew house in a decorative Italiante style. Kensington Brewery became Frankford Avenue Brewery two years after Heimgartner’s death in 1907. Protobrewing Company bought the buildings in 1910 and employed some 82 workers to manufacture liquors and malts until the company went bankrupt in 1917. It briefly served as a pickle factory until Arctic Cold Storage Co. bought the old brewery in 1925. The cold storage facility operated until the mid-1990s.  

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Button Building in Old City | Photo: Tyler Putnam

Name: Button Building
Address: 239 Chestnut Street, Old City
Dates: 1852
Architect: Stephen Decatur Button
The Story: The five-story building at 239 Chestnut Street was felled by a four-alarm fire on February 18, 2018, and it wins the dubious honor of “Lost Building With the Worst Domino Effects.” The building was located on a bustling block in Old City Philadelphia across from the Museum of the American Revolution and its loss was bad for its residents, bad for its neighbors, and bad for business. Around 160 people were evacuated in the fire, and several pets died. For months after the fire, residential and commercial tenants of 239 Chestnut Street and the flanking buildings have coped with fire and water damage to their structures. They have also been subjected to street and sidewalk closures that have deterred visitors to the shops and restaurants on the block, including The Little Lion (which remains closed), Gina’s 45, Amada, Xenos, Old City Tobacco Company, and Capofitto. In the case of the latter, the fire at 239 Chestnut Street was ultimately a nail in the coffin for the whole family of Capogiro stores, all which closed their doors on December 9, 2018.

239 Chestnut Street was constructed in 1852 and designed by Stephen Decatur Button. It was known for its cast-iron façade. Building owners plan to reconstruct the first-floor façade based on laser scans conducted before the fire-damaged structure was demolished. But even so, the loss of this building has left a significant hole in Old City—one that’s bigger than its simple building footprint.

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Leo Razzi Machine Shop in Northern Liberties | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Leo Razzi Machine Shop
Address: 1018-1022 Germantown Avenue, Northern Liberties
Dates: 1900
Architect: N/A
The Story: When Leo Razzi purchased a dilapidated former wagon works on a wedge of land between Germantown Avenue and New Market Street in 1999, the area was a post-industrial wasteland of vacant lots and abandoned factories, including the shuttered Schmidt’s Brewery complex a stone’s throw away. By the time Razzi passed away earlier this year, the private swim club across the street was serving $795 bottles of Dom Perignon Rose, and his building, which served as both his home and workshop, was conspicuous for the rusting machinery out front and second story windows open to the elements. A union electrician who moved to Philly in the 1990s, Razzi found creative freedom thanks to Northern Liberties’ cheap real estate along with dozens of other artists and artisans during that pre-Piazza era. He would go on to build a business fabricating custom metalwork, from signs for nearby bars and restaurants, to oftentimes whimsical fences, bike racks, window grills and even decorative bollards protecting gas meters, many of which still grace the neighborhood.

Razzi’s building was erected around 1900, mostly likely as expanded facilities for Charles Kuhn, a wagon manufacturer. Later occupants included companies making novelties, wax flowers, silver plate and millwork. In the 19th century a brass foundry occupied the site. Although part of the roof had collapsed, the building’s location and the large size of the lot it stood upon, rather than its deteriorating condition, likely made demolition a foregone conclusion.

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Bridget Foy’s in Queen Village | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Bridget Foy’s
Address: 200 South Street, Queen Village
Dates: 1811-1820
Architect: N/A
The Story: The building that housed Bridget Foy’s, a beloved Queen Village restaurant and fixture of the neighborhood for 40 years, held the corner of 2nd and South Streets for nearly 200 years until it caught fire in October 2017. The two-alarm blaze cause irreparable structural damage, a financial burden that property owner John Foy could not bear with a total rehabilitation. Instead, Foy and his family decided to demolish and rebuild the restaurant with a design by Ambit Architecture that is reminiscent of the original structure.

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Webb’s Department Store in Sharswood | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Webb’s Department Store
Address: 2152 Ridge Avenue, Sharswood
Dates: Late 1800s
Architect: N/A
The Story: Miles Davis, the Temptations, Richard Pryor, and Al Green all used to swing by Webb’s Department Store back in the day. Sadly, the renowned Black record shop and celebrity hot spot on Ridge Avenue was demolished with zero fanfare. L&I issued an unsafe structure violation on the property in October 2016. A demolition permit was filed in February 2018.

Bruce Cornell Webb, a beloved community figure of North Philly, opened his music store on Ridge Avenue over 40 years ago. Luminaries like Smokey Robinson, Grover Washington Jr., and Joe Frazier frequently stopped by the shop to chat with Webb and take pictures with customers. Webb was also a photographer for Philadelphia’s oldest free Black newspaper, Scoop USA, for 50 years. He died at 83 at Sacred Heart Home on Thanksgiving Day in 2017.

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Poplar Theater in Poplar | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Poplar Theater
Address: 517-33 Poplar Street, Poplar
Dates: 1916
Architect: Carl P. Berger
The Story: In November, the former Poplar Theater, located at the northeast corner of 6th and Poplar Streets, was demolished to make way for a 40-unit residential building. Described in 2013 by the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association as an “old ruddy brick warehouse,” the building began life as a single-screen, 850 plus-seat theater that served a predominantly working class Jewish section of Northern Liberties. In fact, renowned Jewish American architect Louis Kahn was employed by the theater as a piano player (piano often accompanied silent pictures) during the 1910s and 1920s.

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Montgomery Theater in Fishtown | Photo: Roman Blazic

Name: Montgomery Theater
Address: 523-27 East Girard Avenue, Fishtown
Dates: 1912-2018
Architect: N/A
The Story: Since Rachel Hildebrandt took an inventory of Philadelphia’s surviving movie theaters for Hidden City in 2013, roughly 10 theaters of 145 have been demolished. In January, the former Montgomery Theater, located at 523 E. Girard Avenue, was demolished to make way for a 71-unit apartment building. It was one of several modest theaters that once lined the East Girard Avenue corridor. It was last occupied by Lou Wolff & Sons auto dealership, which purchased the building in 1955 and subsequently leveled the angled floor. The single-screen neighborhood house served the River Wards from 1912 until 1936. Despite its short, 24-year run as a theater, the building retained much of its interior ornament, including its decorative proscenium arch, rosettes that once anchored chandeliers, lobby mural, and mosaic tile nameplate.

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Riley Lumber in Northern Liberties | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Riley Lumber
Address: 3rd Street and Girard Avenue, Northern Liberties
Dates: 1870s-1940s
Architect: N/A
The Story: J.T. Riley was founded in 1905 and was one of oldest continually operating lumber merchants in Philadelphia when the family closed the business in 2014. Now all that it left is Riley’s classic, mid-century sign. In 2015, the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association approved plans for 20 apartments and 3,100 square feet of retail space in a mixed use project. The small collection of sheds and one-story buildings was finally cleared this year to make way for the new development. The lumberyard’s removal is part of a long list of cumulative losses that has nearly erased Northern Liberties’ industrial heritage.

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Ridge Home Furnishers/Engine 36 Firehouse in Sharswood | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Ridge Home Furnishers/Engine 36 Firehouse
Address: 2050 Ridge Avenue, Sharswood
Dates: N/A
Architect: N/A
The Story: The history of Sharswood is a particularly poignant one. In the shadow of Girard College, the neighborhood is bisected by Ridge Avenue, an ancient Lenape trail. In antebellum Philadelphia, Ridge became an early arterial road to a collection of rural cemeteries including Laurel Hill and Mt. Vernon. As such, the road was densely lined with commercial properties including marble yards and iron works that catered to this new industry of death. It was a dense row house neighborhood populated initially by German immigrants and dotted with breweries, Vienna bakeries, and liedertafel. It evolved into a middle-class, African American bulwark against encroaching poverty in the mid-20th century, replete with some of the city’s most storied jazz clubs.

The theme of death has returned to the neighborhood again as the Philadelphia Housing Authority has pursued a campaign of rapid, targeted, and often clandestine desecration of the neighborhood’s integrity despite their promises of revitalization.

One of this year’s casualties of the continuing erasure of Sharswood’s early built environment is the structure that held Ridge Home Furnishings at 2050-56 Ridge Avenue. The long-vacant property’s most interesting feature was its mid-century modern signage. The former furniture store was housed in two adjacent buildings and its exterior was completely covered in stucco, hiding any architectural hints at what was underneath. Deemed an unsafe structure earlier this year, the PHA-owned property was sold in an auction over the summer. During the course of recent demolition, a ground level series of Italianate arches was uncovered at the north building revealing it to have been the former Engine 36 firehouse. An elegant, 19th century vestige of neighborhood-scale civic service buildings once again wiped off the map as, across the street, the construction of the out-of-scale PHA headquarters nears completion, forever changing the feel and landscape of beleaguered Sharswood.

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6000 Market Street and 2-14 S. 60th Street, at left, in Haddington | Photo: Theresa Stigale

Name: 6000 Market Street and 2-14 S. 60th Street
Address: 6000 Market Street, Haddington
Dates: Early 1900s
Architect: Anderson and Haupt
The Story: For over a century, this three-story mixed-use building wrapped around a significant corner in West Philadelphia. Built in 1909, 6000 Market Street/2-14 S. 60th Street overlooked the 60th Street stop on the El—or, more accurately, the El overlooked it. It was listed a contributing building within the Haddington National Register District, but was not on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. It was designed by the architecture and engineering firm of Anderson and Haupt, who were responsible for at least 45 other projects in Philadelphia, including apartment buildings, synagogues and churches, factories, and several early motion picture theaters. The building at 60th and Market Streets was one of the earlier commissions of their partnership, and its design drew on both Julius J. Anderson’s skills as an architect and Max Haupt’s expertise as an engineer.

Although the industrial village north of the building was known by this time as Haddington, the area around 60th and Market Streets was just beginning to see development by the time this building was constructed. It was part of a wave of new construction in response to the introduction of the Market-Frankford Elevated Line in 1903. The tan, Pompeian brick exterior featured two-story pressed metal bays above the storefronts on both its 60th and Market Street facades, setting off the apartments above. A 1910 classified ad promoted the brand-new living quarters’ “large bright rooms,” replete with bath, steam heat, and janitor service.

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Sea Board Supply Co. Mixing Tower in Grays Ferry | Photo: Google Street View

Name: Sea Board Supply Co. Mixing Tower
Address: 3400 Grays Ferry Avenue, Grays Ferry
Dates: 1951
Architect: N/A
The Story: The corner of 34th and Grays Ferry is an especially busy intersection where traffic to and from I-95 and University City tends to stack up, which has given motorists, perhaps millions of them, time to idly ponder the mysterious concrete tower on the southwest corner. Now that the structure has been demolished, we finally did some research and can answer your mute inquiries. The nearly windowless shaft was erected in 1951 by the Sea Board Supply Co., a producer of crab meal used in chicken feed. Prior to that the property was home to the J. Alfred Clark foundry, which produced many of Philadelphia’s manhole covers around the turn of the 20th century. Most recently the lot was home to the B&L Propane Co. According to an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, the University of Pennsylvania has the property under an agreement of sale, which makes sense given its redevelopment of the DuPont research site across the street into the “Pennovation” campus. 

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 229-231 South 9th Street in Washington Square West | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name:  229-231 South 9th Street
Address: 229-231 South 9th Street, Washington Square West
Dates: 1925
Architect: Herman H. Kline
The Story: This pair of handsome 1920s commercial flats at 9th and Locust Streets had been owned and neglected by Wills Eye Hospital for more than two decades before their ultimate demise this spring. Although neither building was listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, both featured ornate pressed metal bays, undulating Dutch parapets, and vintage storefronts. Three adjacent, and certified historic, early 18th century Federal-style row houses at 223-227 S. 9th are also owned by Wills Eye and have also been left to decay for decades. The older properties remain standing for now, but the hospital has proposed a major new development on the site and has made no promises to keep the remaining historic buildings in place. Demolition of the remaining structures would require a claim of either financial hardship or of public interest by the hospital, which has shown little interest in maintaining the structures or exploring their potential for adaptive reuse.

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17 Comments:

  1. Davis says:

    A positively disgraceful record.

  2. Aaron Wunsch says:

    An excellent and much needed article. If only we’d had one for 2017, while the Task Force was in operation! One piece of the puzzle that’s missing here is the Historical Commission’s active collaboration in getting the Imminently Dangerous declaration developers seek – a collaboration made more striking by the fact that neither the PHC nor L&I employs engineers to make these decisions. When engineers do get involved, they generally do so at the demo-seeker’s request and with predictable results. Welcome to the era of Imminently Dangerous on Demand and Paid-For Abdication of Public Duty. Want to see things change? Consider joining RePoint: https://www.repointphl.org/take-action/

    1. John Rosenbaum says:

      Aaron:

      Based on your comment I joined up and contributed to Repoint Looks like those guys are dong a great job, and I support all your hard work and commitment.

      John

  3. Bob Skiba says:

    As a dance historian, archivist and tour guide in this city, I can’t tell you how ashamed I am that the PA Ballet unceremoniously destroyed the U.S. Tire Company Building at 329 N Broad St. Ballet, a truly historic art form, is about preserving the past, enlightening the present and anticipating the future. I can’t begin to imagine what they were thinking.

    1. Suzanne Hagner says:

      I think they were thinking $$$$ isn’t that always the bottom line? ….saying they needed more space to expand their school of dance….BUT why couldn’t that have been at another location so even that excuse does not hold water. The bottom line is lack of respect for any building/community that is on NORTH Broad St.

  4. Lynda Rutherford says:

    The loss of these buildings saddens me, especially that beautiful old church! I understand demolition if a building is unsound, but from the article it seems many of these could have been saved. I fail to see how tearing down a building is more economical than renovating and bringing it up to code. Sadly, it’s not just happening in Philly, but we’re losing beautiful old structures to steel and glass towers everywhere.

  5. Noah Goldman, RA AIA says:

    I understand the first people’s concept of society and land ownership better after reviewing this article. The tribes whose languages are still spoken in the names of places and streets like Passyunk and Moyamensing did not think that one person could own land, whether or not your home is upon a piece of land it is still a part of the world of each person who comes in view or contact of it.
    There are a few Philadelphians who benefit from the degradation of our collective memory, the built environment we have inherited is ours to live in, colors a building gives off, smells it gives off, sounds it makes all affect us, though legally it belongs to the lord of the land, or landlord, and he or she can do a lot of crazy stuff to it like take it away from our view for ever. This relationship between lord and community causes heartbreak. The current processes of conducting matters revolving around beloved buildings whether historic or not are antiquated and drowningly bureaucratic. The lack of modern expeditious digital processes causes strife amongst the public.
    There is a fenced-in area blocking a portion of the sidewalk on Chriistian Street. A church once stood here. I pass by every day on my way to work a scorched spot on the fabric of our city. The nearly leveled surface looks like a movie scene for a war-zone; rubble walls without any shoring, bricks and debris covering the site.
    A man decided it was more profitable to sell a vacant plot than a building that coulda shoulda woulda been on the historic register and whether or not we all know it the proper channels taken by the community were not enough to secure that building’s survival for another century. I can assure you as a registered architect and builder that nothing this man contributes on this plot of land will last as long as what was there. And it will certainly not enhance the beauty of its neighborhood as much as the old church facade did.
    I am not for a communist take over of private land, heck no! I am for the promotion of incentives as well as better digital infrastructure for the city and it’s people so that the developers who we all vilify can profit from working with what is already there. For so many more reasons than becuase we like the buildings or because they are older than everything else or they had a significance to a sector of the city at one point in time.
    I am for the maintenance of our integrity as a world class city with a legacy visible for generations to come.

    1. Steve Perzan says:

      Your comment is very touching as are so many others on this well complied yet tragic report of how the City of Philadelphia is being ripped away. A buildings beauty, history or longevity in a city like ours is as important as the mountains, rivers, streams and stars are to the definition of the Wild West. Sadly, the souls of the developers remain unconcerned toward such issues when money and the ego of self-defined importance are involved. (Non- Profits like Wills Eye-Jefferson Hospital, William Penn Charter School, The Pennsylvania Ballet-all non-profits I think, should not be allowed to keep that status when they destroy buildings in the manner they have. Tax them! Fine them! Their actions should raise questions as to their remaining classified “non-profit.” On the two Churches that were destroyed – not by bombs, but human hands look to the New York City Port Authority who stepped in to keep the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Project going when it ran out of money. Why? They valued the architecture beauty that this Church will provide to the neighborhood and NYC. Beauty is more precious than the gold that goes into it. )

      1. j ryan says:

        i see some of the desire for the old buildings and the so called feel of the neighborhoods. but nothing for the men and women who occupied and worked them. city of phila. policies and government, corruption and greed of elected and appointed. drove many of the businesses out and the residents with them.
        starting with the mayor and council change in the early 1950s.tax,fee, licenses and little protection for the businesses the last one i worked at was plagued by break ins little theft but damages . just look at the buildings many good looking but required ugly steel grates or you get destroyed.but tax goes up and in the 21 century the city is even worst .

  6. SouthJerseyOne says:

    Dear Philadelphia, start with the next mayoral election by replacing Jim Kenney with someone who actually cares about making the city livable by focusing on quality of life issues (i.e historic preservation / adaptive reuse among others) – and primary challanges to anyone on City Council that continues to support councilmanic perogative.

  7. john ireland says:

    Way to go Philly!
    I suppose you save the important things like a saved hole where Ben Franklin shit.

  8. Lotte Noive says:

    Get rid of Jon Farnham IMMEDIATELY. He is no preservationist and no leader.

    1. Steve Perzan says:

      I am with you on this and I have felt this way for many years. He shows little backbone or will to counter the other forces in the room – political, social, and economic. He seems fearful that he would lose his job – appointment, if he speaks up or expresses views that differ significantly from the administration. There needs to be leadership that is not afraid that their opinion carries weight and will be listened to.

  9. Joe Watson says:

    So what!! What’s the big deal. Most of these bldgs were garbage. If the city is going to grow and be an international city, you must make room for new modern bldgs. How many people know who Mario Lanza was now. Who cares about those old eye sores on N. Broad st. and the ugly ones across from Wills Eye Hospital. There are plenty more old crappy bldgs that I hope are torn down this comming year.

  10. Henry Clay says:

    I love these armchair architecture warriors commenting here. Go ahead, there are plenty of old buildings scattered across the city available for you. Sell your house and max out YOUR OWN bank accounts and credit cards and find out just what its like trying to preserve a building in this third world shithole. After the locals have robbed you blind, the city will swoop in to pick the carcass clean. Any one of you could have bought the church at 43rd and Chestnut, and renovated it when it was for sale WITH NO TAKERS. Feibush would have taken an offer as well if it had come faster. (one did apparently come from Guy Laren, oddly enough. I hope your heads don’t explode) Why didn’t you? Oh, but now you all know all about how to make it work. We’ll just steal it from the owner. And fix it with tax money taken from ‘rich people’. Have you ever bought anything and fought with tenants, L&I, bankers, union rats, and the general philly meatheads trying to get something done? No? I didn’t think so.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/business/real_estate/residential/south-philadelphia-baptist-church-demolition-revelopment-luxury-townhouses-20180611.html

  11. ronald felder says:

    The PRT substation as you called it was built by the city of Philadelphia as Fairmount Substation for the Frankford El. It was used when the El used to travel down Front Street on it’s way to the portal and the Market Street Subway/elevated. It was replaced when they torn down the Front Street section of the El and put it between the north and southbound lanes of I-95. The replacement substation is located under the Southbound lanes of I-95 at Ellen St. The land that Ellen Substation sits on is owned by PennDOT. You people need to do better research.`

  12. Steven Peitzman says:

    The sampling of 2018 losses is indeed dispiriting, particularly the traces of Philadelhia’s industrial past. I agree that the non-profits seems especially shameful – or shameless? Or both. William Penn Charter School over the last few decades shows a perfect record– it’s demolished all three important adjacent properties it’s acquired (all for playing field expansion). The loss of the Lycoming House was a perfect instance of both neglect by an owner (ie, Penn Charter), and a demolition permit outrunning a nomination. Fortunately, yet another historic (and handsome) structure on Penn Charter’s long-term eradication list, the 1907 Henry W. Brown Residence (aka Timmons House) on The Oak Road, was added to the Register in 2018. It’s painfully common to see our old institutions tout their history while planning the next spillage of old brick.

    Anyone who attends PHC meetings regularly notices, or should, that there are several excellent members of the Commission and its committees, but most of the Commissioners never say anything, rarely ask a question. At one recent meeting, the vice-chair, conducting the meeting during one deliberation, did not seem to know if she was supposed to vote or not! The preservation ordinance actually states that members appointed by the Mayor should be “learned in the historic traditions of the city….” Of course, not all members can be or should be professionals, and the community should be represented, but the Mayor probably could do a better job finding candidates. More people should attend the meetings. Finally, my interactions with several of the staff preservationists have been very positive.

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