When developer Ken Weinstein, president of Philly Office Retail, first saw the former Church of Philadelphia at 147 W. Berkley Street it looked as if the Holy Spirit had departed along with the congregation.
The Church of God in Christ, an evangelical Christian organization with over one dozen locations in Philadelphia, owned the building until recently. The building is attached to a three-story, L-shaped, red brick structure that was constructed in 1903. The part of the building that faces Wayne Avenue is currently in use as apartments. The church also owns the one-story building next door, the former Arguto Oilless Bearing Company designed by Mellor and Meigs in 1910. Brick was the preferred material at the time due its function as a fire retardant.
Both properties had previously been part of the National Tool & Stamp Company. The last time the buildings changed hands was in 1983. The bearing factory has been vacant for the last 30 years. The church displayed no interest in restoring it. Now missing a roof and one wall, it is filled with rubble, graffiti, and wildlife. To anyone else, it would’ve been an eyesore. To Weinstein, it was the next step in his plan to repurpose abandoned factories in the Wayne Junction Historic District.
The owners of the church and adjacent building, however, opposed the historic designation, refused to sell, and wanted to demolish the properties instead. They claimed that the buildings could not be salvaged. The Department of Licenses and Inspections did not agree.
The owner held firm. So did Weinstein. “Usually, people will deal, talk, and figure out a solution. The church just decided, no, we’d like to own a vacant and deteriorated property. Which is just not acceptable,” said Weinstein.
The church’s fight was held up in court for three years under three different judges. Meanwhile, Weinstein applied for conservancy. “Ed Rendell created Act 135 which states if a property is left vacant and deteriorating, someone in the community can petition the court to appoint a conservator.” Weinstein did not get conservancy, he got something better. In 2019, the church finally agreed to sell. Weinstein plans to purchase both buildings in August 2020.
Weinstein did not actually view the interior of the properties until last fall. The church, which the owner claimed was still in use, turned out to be in a poor state. It had time-worn floorboards, whitewashed brick walls, hanging electric wires, exposed pipes, and a ceiling that no one would mistake for the Sistine Chapel. The bearing factory? It was more jungle than structure.
Weinstein envisions using the one-story building as a retail shop and the larger three-story, L-shaped building as apartments. “Our in-house architect Kyle Meiser will design the renovation, keeping the historic façade,” said Weinstein. “It will be a big boost for the neighborhood to restore it to its prior prosperity.”
For those who cannot equivocate prosperity with the intersection of Germantown and Nicetown, consider this. In 1881, the original Wayne Junction train station was designed by Frank Furness. It was a thriving business and residential area, as well as a major transportation hub for the Reading Railroad, providing service to New York City, DC, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. A firm believer in “build it and they will come,” Weinstein is making a $20 million investment in the area.
The irregularly shaped historic district, centered around the SEPTA train station, covers four city blocks and is approximately 12 acres. “Eight of the abandoned factories in the district are historically significant,” said Weinstein. “I bought six of them, including the Max Levy Autograph Company, where we are getting closer to breaking ground for 32 apartments.”
A major sign of Philly Office Retail’s commitment to Wayne Junction is moving its headquarters to 4701 Germantown Avenue, in the former Schaeffer School, built in 1876. The real estate company’s newest tenants are located next to the former bearing factor on the same block as the church. They include Attic Brewing, Deke’s Bar-B-Q, and Four Front digital marketing.
Nice story, It’s good to hear it is being restored and not demolished, like so many other buildings. It would be a shame to lose that beautiful brickwork.
How do you decide what to write about? Are the buildings assigned or do you find them yourself. It’s a great gig. Instead of being nosy, you can say you’re a journalist.
I work right down the street and have been passing those buildings for years. Glad to see them saved.
It’s great to see brownfield development like this where the historical buildings are highlighted and repurposed whenever possible and empty or underserved lots are filled in with new structures. I live right up the street and we have been pleased with what we have been seeing so far.
Imagine the potential for Transit Oriented Development at Wayne Junction if the SEPTA RRD Chestnut Hill East line was converted and connected to the Broad Street Line.
Gotta “love” how certain people appointed themselves to save certain parts of the city. If Weinstein was behind the redesign of that former factory on Wayne Avenue, a block and a half from the train station, I’d rather see the city rot into the ground. Talk about typical lifeless architecture for soulless white hipsters.
Are you perhaps talking about the Golaski Labs project? Because that’s an outlier for the area in that it’s NOT one of Ken Weinstein’s excellent adaptive reuse projects. However it is intended to incorporate a fair amount of adaptive reuse along with new construction. The developer for Golaski Labs is Mosaic Development Partners.
Nicetown St does not exist, there is no intersection of Germantown & Nicetown.
Germantown & Berkley? Germantown & Windrim, maybe?
I’m pretty sure she was referring to the intersection of the neighborhoods Germantown & Nicetown, not the street names.
What happens to the tenants who already live in the apartments that face Wayne Avenue? Will they be offered affordable housing in this newly built structure? I’m all for preservation, but I want to make sure that it isn’t just a lovely way of gentrifying the neighborhood so those who live there now can’t afford to stay.