A large hole in the fabric of Jewelers’ Row may finally be redeveloped. The suburban-based developer Toll Brothers, which has owned the parcel along the 700 block of Sansom Street since 2016, has abandoned its condominium tower project and sold the empty lot to Pearl Properties.
Established in the 1850s, Jewelers’ Row is believed to be the oldest diamond exchange in the United States and the second largest after New York City. The buildings on the south side of the 700 block of Sansom Street have a deeper history. 702-10 Sansom Street was constructed in the early 1800s by architect and builder Thomas Carstairs for William Sansom, who paved the street for the new houses and named it after himself.
In 2017, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia submitted a nomination to the Philadelphia Historical Commission to establish a Jewelers’ Row Historic District, citing the significant history of both the diamond exchange and the Sansom Street homes, known as Carstairs Row, an early example of speculative rowhouse development.
It is not the first time Toll Brothers has changed its plans for the property. Its original design for a 16-story condominium tower incorporated the facades of the existing buildings on the site into the new construction. However, a 2018 revision, designed by SLCE Architects of New York City, eliminated the original frontage, added eight stories to the tower bringing it to 315 feet, and included plans to completely demolish the five buildings.
In response, the Preservation Alliance submitted nominations for 704 and 706-08 Sansom Street for placement on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in an effort to legally protect them from demolition. The Historical Commission’s Committee on Historic Designation, which reviews nominations before they go before the full Commission for a final determination, voted in favor to recommend the properties for legal protection. However, the Historical Commission postponed ruling on the nominations despite the 11th hour effort by the Preservation Alliance and the support of its Designation Committee and the general public.
Unprotected, the buildings were demolished by Toll Brothers in 2019. The site has remained a dirty, brick-strewn hole in the middle of the block, about a fifth of an acre in size, for three years.
New ownership by Pearl Properties will likely raise a regretful “what could have been” thought in the minds of those that have followed the situation. The real estate company’s portfolio includes a decent track record of adapting historic buildings like The Latham in the Rittenhouse/Fitler Historic District and the former Manufacturer’s Club at Broad and Walnut Streets. Pearl Properties even has a Jewelers’ Row conversion to its credit at 801 Walnut Street: a former coffee roaster and café from the turn of the 20th century. On the other hand, Pearl Properties demolished the Boyd Theater in 2015, one of Philadelphia’s last Art Deco movie palaces from the 1920s on Chestnut Street.
With the parcel’s CMX-5 zoning (Center City Core Mixed-Use), which allows dense, new construction, it seems likely that something similar to Toll Brothers’ condominium tower plan will eventually be built.
A representative from Toll Brothers stated that the company has no comment at this time. A request for comment from James Pearlstein, president of Pearl Properties, went unanswered.
Meanwhile, the Preservation Alliance’s nomination for the Jewelers’ Row Historic District, submitted five years ago, still awaits review by the Historical Commission. According to the Preservation Alliance’s executive director Paul Steinke, soon after its submission, the Historical Commission deemed the nomination as “complete and correct,” and the affected property owners were duly notified.
When asked about the nomination’s status, Jon Farnham, executive director of the Historical Commission, said “The Historical Commission continued the review of the nomination for the Jewelers’ Row Historic District at the request of an attorney representing a majority of property owners in the proposed historic district until the Historical Commission is again meeting in person. The properties remain under the Historical Commission’s jurisdiction during the continuance.” Last month the Historical Commission published its meeting schedule through January 12, 2024 with all meetings to be conducted online via Zoom.
Again and again and again the same formula: buy a historic property and demolish ASAP often in direct violation and in defiance of historical designation.
Then once the dirty work has been done, all your plans and “hardship” claims go out the window, and you flip the now vacant lot to another “developer”.
F–k you Toll Brothers, you want property? I got a Disney Hole for you and 1000 beautiful former churches you can bulldoze.
Adaptive reuse means nothing in this pathetic city.
Toll Brothers are … so fake. They pretend they are patrons of the arts by sponsoring national opera broadcasts and they partner in producing, yes, Hollywood movies, but this are just diversionary activities that don’t dispel the development blood on their hands. They are disingenuous fakes.
A massive stain on the Kenney administration. The gall of Toll Bros runs deeper than that hole.
I agree. Well put. No imagination or sense….😩
Perhaps Toll Brothers was getting shanghaied between building homes which was its bread and butter and building this tower which would be in competition with one tower growing on South Broad Street and another tower growing across from Rittenhouse Square plus the Pandemic and it’s efforts in stalling supply provisioning for buildings under construction. They might have decided to sell and focus more on building homes.
Guess diamonds aren’t a developer’s best friend nor are interest rates.