Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Spring 2023 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
1000 St. Bernard Street
Farragut Street Architects worked with developer Linford Martin to repurpose a rare industrial building in a primarily residential Victorian-era neighborhood into seven loft apartments and an independent school serving students in grades K-12. Principal Kathy Dowdell and owner/developer Martin talked to Extant about the challenges they faced in restoring life to an important corner in their West Philadelphia community.
What attracted you to this particular building/site?
Linford (the developer/owner) lives next door and always felt the building had so much potential. It was such a big presence on the block, yet it never felt like it was part of the local block or local community.
What was the building/site’s original use?
Historical maps indicate the original use was a furniture warehouse. Then, for many years, PECO used it for vehicle storage and lineman training. Most recently it was a banquet hall, though it appeared to be rarely used, rarely open, rarely active except very occasionally late at night, which was a problem for this quiet residential neighborhood.
What was most important to preserve?
The steel structure, particularly on the second floor–not just to preserve it, but to showcase it. The window openings–sadly, the windows themselves were long gone–but the fenestration was a huge part of the public face of the building. And the brick pattern–simple and elegant. Overall, the building’s good bones were the guiding aesthetic for the reuse project.
What was the client’s original vision? Did it change over time?
Only slightly–many years ago, Linford envisioned parking on the first floor and apartments on the second–but the overall vision really did not change. The apartment layout was driven by the fact that there were windows on only one side.
What was the biggest preservation challenge?
The internal ramp, which ran from the first floor to the second. We wanted to remove it, but it was integral to the original structure, so removal was tricky. There were a few beams that needed to remain. Plus, we needed to keep it in place as a way to get materials in and out of the upper floor–so we kept it as long as we could. The grade change along that side allowed us to insert an entrance to the second-floor residences, which is completely separated from the commercial space on the first floor. Luckily, there was also a large window on the second floor on this side of the building. We were able to create a new masonry opening directly below for the apartment entrance and lobby space, and a new decorative stair to the second floor.
What was the project’s biggest surprise (good or bad)?
At settlement, the building was supposed to be “broom clean.” That was not the case–Linford had to remove 50-plus tons of trash, abandoned cars and the banqueting hall décor–lots of mirrors and chandeliers.
Another not so good surprise: This project was submitted for permits just before the City switched to its online permit system. So, we had to contend with getting caught between the analog and digital permit application process!