Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Fall 2023 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
2000 Spruce Street
CosciaMoos Architecture worked with City Living Philly to elegantly restore an 1860s brownstone in the Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District to its former glory. Once John Wanamaker’s private residence, the building has undergone extensive renovations and demolitions in the course of a century and a half. Project architect Sergio Coscia spoke to Extant about the challenges and rewards of an eight-year renovation process.
Extant Magazine (EM): What attracted you to this particular building/site?
Sergio Coscia: This was a neglected building on a very prominent corner in Rittenhouse Square. You could tell it needed a lot of work. We were excited by the challenge of bringing this house back to life.
EM: What was the building/site’s original use?
SC: 2000 Spruce Street was a single-family home built in 1869 by builder and mason William Struthers, who was instrumental in the introduction of brownstone as a building material in Philadelphia. John Wanamaker, of department store fame, owned the house in the 1870s.
EM: What was most important to preserve?
SC: Everything! When you look past the indignities the building had suffered over the years, you see these incredible details that are so special. This home had been designed as a showplace, and we wanted to bring that back. Outside, we paid special attention to the eye-catching brownstone detailing, such as the intricate incised ornamentation on the keystone, doors and window surrounds. We also added a new fourth floor, reconstructing the shingled mansard roof that was destroyed in a fire, and [re-created] the stone entry stairs on 20th Street. Inside, we worked to restore and preserve the home’s original details, including a main spiral staircase and all the original millwork, while adding the necessary modern upgrades.
EM: What was the client’s original vision? Did it change over time?
SC: Our client, City Living Philly, originally intended to develop the property as rental apartments. As the project moved forward, they decided instead to convert the property to a luxury, short-term-stay apartment hotel. We were lucky that City Living Philly was so dedicated to seeing this top-to-bottom restoration through. The finished project is really a testament to their values and vision for the city.
EM: What was the biggest preservation challenge?
SC: The house had suffered a lot of alterations and destruction over the last 150 years. Our design process included an extraordinary amount of historical research, both into how the home originally looked and into the processes used to build it. We worked with a conservation expert to clean and preserve the masonry and gave our construction team extra training to restore the original incised decorations that remained and to recreate the ones that had been lost. We studied old photos, physical evidence and surrounding homes to recreate the original fourth story with [a] mansard roof and curved dormers that had been lost in a fire.
EM: Did you look to any role model for inspiration or example?
SC: We were lucky to have some great restoration examples right in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. (Of course, there were some cautionary examples as well.)
EM: What was the project’s biggest surprise (good or bad)?
SC: Honestly, the biggest surprise was the amount of time it took. Everything took longer than expected–recreating the period details, doing the research, learning the historical construction techniques and even just sourcing the materials. For example, recreating the original brownstone entry steps involved an extensive search for a new quarry, which [was] then custom cut and … each individual piece of the stoop [was shipped]. It might have been easier and faster to reconstruct the stoop in similar, more readily available material, but the goal was to truly restore the home, not just create the illusion.