Places to Save: Spring 2024

May 23, 2024 | by Extant Magazine

Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Spring 2024 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

RCA Building No. 8

Location: North Front and Cooper Streets, Camden, New Jersey

Built: 1924

Threat: Demolition

Built in 1924 for the Victor Talking Machine Co., Building No. 8 is one of the last remaining buildings from the former 58-acre industrial complex. Recently, the City of Camden acquired the property following a heated legal dispute with its former owner, who had plans to redevelop the building into a condominium complex. These plans stalled a decade ago.

Building No. 8 was the last significant construction to occur at the Victor Company plant and was built to house metal manufacturing. The Victor Company was instrumental in introducing musical entertainment to the masses with its “Victrola talking machine.” Acquired by RCA in 1929, the company also contributed to important advances in phonograph, radio, and television technologies.

Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen recently indicated an interest in demolishing the structure. This should not be an option for Building No. 8. Rehabilitating the building can serve community needs, enhance downtown’s character, and preserve the city’s history. The New Jersey Historic Preservation Office found the structure to be individually eligible for listing on the National Register for Historic Places in 2006, which would allow the structure’s redevelopment to utilize both the federal and New Jersey historic tax credit programs. Despite its vacant and deteriorated condition, the building still has economic and community development potential that can significantly contribute to Camden’s continued revitalization.

Benjamin Cooper House

Location: 60 Erie Street, Camden, New Jersey

Built: 1734

Threat: Funding

The Dutch Colonial-style stone Benjamin Cooper House is one of the oldest buildings in Camden and the only remaining ferry tavern. It was constructed in 1734 by the prominent Cooper family, who dominated the early ferry service industry connecting Camden to Philadelphia. As Camden developed into an industrial powerhouse, ferries were essential to transport people and manufactured goods. The building remained in the Cooper family until the early 20th century, when it became offices for the John H. Mathis Shipbuilding Company.

The property was part of the maritime industry for more than 250 years. The building was vacated in the 1990s, allowing significant deterioration to occur. A fire also damaged the property in November 2012. In 2019, a private developer purchased the Benjamin Cooper House and the 17-acre former Mathis Shipbuilding Company site.

In 2021, the Camden County Historical Society signed a 30-year lease for the property. The Historical Society is repairing and preserving the Benjamin Cooper House to transform it into the American Revolution Museum of Southern New Jersey ahead of the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. The first phase of the restoration is stabilizing the structure. A second phase will finish the interior to use the building as a museum. About $2.8 million of the museum’s $4 million construction cost has been raised so far.

The future of the building just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge looked bleak following the 2012 fire, but now the Historical Society is close to saving this storied property.

Philadelphia History Museum

Location: 15 South 7th Street

Built: 1825

Threat: Vacancy

In 2018, the neoclassical building on South 7th Street closed its doors due to a lack of funding. Originally built in 1825 to house the Franklin Institute, the building had been the Philadelphia History Museum since 1938. A. Atwater Kent, a wealthy radio manufacturer, donated the property to the City to become a museum after it was left vacant following the Franklin Institute’s 1933 move to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The John Haviland-designed building retains its major exterior elements as designed. Four Tuscan-style piers rise from simple bases to support an unadorned architrave, a wreath-decorated frieze, a simple cornice, and an attic story. In the central bay, the main entrance is set in a marble surround and approached by a set of marble stairs flanked by cast iron lamps.

Numerous interior changes were made to facilitate the use of the building as a museum and to comply with modern safety and fire codes. Even with the alterations, the feeling of the original spaces and much of the original interior detailing survive.

Despite protests from the public, historians, and experts, the museum’s priceless collection and inventory were transferred to Drexel University. While much attention was paid to the future of the artifacts, no plans have materialized for the reuse of the building. In the terms of Kent’s original gift, ownership of the property would revert to the family foundation if it ceased being a museum. The transfer is still subject to ongoing litigation while the building languishes.

Simpson’s Apothecary

Location: 201 North 36th Street

Built: 1876

Threat: Neglect

The former Simpson’s Apothecary stands at a prominent five-point intersection on the northeast corner of 36th and Race Streets, bisected by Lancaster Avenue. The building was constructed in 1876 in the Italianate style as a freestanding three-story store and dwelling. The building’s integrated signage reflects its century-long tenure as a neighborhood apothecary shop. Charles Clark lived and worked at the property from 1876 to 1903. It was then run by Robert Simpson from 1904 to 1934. After Robert’s death in 1934, Nathan Finberg was the proprietor until 1969.

Despite losing some original fabric, the existing storefront is an exceptional example of turn-of-the-century commercial design, displaying particularly refined elements of storefront materials and features. These include the bracketed, pressed metal storefront cornice, the surviving “DRUGS” and “CHEMICALS” fascia signs, and the expansive plate-glass display bays with curved glass corners, heavily ornamented frames and leaded glass transoms.

The property was purchased by the current owner in 1998 and housed Ecology Food Co-Op, one of Philadelphia’s first natural foods cooperatives, for 20 years. The property was listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2019 and is a contributing resource to the Powelton Village Historic District. The structure appears vacant and was deemed unsafe by the Department of Licenses and Inspections in August 2023. The building’s outstanding and relatively intact early 20th-century storefront deserves better maintenance and should be rehabilitated to function as a neighborhood amenity.


About the Author

Extant Magazine is a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

One Comment:

  1. Grittenhouse says:

    Simpson’s should be preserved, but not because it was an apothecary. As long as it can be structurally sound, we need it.

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