We're not usually in the business of bringing a one-off project to your attention, but for the new home at 2251 Catharine St., we decided to make an exception. And it's not because this new home was constructed on a lot that was sitting vacant for decades.
In the past
In fact, we're bringing it to your attention because it's a remarkably handsome new home that's been built in a neighborhood famous for awful residential architecture. Even if you've never heard the term "Graduate Hospital Special," you're surely familiar with the homes that were commonly built in the neighborhood over the last decade or so, with stucco-bay windows as their most prominent feature. It's clear that the developers were looking to take this particular project in a very different direction. Perhaps a good moniker for this new home is a "Graduate Hospital Exception."
Look at this place. You've gotta love the stone base, the brick work, the mansard, the lintels, the cornice, the little bay window, and the mansard. We especially appreciate that the developers bothered to continue the brick all the way to the rear of the property, given the prominence of the back yard to people coming down 23rd Street. Nice touch.
The last time we checked in on 700 S. 20th St., a little over a year ago, word had just come out the building was under agreement with the owners of Loco Pez, which meant that decades old Robert's Twi-Lite Lounge's days were numbered. This did not come as a surprise. The owners of Twi-Lite recognized that the neighborhood had changed, and the property had been formally and informally available for years, though the asking price was always beyond what anybody was willing to pay. But the neighborhood continued to improve and liquor license prices soared, so eventually the market caught up to the asking price and the property traded at $600K toward the end of last year.
There's been very little activity at the property since Twi-Light closed last fall. Every now and again, readers have reached out to us, wondering when construction would get started and worried that the deal had fallen through. Over the last week or two though, people finally started noticing workers inside the building, indicating that something is finally happening here. We walked by yesterday and saw that the interior has been completely gutted. Having been inside Twi-Light a couple times over the years, we recognize that this was probably necessary. To avoid being needlessly creepy, and in an effort to not breathe in some truly nasty construction dust, we took our photo from across the street.
The Graduate Hospital has seen a lengthy list of churches face the wrecking ball in the last handful of years, including the Metropolitan AME church at 20th & Fitzwater, the Varick AME church at 19th & Catharine, and Mount Olive AME at 19th & Fitzwater. All of these buildings were architecturally impressive and have been replaced by new construction homes that won't similarly stand the test of time. But all is not lost in this neighborhood! The former Saint Matt's on Grays Ferry Avenue has turned into the Sanctuary Lofts and we recently learned that the former First African Church at 16th & Christian will be turned into a day care and two fancy condos.
All of the buildings we've mentioned were/are pretty wonderful and worth saving. But the same can't be said for every church in the neighborhood. Take, for example, the building at 605 S. 16th St. which was home to the Christian Faith Evangelistic Alliance for a number of years. The double-wide property has a faux stone facade, a gabled roof, and rises only one story. As churches in Philadelphia go, it's one of the more unremarkable buildings you'll see.
Though we could do without the stucco job and utter lack of architectural detail, we'd still contend that the southeast corner of 16th & Catharine is improved from its previous state. For many years, this property was home to a two-story building with a corner store on the first floor and perhaps an apartment above, but a little over a year ago we told you that developers had purchased the property and were pursuing a plan to construct an addition. The plans called for two apartments above a retail space after the community pushed back against a plan to convert the property into a triplex.
About a year ago, developers had an agreement in place to purchase the First African Baptist Church at 16th & Christian, intending to demolish the stone structure and build homes or condos in its place. With the congregation dating back to the early 1800s, and the attractive building having stood for over a century, many congregants were incredibly upset about this plan. A combination of legal action and a historical designation ultimately 86ed the demolition plan.
First African Baptist Church, along with the former rectory
Parking lot on Montrose Street
It wasn't long before another developer came forward to buy the church, the former rectory next door, and the adjacent parking lot on Montrose Street, this time with a plan to reuse the existing structures. Earlier this week, representatives for the developer presented plans for the property at the monthly SOSNA zoning committee meeting, and even though we couldn't make it to the meeting, we have some pretty pictures to share.