The west side of Washington Avenue has changed dramatically over the years, slowly shifting along the industrial spectrum. A hundred years ago, businesses along Washington Avenue were all heavy industrial, with manufacturing mixed with lumber yards mixed with smelting plants. In more recent decades, old warehouses were repurposed and Washington Avenue has become a haven for building supply companies. This has been a boon for contractors, especially as the Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze neighborhoods have experienced so much construction. It's not as great for the people who live in either of those neighborhoods, as nobody likes dodging a forklift just a couple blocks from their home.
Slowly though, the atmosphere is shifting on Washington Avenue. Restaurants are popping up, like the tasty Cafe Ynez on the 2000 block and the recently opened Chick's on the 1800 block. Not only are restaurants making their way to Washington Avenue, but other types of businesses have also appeared, targeting residents and not contractors. The north side of the 1900 block of Washington Avenue provides a (very convenient and also a) decent example of the changing environment on the corridor.
If you've driven, biked, or walked over the South Street Bridge in the last year and a half or so, you've surely noticed the slow but steady pace of construction, as the first of four new CHOP buildings has risen on Schuylkill Avenue. And if you've traveled on the bridge in the last month or two, you've probably noticed that the parking garage and its newly functioning traffic light are already starting to snarl traffic, a phenomenon that will only get worse as CHOP's presence grows on this side of the river. But we digress.
You may recall, CHOP met with the community several times in advance of this project, both because they needed a variance to proceed with construction and because it's kinda the thing to do when building such a high impact project in a mostly residential neighborhood. The community worked with CHOP on a number of issues, notably pushing for a retail space on South Street as part of the project. And when we say a retail space on South Street, we actually mean a retail space on the South Street Bridge itself.
The Royal Theater, located at 1524 South St., should be a sparkling gem in the middle of the continually improving South Street West commercial corridor. Instead, the building has been a millstone for the 1500 block of South Street, as it has been sitting vacant for decades. Some history: the building was designed by Frank E. Hahn and was constructed around 1919. The theater targeted African American audiences, featuring movies with black stars and performances by prominent black entertainers. In 1970 though, the theater closed its doors, meeting a similar fate to many great movie houses of the day.
We never thought we'd see the day that development would come to Broad & Washington, but now that Lincoln Square has been under construction for several months, we're feeling cautiously optimistic that this project is actually happening. For those that just moved to town, the northwest corner of Broad & Washington has been sitting vacant for decades, with the exception of the historic Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Freight Shed. A year and change ago, the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development agreed to sell the property to a joint venture between the Alterra Group and MIS Capital LLC, a group that also bought the privately owned train shed. In relatively short order, the developers have gone from concept to permits to construction. And they're making pretty good progress.
The most dramatic part of the work has happened to the train shed, where construction crews have undertaken significant interior demolition and have removed the eastern exterior wall that wasn't original to the building. If you pass by the building during the work day, you'll see straight through to Broad Street, and you'll note that the building is now just an empty shell.
A few months back, we brought 1805 Washington Ave. to your attention, noting that two buildings were being renovated and signage had appeared that announced a new restaurant called Chick's. A reminder, most recently, the western building had been home to a restaurant called Tasty Asia while the larger eastern building had been used as a produce warehouse. Those buildings have both gotten a major upgrade, inside and out.
In the past
Chick's officially opened for business a few days ago and since our office is so close by, we figured we'd dodge the raindrops and go check it out. Our first impression was that owners Philip and Gina Narducci did a very nice job with their restaurant- we're optimistic about its chances. The main restaurant is housed in the eastern building, with about 100 seats, 24 beers on tap, and a gastropub menu that runs from lunch to late night. We don't know whether sit down lunch business will be viable in the long term, but we understand that they'll eventually be opening a sandwich and take out beer place in the western building, which would seem like a slam dunk. The different businesses sharing a central kitchen would scratch two itches in this area, serving the take out lunch crowd as well as the dinner time drinkers.