Market East

Former bank becoming a law school, progress at Brickstone site
12th & Chestnut is moving in a positive direction.
 
Already, you're familiar with the Brickstone project on the 1100 block that has seen a collection of older buildings demolished and the facade of an old department store brought back to the public sphere. When we were last here, that demolition was still ongoing and the former Oppenheimer Collins building looked so much better than before. Visiting earlier today, all the old buildings are now demolished and a bunch of steel framing has appeared.
 
Oppenheim's bones
Framing next door

When this project is done, it will have 115 apartments and 90,000 sqft of retail space. We seem to remember hearing something about a Bed Bath and Beyond coming here, and we wrote of a rumor that Trader Joe's would come as well, but we don't think we've heard of any confirmed tenants. No matter who ends up taking the commercial space, the retailers will represent a big step up from the vacancy and the mostly junky stores that came before.

Lots of moving parts, plenty still getting figured out

Hopes for a renewed Gallery have been around for much longer than Naked Philly has been writing about them. We've repeatedly covered possible movement at the mall over the years, most recently last summer when we wondered whether a renovation was close after a story came out that shopping-center company Macerich was partnering with Gallery owners PREIT, and had pledged almost $107M toward fixing up the place. Today, the Inquirer had a story featuring specific details of the plans to renovate the Gallery into... the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia.

Certainly a big change for an old building

In 2011, an ordinance created a new advertising district in Market East, permitting digital billboards on buildings whose owners agreed to do $10M in renovations to their properties. Finally last month, the Lit Brothers building at 701 Market St. became the first property to take advantage of the opportunity. The property is actually made up of a collection of buildings and stretches all the way to 8th Street. Historically, it housed the Lit Brothers department store. Today it's owned by Brickstone, the same developers that are building the major project on the 1100 block of Chestnut Street.

Lit Bros. building in 1984, a few years after the store closed. Image from Hidden City.

We knew the signs were coming, but we hadn't seen them in person until just last week. And while the building, as you can see in the photo above, has utilized rooftop signage in the past, it's definitely a different feel today.

Many of the original details remain

The building at 818 Chestnut St. is a somewhat forgotten though surprisingly well-preserved Center City landmark. Evidence abounds in the building’s art deco facade to suggest that this was, indeed, a fashionable destination in the early 20th Century and one that redefined the dining experience for thousands of Philadelphians. But let’s rewind a bit first. According to Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, this spot was host to Thomas W. Evans & Co. Dry Goods in the mid-19th Century. Here below, Philadelphia Architects provides us with a sketch of the establishment in 1851.

Thomas W. Evans & Co. Dry Goods, 1851

By 1875, a newly constructed building now listed at 818 Chestnut St. was occupied by one Charles Pierson and stood in the shadow of the Continental Hotel. Pierson’s occupancy of the structure is evidenced both by its Pierson Building alias and the image here below taken from G.M. Hopkins’ 1875 Philadelphia Atlas.

We can only hope

A grandparent's lifetime ago, Market East was the place to go shopping in downtown Philadelphia. Huge departments stores like Strawbridge and Clothier, Gimbels, and Lit Brothers offered shoppers all they could handle under one roof. But times have changed. None of Philadelphia's original six major department stores remain, though some of their former homes have fortunately fortunately stuck around. Wanamaker's is now a Macy's. The Strawbridge's building houses offices for the Inquirer and Daily News, among other things. And the former Snellenburg's? It's actually, mercifully, getting torn down as we speak.

Back in 1965
This building sucks now

Snellenburg's closed in 1962, and by the end of the decade the building had been criminally altered beyond recognition. What we see today on the 1100 block of Market Street is all that remains of the Snellenburg's building. Since its upper floors were chopped off, the building has contained a collection of individual storefronts, most of which have been lower-end businesses in recent decades. A few years ago, we learned that the building currently known as Girard Square would be demolished, and a new structure with Target as a lead tenant would replace it. But that never happened and we were bummed.

Pages