Market East

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.

Demolition underway, an old sign is revealed

Last fall, we told you about an exciting effort from Brickstone that would completely change the conversation on East Chestnut Street. At the time, they were proposing the renovation of 1126-28 Chestnut St., a long blighted former department store building, and the demolition of the two buildings next door. In their place would come eighty apartments and tons of ground-floor commercial space. We even suggested that a Trader Joe's could fit the bill for the site, given the available commercial square-footage and everyone's obsession with the store.

In the past

As the months have passed, the project has evolved some and grown eastward. Instead of 80 apartments, the project will now include 115. There will be 90,000 sqft of retail when all is said and done. And another couple buildings, which we previously expected would remain, will soon be demolished. As for the first run of buildings, demolition is underway. At the former Oppenheim Collins building, the graffitti has been cleared off and the building's original sign has been revealed. Here's hoping it remains when the project is over.

Sign coming down after decades

The Philadelphia skyline is constantly changing. For many years, William Penn ruled the roost. More recently, skyscrapers have become the focus, and the Comcast Innovation and Technology which recently started construction will soon be the new BMOC. Through decades of change, the PNB letters atop One South Broad Street have remained a constant.

One South Broad is on the left. Image from

Unfortunately, the letters are coming down tomorrow, according to the Inquirer. The building was purchased by Aion Partners earlier this year, and they've apparently gone through the process of getting approvals from the Historical Commission to take down the four-sided sign. The story mentions no additional plans for the top of the building.

Are we along in thinking this is kind of unnecessary? Why do these New York guys have to come to our city and mess with our old and awesome signs?