A couple months ago, we got a visit from an old friend who grew up in the area but hadn't really walked around Philadelphia in a long time. After showing off South Street West (it's different from the other side out South Street, which is different from what it was like back in the day) and the Piazza, we took a jaunt to the Schuylkill River Trail. He was in awe. And you know what, he was right to be impressed. The park is one of the best things to happen to Philadelphia in the last twenty years, impressively bringing us closer to a river that's cut off from Center City by railroad tracks. And as you've probably heard, the trail just got a 2,000 foot "floating" extension, from Locust Street down to the South Street Bridge.
From what was once the end of the trail
Looking toward the South Street Bridge
We last updated you on this project back in May, when rain storms flooded some of the still-under-construction boardwalk. Since then, construction has finished and the newest addition to the trail had its grand opening last week. We visited before the weather took a turn for the chilly, and found it to be a wonderful addition that we suspect people will go out of their way to show to their friends who are visiting from out of town.
The mansion at 1914-16 Rittenhouse Square St. sits in the southwest corner of Rittenhouse Square, objectively located in the most desirable spot in town. The main building was constructed in 1858 according to Hidden City, but Henry McIlhenny, the man for whom its commonly named, didn't move in until 1950. Amazingly, it's been vacant since his death in 1986. A buyer stepped forward in the late 1990s, getting Historical Commission approval to demolish the one-story section of the building to build a four-story addition, but neighborhood appeals held up the project, prompting the buyer to instead move to Delancey Street.
But when Bart Blatstein of Tower Investments came forward to purchase the property last year, we had little doubt that it would soon be occupied. Late last year, he got approvals from the Historical Commission for his plan to demolish the curved one-story facade at 1916 Rittenhouse Square and replace it with a four-story addition. He's also demolishing the four story home, but preserving the historic facade. As you can see, this is no small effort.
A few weeks ago, we told you about plans to build a giant home on the northwest corner of 24th & Manning. To refresh your memory, this industrial-zoned lot has been vacant for quite some time, which is rather unexpected considering the location. Just a block away from the entrance to the Schuylkill River Trail, it's hard to find a more desirable location for a new home.
When we initially told you about this project, work had just started at the site. It seems little progress has been made since, so you may be wondering why we're revisiting the project so quickly. Well, if you look back at our previous post, we presented some black and white elevations drawings from Cecil Baker + Partners to give you an idea of what the home would look like. Turns out the developers have changed the design of the building, hiring Harman Deutsch to do the architecture instead. We were able to get our mitts on some renderings and thought we'd share.
Back in 1991, One Meridian Plaza burned, resulting in the tragic loss of three firefighters' lives. A grim reminder of this event, the burned out building remained across the street from City Hall until 1999 due to legal wrangling. After its demolition, the site turned into a surface parking lot. Soon it was joined by another surface parking lot at the corner of 15th & Chestnut, the site of the demolished Morris Building. In 2009, the Residences at the Ritz Carlton building was completed, finally filling the spot vacated by One Meridian Plaza. But the surface lot at 1441 Chestnut St. has remained, an embarrassing surface lot at one of our city's most prominent corners.
Years ago, it looked like the Waldorf-Astoria would be the answer for this surface lot. But the downturn scuttled the project. More recently, as in a couple of years ago, we learned that a new building would be rising here that would contain two distinct hotels, a fancier W Hotel and a slightly less fancy Element by Westin, both managed by Starwood Hotels. Back then they presented the project to CCRA, but nothing has moved forward since at the site.
We've heard whispers in recent months about the fate of the former home of L2 on the northwest corner of 22nd & South, but nothing we could pin down. This week though, we heard from a reliable source that Starbucks will almost definitely be taking over the space. Plans are for a two-story coffee shop, which will represent the first Starbucks location on South Street West. This is certainly cause for celebration, because the current coffee options on the corridor stink on ice.
Former L2, future Starbucks
If we may be serious for a moment, the appearance of a Starbucks on this corridor will definitely have some symbolic power and could represent a shift for South Street West. Sure, Starbucks won't be the first chain to open on the corridor. A CVS opened at 22nd & South in 2012, and last year we told you about plans for Unleashed by Petco for 23rd & South. But Starbucks is, by reputation, a chain that directly takes on locally owned businesses. And on a corridor that's been built by neighborhood business, that's a major paradigm shift. Hopefully, Ants Pants and LaVa loyalists will continue to patronize those places, and the pie can grow big enough for everybody.