We've been fascinated by old movie theaters for as long as we can remember. There's just something about that old marquee that transports us to a time long before we were born, before megaplexes, when movie premieres were a thing and people actually got dressed up to go to see a picture. In those days, of course, our fine city was littered with hundreds of cinemas, the majority of which are now demolished. But a few have lingered, and even though most don't look anything like they did when they were first built, we're grateful that they're still around. Take, for example, 1529 Chestnut St., the former Arcadia Theater. Now it's home to a new Five Below.
We've gotten some questions in recent weeks about construction taking place at 1506-08 Spruce St., a commercial building that's struggled to keep tenants. For a long time, there was a pizza place at the corner of Hicks & Spruce. We can remember an Italian place holding down one of the retail spaces at one point. There was a lounge of some kind more recently. But more than any one tenant, we remember that the spaces here seem to have been vacant more often than not.
In the past
But vacancy won't be an issue anymore. That's because the CVS next door is expanding into the space. Of course, CVS locations come in all shapes and sizes, and in theory the bigger the better for a CVS. It's a shame that the block will lose the retail diversity, but it seems that these spaces never worked for any businesses anyway. So let's agree, something in the building is better than the revolving door we've seen.
What's most interesting to us is that the CVS will soon have a space that exceeds that of the supermarket that preceded it. Looking at old photos, we can see that the space that's now under construction was an add-on, probably built in the 1970s. We remember when this was a supermarket, but we don't go back to the Acme days.
When we last checked in on the McIlhenny Mansion at 1914-16 Rittenhouse Square St., owner Bart Blatstein had gotten approvals from the Historical Commission to demolish a curved one-story facade at 1916 Rittenhouse Square and replace it with a four-story addition. The project also included the demolition of the actual mansion but the preservation of its historic facade. Looking at the property today, we can see that all of the demolition has indeed occurred. Since there's nothing behind the old facade, the steel supports are still in place.
Historic facade remains
If you take a closer look at the property in its current state, you can see the foundation work is done. And holy crap, is it ever a deep foundation.
In the core Center City neighborhoods, it's intuitive that we don't see the same development activity that we see in neighborhoods like Brewerytown, Francisville, and Kensington. So when there are three projects to mention on a single block in the Rittenhouse neighborhood, it's quite an unexpected treat. But that's just what we're considering today on the 2100 block of Walnut Street. Let's move west to east, shall we?
Walnut Estates, coming soon at 22nd & Walnut
The southeast corner of 22nd & Walnut was, for many years, a surface parking lot. Last fall, we told you about plans to redevelop the parcel, first expecting six new homes then learning about plans for five homes and a mixed-use building on the corner. In the time that's passed, the parking lot has been closed (another one bites the dust!), and a hole has appeared at the site. The developers have dubbed the project Walnut Estates, and the project website shows impressive floorplans for the five homes. Each will have an elevator, 5,000 sqft of living space, and an appropriately high price tag. The taller building at the corner will have condos and a commercial space downstairs.
For many years, Walnut Street has been Center City's ritziest commercial corridor, the place that every high-end retailer wants to sell their wares. Still, a few holdouts have stubbornly remained, resembling a sore thumb more and more as time has passed. Several tenants at the attractive building at 1501 Walnut St. were holdovers from another era, with a small corner store holding down the corner of 15th & Walnut and then a tailor shop and a shoe repair place as you went up 15th Street.
In the past
But time she is a cruel mistress, and change is the only constant. Last year, PREIT bought the building, and all of those businesses are now but a memory. If you pass by the building today, you'll see that the first and second floors have been gutted. Looking at the old storefronts and window treatments, you'll agree that this is a good thing.