Spring Garden

Historic building remains vacant and blighted

It was over three years ago that we first brought 1601 Mount Vernon St., the "Purvis House," to your attention, lamenting the poor condition of this historic structure. In case you don't remember and don't feel like clicking back to the old story, the building was constructed in 1859 and was once home to Robert Purvis, a man considered to be the "President of the Underground Railroad." It's likely that Purvis helped thousands of former slaves achieve freedom. Today, what's left of his former home remains in bad shape. 

Current view
Looking down 16th Street

Miguel Santiago bought the property in 1977 and still owns it today. Several times, he's proposed redeveloping the property, most recently coming up with a plan to develop three condo units plus parking. In November of 2012, the rear of the property came down, either intentionally or because years of vacancy caused part of the building to crumble. In the years since, the rubble has been cleared and a hole in the ground has been filled, but no other work has taken place from what we can tell. Earlier this year, the owner altered a permit from 2011 to replace the eastern wall of the building with salvaged brick. But it doesn't look like that has happened as of yet, nor would we swear that it will ever happen.

Four story building has been framed out

At 1720 Fairmount Ave., what was for years a storage lot for building materials like brick and stone is now a framed out four-story building. When it's finished, it will include 18 new apartments and complete one of the closing paragraphs of the tale about redevelopment along Fairmount Avenue.

In the past

It's been a couple of years in the making, and seeing this project get some legs, and then a torso, as it was framed, shows developers are looking to get people living in the building sometime this year.

MM Partners to the rescue!

MM Partners has traditionally done a ton of development in Brewerytown, with a particular emphasis on rehabilitating storefronts on Girard Avenue. Now it seems they've got their sights set on a new corridor- Fairmount Avenue. Recently, a sign appeared on the front of the long-vacant Country Fresh Market building at the corner of 17th & Fairmount announcing the property's upcoming renovation. Along with attaching MM Partners to the project, it included a nice lookin' picture showing us what we can expect.

Current view
Project rendering

We reached out to MM Partners, and learned that they're planning seventeen loft apartments with 1:1 parking, two new homes (ostensibly on Melon Street), and five retail spaces. Remarkably, four of the five commercial spaces are already leased. As this property falls within the Spring Garden Historic District and clearly contributes given its unusual look, the developers are bound by Federal historic guidelines. We're most pleased to see that the original window sizes and shapes will be making a comeback.

But what's the endgame?

If you live in the Spring Garden or Francisville neighborhoods, you've surely noticed the former Mortgage Security Trust Company building on the corner of 18th & Fairmount. Heck, we don't live in either neighborhood and it caught our attention over three years ago. Back then, we plead to the cosmos that the owners would renovate the property or sell it to someone who would. The building has amazing bones but for many years it's looked like it was being held together with duct tape.

In the past

A couple of readers have reached out, sharing the exciting news that this building is currently getting some renovation action. The owners went to the Historical Commission earlier this year, presenting plans to replace the glass block and stucco filling the old window openings. Passing by earlier today we discovered a building that's experiencing a significant change. Though it's only the 18th Street side that's currently getting work done, we'd have to imagine that the Fairmount Avenue side is next on the docket.

Old signage comes back

About a year and a half ago, a store called Momoyo opened at the corner of 20th & Brandywine, specializing in bubble tea, fro yo, and oddly, dog treats. Then the business got closed down, ostensibly due to a zoning problem. They reopened in the spring, and installed some funky panels on the storefront, revealing some nice-looking old signage in the process. 

As the panels were being installed

We passed by last week, pondering a bubble tea, and discovered the store to be closed and the paneling removed. Now, the storefront looks like we suspect it did many years ago. Probably better, even.

Recent view

The owners of the business tried to sell their establishment earlier this year for $150K before slashing the sale price to $65K. It seems they found no buyers are were forced to shut their doors. Does anyone in the neighborhood have any insight into what happened here? Was business just not strong enough to sustain the place? Did the paneling, or rather the violation due to the fact that it didn't fit into the context of the historic district, sink the business? Or is there something else going on here?