Washington Square West

This seems like a bad idea

The Inquirer reported yesterday that Toll Brothers has a plan in place to demolish 702-710 Sansom St., five buildings on Jewelers Row, and replace them with a new 16 story building with 80 apartments and retail on the first floor. Regular readers of this blog know that we're very supportive of development, sometimes to a fault. And yet we find ourselves struggling to embrace this project.

We've wondered about 'em for years

Ah, the picturesque 1000 block of Lombard Street. Wonderful Seger Park fills up the entire southern side, and on the north side we see a mix of homes that date back over a hundred years and a row of not-entirely-offensive garage front homes that look like they were built in the 1980s. And then there's the three homes at 1017-1021 Lombard St., which don't fall into either category. Perhaps you too have wondered about them at some point.

While repairs continues next door

Given its prominent location, it's amazing that 208 S. 13th St. has been sitting empty for several years- the building's last tenant was Letto Deli, which closed in 2009. According to Hidden City, a one story building was constructed here in 1955 as a Dewey's Famous, and got remodeled after a fire in 1969. It became a gay bar in the late 1970s into the 1980s, and for a time was a Middle Eastern restaurant called The Pyramids. Half a decade ago, Jose Garces had a plan to open a German sausage and beer hall called Froman's Wursthaus here, but that plan fell through. Two years ago, Michael Klein reported that Sylva Senat of the now-shuttered Tashan had signed a lease for the space but would be tearing down the building.

Part of a larger project that's far in the future?

The northeastern section of the Wash West neighborhood has an embarrassment of health care riches, with Jefferson, Pennsy, and Wills Eye Hospital all bunched up in the same general area. As you're surely well aware, the rest of the neighborhood features some of the most expensive residential real estate in Philadelphia. The fact that the neighborhood has so much going for it makes the row of vacant buildings on 9th Street just north of Locust all the more puzzling.

Looking up 9th Street

So... what's the deal with these buildings?

Great bones but seemingly vacant

Thankfully, our old friend GroJLart wrote about 229 and 231 S. 9th St. for Hidden City last year, providing some answers. 229 S. 9th St. was apparently home to the Shell Art Novelty Company back in the day. For many years, it was the place in Philadelphia to get jewelry made from sea shells. Less exciting, the building next door last held an optometry office. A company called Abbot Inc bought both properties in the early 1990s, along with most of the row of buildings to the north. Some of those buildings are in poor condition and have been cited by the City.

Building will still be demolished

About a year ago, we shared the news that the Society Hill Playhouse was closing its doors after half a century at 507 S. 8th St., and Toll Brothers intended to demolish the structure and build condos in its place. The developers also had their eye on a parking garage across the street which would similarly get torn down and replaced with condos. This sparked considerable debate among readers. Some folks were generally on board with the project, some hoped that the old theater could be somehow be preserved, and others just threw around Toll Brothers hate without much commentary on the project itself. Among near neighbors, it seems the project drew considerable consternation, undergoing multiple changes as the months rolled by and the meetings piled up.

Society Hill Playhouse
Garage across the street

Initially, as we mentioned, Toll was looking to build condos, a la their projects at Naval Square and 410 at Society Hill. That plan went through several iterations, but would have entailed five stories with ground-floor parking. Unable to come to a consensus with neighbors, Toll Brothers then shifted to a by-right plan for two rental apartment buildings with no parking. JKRP Architects produced a rendering to show what that would have looked like.