Washington Square West

Gorgeous buildings on the block

We've directed your attention to the 1100 block of Chestnut Street in recent months, pointing to a major project from Brickstone that's bringing down some unattractive buildings and replacing them with a plethora of apartments and retail. Another notable aspect of this project is the rescuing and restoration of the old Oppenheim Collins building which is being returned to its former glory. When that project is finished, a combination of the old building and a new structure will bring much needed new life to the block.

Close by, the 700 block of Chestnut Street already has a collection of amazing buildings, and great retail options mixed in with some middling stores and vacancies. We've loved walking this block over the years, but the other day an under-construction storefront at 716 Chestnut St. caught our eye. It turns out this space has been empty for quite awhile, but soon a dentist will be moving in. It ain't a glamorous tenant but it's far better than a vacant space. As you can see, the building the dentist will occupy is wonderful, saying nothing of its neighbors.

Looks like that's what's gonna happen

A reader tipped us off the other day about a new zoning notice at 412 S. 13th St., a mixed-use building called Waverly Court that's also home to the restaurant Amis. It's clear that the building is a conversion from some prior use, but we couldn't tell you the purpose for which it was originally built.

View from the north
View from the south

The zoning application indicates that the property owners are hoping to increase the number of units in the building by adding to its footprint and its height. It calls for a six-story side addition to the building, and a two story addition to the existing structure. At the end, the building would contain thirty-seven apartments, eleven parking spots, thirteen bike parking spots, and of course a wonderful restaurant (no change there). We haven't seen plans, but it would seem like the side addition would sprout on the parking lot next door.

Former dental manufacturing company

The website for the apartment building located at 221 S. 12th St. boasts the residence’s proximity to Philadelphia’s tourist-friendly historical district.  However, the building stands on a site with its own storied past.  Said past begins in the mid-19th Century, when, according to G.M. Hopkins’ 1875 Philadelphia Atlas, this location was occupied by a Young Man’s Christian Association (YMCA). 

It’s Fun to Stay at the YMCA in 1875

From Christian to Catholic, the building became home to the Philopatrian Literary Society in 1879.  The Philopatrian Hall was used as a center for Catholic-centered community activities.  The Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute describes its organization as originally founded to protect the growing demographic from ethnic violence at the hands of Protestants.  Over time, its mission evolved to include the development of the city’s Catholic School system.  The organization also outgrew its surroundings just north of 12th & Locust.  By 1892, the Philopatrian was sold to one Samuel S. White, whose dental manufacturing company was already well on its way to global success, according to Workshop Of the World.  The image below shows an ad for the burgeoning company, dated 1867.

At least the mural is sweet

Today, the most significant thing about the northeast corner of 13th & Locust is on the building next to it, which casts a stunning mural against the busy intersection.  But the corner lot itself has a compelling invisible history.  According to The Gayborhood Guru, the site was occupied by rowhouses until the early 1860s.  It was at this juncture that the growing College of Physicians of Philadelphia used an endowment from Dr. Thomas Mütter to build the two-story institute of learning.  Indeed, in addition to housing a lecture hall and medical library, the first floor of the building served as the first home of the Mütter Museum.  The image below, taken from G.M. Hopkins Philadelphia Atlas, identifies the building as a Medical College in 1875.

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 1875

The Gayborhood Guru notes that the building had been outfitted with a third floor by 1883.  The image below shows the expanded Medical College in 1900.

The northeast corner of 12th & Locust Streets sits in the center of a neighborhood teeming with restaurants, bars and apartment buildings.  In several of its past lives, however, this location primarily served the interests of education.  Bryn Mawr College tells us that a school was erected here between 1827 and 1828.  The Locust Street Grammar School would operate here through the rest of the 19th Century.  Hexamer & Locher’s Philadelphia Atlas shows the site of the school in 1858.

The Locust Street Grammar School at the northeast corner of 12th & Locust, 1858

Philadelphia Architects and Buildings shows that the school continued to serve the children of its neighborhood right up to the turn of the century.   The wood cut pictured here is dated to 1897.