It’s pretty much impossible for us to imagine what life was like a hundred fifty years ago, fond as we are of indoor plumbing and electricity, let alone our smartphone. But alas, back in 1865, people didn’t have toilets or light bulbs or supercomputers in their pockets, and things were just a pinch less sanitary, safe, and convenient. It was in this world that Robert Harbison started a dairy business in Kensington, bringing milk into town daily and delivering it across the neighborhood. This business boomed over the following decades, expanding its Kensington facility and opening other locations in the region. Harbison’s dairy was sold off in the 1960s, but their former facility at 2041 Coral St. remains, as does the iconic water tower shaped like a milk bottle.
This year, a development entity purchased the old industrial building for $4.2M, with an eye toward mixed-use redevelopment. The building was added to the Historic Register back in 2016, so this project will maintain the integrity of the existing structures. A Curbed story from January indicated a plan to build an addition onto the building, but those changes (along with simple changes like replacing the windows) require approval from the Historical Commission. It appears that those approvals have come through, since the project started moving through permitting over the summer. According to the permits, look for a total of 86 apartments, 10 parking spots, 2 commercial spaces, and an office. A Philadelphia Business Journal article indicates that Pop! Promos will be taking over the office space, and that this company is additionally associated with the development of the entire property. SgRA is doing the design work for the project.
But that’s not all that’s happening in this part of town. Over the last number of years, the old Harbison Dairy building was used for storage and the vacant lot across the street at 2001 Abigail St. was used as an outdoor loading area. That lot has now been purchased by developers (not the team renovating the dairy building), who are looking to build eight town homes on the property. The parcel is zoned for single-family use, so the project will be going to the ZBA next month. We don’t see why anyone would have an issue with such a seemingly innocuous project, but we’ve been surprised with this stuff in the past, so who knows.
What we do know is that this little corner of East Kensington is going to look very different in a couple years. This is incredibly consistent with the changes we’ve seen in this area over the last decade, and these projects will add some wonderful new vibrancy just a few steps from Front Street. And that we’ll see the reuse of a cool old building that relates back to the neighborhood’s history as Workshop of the World makes the project all the more satisfying.