12th Street Gym has been a fixture in the Gayborhood for roughly 30 years, but an ownership change and fire code violations could result in its closure at some point in the relatively near future. A couple of readers have reached out to us in recent weeks, sharing the news that the building was under new ownership and passing along the rumor that the building would be torn down in favor of new development. We’ve tried to sniff around about these rumors and came up empty, but Philly.com was more successful in getting some answers. After reading their story, we’re feeling like the aforementioned rumors will eventually play out, though it may take some time before the status quo changes.
L&I cited the gym for numerous violations back in 2016, mostly relating to fire safety. The cost to correct those violations will exceed half a million dollars, though the gym has until 2020 to make the necessary alterations to the building. They’re currently engaged in negotiations with the building’s owner, perhaps looking to share some of those costs or reduce the rental rate to take a bite out of the huge expense of bringing the building up to code.
We should mention, Midwood Investment bought this building last month and would probably be content to allow the gym to remain in place and collect a reliable rent from a business with 4,000 members. But they would probably be more enthusiastic about terminating the gym’s lease, demolishing the existing building, and constructing a new building on the 16K+ sqft parcel that also happens to have extremely favorable zoning. These developers are based out of New York but have experience in Philadelphia, having built the Cheesecake Factory building at 15th & Walnut, among other projects.
For those thinking that historic designation might be a path to save the building, we suspect that the facade has been so dramatically altered over the years that odds of designation are probably pretty low. And that’s a shame, because the building has a very interesting history, detailed in this Hidden City story from a few years back. In short, the building was originally used as an Eastern European-style sweat bath, more commonly known as a shvitz. The shvitz was called Camac Baths, and included various massage services, multiple steam rooms, a basketball court, a game room, and a swimming pool, among other offerings. Some of the original details from the shvitz are still intact at the gym, and the Hidden City story includes some interior images if you wanna take a look.
The loss of 12th Street Gym and its building would be a loss for the history of the neighborhood as well as the modern community, but as we said, we believe it’s pretty likely at this point. Assuming the business does close and the existing building does get demolished, it’s tough to predict what kind of new building Midwood might pursue. A mixed-use project with some height is certainly in play, as is a shorter building with only commercial use, like their project a few blocks away. For now though, this is pure speculation that we hope will prove meaningless if and when the gym and the landlord come to some sort of agreement.