We’ve long loved the Keystone National Bank building at the corner of Juniper & Chestnut, admiring its amazing bones and wondering how such a marvelous building at such a tremendous location could have found itself in such a state of blight and disrepair. This edifice is more commonly known as the Hale Building because it’s one of the most famous buildings designed by architect Willis G. Hale. Hale, who also thought up the Divine Lorraine and many buildings that have been torn down over the years, saw the Hale Building erected in 1887 to not so favorable reviews, as architecture critics of the day lambasted its unique combination of Victorian and Gothic architectural details. Unfortunately, the architect’s original vision for the building was corrupted even before his death in 1907, and different owners and tenants continued to modify the facade over time. By the time the 2010s rolled around, we were hoping that a new owner would come forward that could attempt to restore the building to something resembling its original glory.
Maybe half a decade ago, a developer was working on a plan to renovate the building and convert it to a hotel, even presenting early plans to the Historical Commission. That plan never moved forward, and in 2014 the Hale Building ended up in the hands of Brickstone Realty. From a historic preservation perspective this appeared to be a fortuitous marriage, given this developer’s successful track record with the Lit Brothers building on Market Street and more recently, the Oppenheim Collins facadectomy on Chestnut Street. And indeed, when we checked in on the building last spring, we were quite impressed with the exterior progress and how well the developers were able to restore, recreate, and replace various architectural details. Checking in on the building today (in the snow), we remain pleased with the building’s transformation.
We bring the property to your attention today partly because construction appears to be finished, but mostly because we’re excited that the Phillies signed Bryce Harper. In exchange for a third of a billion dollars from the local baseball team over the next thirteen years, Mr. Harper isn’t only bringing his hitting and fielding skills to Philadelphia, but also his brand. Part of that brand is a combination barber shop and lounge called the Blind Barber, which counts Harper among its partners. Per Philly.com, Blind Barber will be opening its seventh location in the Hale Building, in a two-story retail space accessed from Sansom Street. This is obviously a cool bit of news, even though we feel like it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that this business is opening here, and not in the Harper apartment building, finishing soon at 19th & Chestnut.
When we last told you about the Hale Building, we told you to expect a sports bar called Warehouse Bar & Kitchen in the Chestnut Street space and an all-day cafe on Sansom Street. The Blind Barber seems to have taken over the space reserved for the cafe, and we couldn’t tell you whether the sports bar is still in the cards. The upper floors will still be filled by co-working company called Spaces, which is coming soon, according to their website.
One thing is not coming soon is the reopening of the Juniper & Sansom intersection. Remember, a water main broke here last summer, and Juniper and Sansom have been closed ever since. We spoke to someone working at the site, and they told us to expect the streets to reopen in August. Crews have been pulling out and reinstalling infrastructure for months now, and they still have several months of work ahead. For the sake of Blind Barber and all the already existing businesses on this block, we just hope the work wraps up on or maybe ahead of schedule.