The northeast corner of 9th & Locust is a bit of a curiosity. In this high rent part of town, you simply wouldn’t expect to see a pair of building like 229 and 231 S. 9th St., slowly decomposing as they sit vacant. Last year, we gave you the lowdown on these properties, noting that they were owned by an entity related to Wills Eye Hospital, which is located around the corner at 9th & Walnut. We also told you that the hospital was buying up other properties on the block, ostensibly with a vision for redevelopment at some point in the future.
Yesterday, Philly.com reported that Wills Eye Hospital had pulled demolition permits for the two buildings at the corner. In the story, a representative from Wills Eye indicated that this demolition was in the interest of public safety, not with an eye toward a specific project or future facility. We can only take that to mean that, in the two plus decades that Wills Eye has owned these properties, they’ve done an altogether terrible job in maintaining them. It’s almost as if this was their plan all along!
Fortunately for the hospital, these properties are not designated historic, so they’re permitted to tear them down as they see fit. The same can’t be said about the buildings immediately to the north that are also owned by the hospital. If Wills Eye wishes to demolish these buildings, either in the interest of public safety or with an eye toward building a new facility, they would have to get a hardship exemption from the Historical Commission.
Make no mistake, we’ll be sorry to see any of the buildings on this block get torn down. And we don’t for a moment condone the way that this hospital has ignored these properties over the years. But we also have to ask whether it’s realistic to ask the hospital to maintain the buildings at the corner or even the historic buildings if their goal is to build a health care facility in their place. We have only limited experience in what goes into facadectomies, but we know that they add considerable expense to any development project. For large parcels, like the Saint James a couple blocks away, this was an approach that was financially feasible. For a smaller site like this, we’re not sure that it’s doable. On the other hand, in the unlikely even a new Wills Eye facility were to include the American Postal Workers House next door, it might change the conversation.
For the road, here’s an image of the southeast corner of 9th & Walnut, from back in 1928. Architecturally, we would argue that these buildings are superior to the hospital currently on the site. On the other hand, that hospital has done so much good, we believe it was worth the trade. What do you think?