Despite being added to the National Historic Register in 1986, the former Spring Garden School, located at 843 N. 12th St., has been sitting blighted and vacant for decades, a white elephant in the middle of the Richard Allen Homes PHA development. We first pondered this building back in 2012, wondering whether market rate adaptive reuse would be possible at this location, and recognizing that affordable housing would ultimately be the most likely outcome. We frankly didn’t care what would happen here, as long as any possible project entailed the reuse of the wonderful old building and not its demolition. As solidly as the building was built though, its extended vacancy made demolition a real possibility.
A little over a year ago, we shared the good news that the building would indeed be preserved, as part of an affordable housing development, through a partnership between PHA and HELP USA, an non-profit that focuses on helping the homeless. The plan called for 37 apartment units, with 12 reserved for homeless vets. Certainly, we were encouraged to learn that this building would be repurposed to help individuals in desperate need of housing.
Last week, officials and stakeholders held a ribbon cutting at the newly renovated building, which has been dubbed the Lural Lee Blevins Veterans Center. The project is named after Specialist 4 Lural Lee Blevins III, who came from North Philadelphia and saved dozens of his fellow soldiers before perishing in Vietnam. If you happen to pass by this building at some point, you’ll see that the renovation was truly impressive, and the formerly blighted building has been restored to its former glory. These images don’t really do it justice, but they give you an idea of what it looks like today.
It’s truly amazing just how bad the building looked a year ago, seen through the lens of its current restored state. It gives us hope that other blighted buildings with great bones in North Philadelphia could meet a similar fate, with other market rate and non-profit developers hopefully inspired by this success story.