South Kensington has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years, with small and large projects alike filling up vacant lots and replacing blighted buildings. Despite all this positive change, there's still a huge blighted building looming over the neighborhood, like Lurch on the Addams Family. The building at 5th & Master was once an umbrella factory, but it's been sitting vacant for decades. We last visited the property about a year and a half ago, hoping that renovation was imminent, but it looks pretty much the same now as it did back then.
The former umbrella factory
View from the east
A refresher, there was a plan for a residential conversion here back in 2006, which would have meant 141 condo units and a parking garage next door. The project encountered considerable community opposition, but it was ultimately mothballed because of the recession in 2008.
The large blighted building at 9th & Poplar has been bugging us for years. It was constructed as a warehouse for Strawbridge & Clothier in 1918, according to Old Images of Philadelphia. In its day, it was a pretty awesome building.
Back when it was still in active use
We did some poking around and surprisingly we can't seem to find any articles out there covering the history of this massive structure. We're willing to bet that Strawbridge's stopped using the building long before they closed forever in 2006. Some signage on the first floor suggests that a company called Quaker used the building, and old records indicate that they were a warehousing and storage company. Makes sense.
It seems like once a year or so, the old Frankford Chocolate Factory at 2101 Washington Ave. creeps into our consciousness for a minute and then recedes back to the status of "we wonder what's happening with that place." For a detailed history of the building, we suggest you read this story from Hidden City. To summarize, much of the structure was built in the 1860s for a wallpaper factory. Later, it housed the American Can Company and for more than half of the 20th century it was used as a warehouse for John Wanamaker. Frankford Candy, known for their production of chocolate rabbits, came onto the scene in the 1970s and actively used the building until a little less than ten years ago.
Since then, the building has sat vacant.
Frankford Chocolate Factory
Developer Tran Dinh Truong bought the property in 2007 and came up with a redevelopment plan in 2009 which the ZBA shot down. Another effort to redevelop the property, this time in cooperation with architects Campbell Thomas, got approval in 2012. But Truong passed away only a couple months later, and the project didn't move forward without him.
Not breaking news: Point Breeze has seen an incredible amount of development in the last several years. As a result of this development activity, we've seen entire blocks transformed, like the 1300 block of Chadwick Street or the 2000 block of Annin Street. Until very recently, both of these blocks were dominated by large stretches of vacant land. Today, new homes have filled in almost all of the vacancies. But still some blocks have a ton of vacant land. Take, for example, the 2000 block of Gerritt Street.
By our quick count, we see about 18 empty lots and 24 structures in the image above. That's... not so good.
On the plus side, we're seeing at least a little development on the block right now. V2 Properties, who seem to be building all over town, are building a new home at 2059 Gerritt St., which was previously (and unsurprisingly) a vacant lot.
Looking east from near 21st St., we see the home under construction
But we're not bringing you to this block to tell you about a single home that's under construction or to lament the number of remaining vacant lots. No, we've brought you here to share the news of a larger project that's in the works which will wipe out half the vacancy on the block. Recently, we got word of plans to build nine new homes on the western side of this block, but the project still needs to go through the zoning process.
Over the summer, we visited the Mount Sinai Hospital site at 4th & Reed and speculated that development was finally on the way after years of vacancy and several proposals that never came to pass. In contrast to earlier plans from other developers, the Concordia Group was looking to demolish the empty hospital and replace it with 95 new homes, all with parking. With two visits to CDR and multiple community meetings, we were optimistic that the project was happening but a little wary, considering the history of the site. For a better idea of the plan, here's a site plan and a rendering of the project from architects Barton Partners.
Project site plan
Rendering at 4th & Reed
We still can't promise that the homes are getting built, but we're extremely confident that the existing building is getting demolished. This confidence stems from the fact that we've seen it with our own eyes. Here, check out these images:
About two years ago, we brought 1036-38 N. 4th St. to your attention, lamenting the presence of this large, empty building in a wonderful part of Northern Liberties. We noted that the building, which stretched all the way back to Leithgow Street, had gone to sheriff's sale in 2012 but the owners entered into a payment plan, staying the sale. At the time, we predicted that a developer would purchase the property and convert it into loft apartments, similar to a project that fell through over a decade ago.
In the past
Not even a year later, we learned that Callahan Ward was meeting with the community with a plan to demolish the old building and construct three new homes in its place. After a couple of tries with the NLNA zoning committee, the developers got neighborhood support and ultimately approval from the ZBA. It's no surprise that these developers, who have built several other projects in the neighborhood, were able to craft a project that the community was able to get behind.
The project, as we detailed previously, calls for one home on 4th Street, one home at the corner of Leithgow & George, and another on Leithgow Street, all designed by KJO Architecture. Let's check in on their progress, shall we?
It's really not fair to single out one blighted property in the neighborhoods surrounding Temple. Despite the impressive number of projects in the area in recent years, there are still too many blighted buildings and vacant lots for us to count. So why, of all the vacant buildings in this part of town, do we bring 1731 Master St. to your attention today?
1731 Master St.
View from the north
A look at the back, with less glare
The forest growing out of the building was what first drew our attention. Looking at some historical images from Google Street View, it's clear the building has had an ivy problem for years. But it's only recently that the ivy has become much more aggressive, seemingly intent on swallowing the building whole. This would indeed be a shame, because the building has some terrific bones.
Buzzing through Brewerytown yesterday, we spied a new zoning notice on a dilapidated building on the 2700 block of Stiles Street, a block that's got more than its share of vacancy.
Zoning notice on Stiles Street
The rest of the block
When we stopped to snap some photos and get a closer look, we realized that the address is actually 2712 W. Cabot St. even though the building frontage is on Stiles and it's just a vacant lot on Cabot Street. Cabot Street's in better shape than Stiles Street, but it also (sarcastically) boasts a number of vacant lots.
On the northwestern fringe of our West Philly coverage area, 5052 Walnut St. has stood vacant for years. In 2013, we had our eye on it, lamenting its poor condition, and noted that it had been in bad shape for many years. Architecturally, this building is something to look at and would really stand out in Center City, but in West Philly there are others like it. Across the street, for example. Recently, while checking in on some single-family projects in the area, we saw that the building is finally getting the attention it deserves. However, as you will see in the photo progression below, it's become clear that the building will look a bit different on the outside than it had looked before.
Over the winter a reader living on the 1500 block of Brown Street emailed us, frustrated about the condition the blighted properties on Ridge Avenue abutting the back of her home. We had some good news at the time, that three of the worst buildings, 1526-30 Ridge Ave., had been listed for sale and were already under agreement. We considered the possibility that the new owners would renovate the existing buildings, which have, between them, about 11K sqft of space. But we figured it was more likely they'd demolish the old buildings and start with a clean slate. And wouldn't you know it, we were correct for a change.
These three will come down
The developers will demolish the buildings in short order to make way for a new building that will sit on all three lots. The project calls for a five-story building with ground-floor retail and ten apartments above. This building will be about 55' tall, compared to the other buildings on the block which we'd imagine are only about 30' tall. The project does need to go before the ZBA, so it's possible it will change somewhat as it goes through the community process, or it may totally fall through. But considering the collection of similar projects on the 1600 block, some of which rise five stories, we suspect this project will ultimately get approved.