The street simply called "Rittenhouse Square" is, as you'd expect, one of the more exclusive in town, running along the south side of the park of the same name. The street extends a block to the east, stretching to 17th Street, and a couple blocks to the west as well, running to 21st Street, curiously disappearing for a block, and extending again from 22nd to 23rd Street. In the interest of reducing confusion in the universe, we'd probably advocate for changing the name of the street, but we'd think that the people who live on Rittenhouse Sq. probably like the name of their street, thank you very much. With such a name, you'd think that these blocks would be well established and wouldn't see a whole lot of development activity. And yet we've been pulled to the 2000 block of Rittenhouse Sq. a couple times over the years, and now we find ourselves back on this ritzy block.
2012-14 Rittenhouse Sq., in the past
Until a few months ago, 2012-14 Rittenhouse Sq. was home to a pair of two-story homes from the early 1950s which were very well located but didn't have much else going for them. A little over a year ago, the two 2-story homes were listed for sale together, described as fixer-uppers that could either be renovated or demolished and replaced. The developer that ultimately bought them has opted for the latter. We passed by the property last week and found a relatively new hole in the ground.
Scoops is exactly the kind of business you wish you had around the corner from your house. It's got delicious ice cream and snacks, low prices, and the owners have been in the neighborhood forever. With their building at 812 E. Thompson St. selling last year though, it could be the end of the line for this neighborhood business.
The building sold because it's got a larger footprint than you might expect, with five parking garages located on the other side of the property. Though Scoops has become an important place in the neighborhood, it's easy to argue that the building is significantly underused and a three story structure would make much more sense here.
The 2000 block of Lombard Street is unlike any other in the city, with the Lombard Swim Club covering about half of the south side and a large parking garage taking up about a third of the north side of the block, and a bunch of homes filling things out. And while we don't imagine that the swim club will close or relocate in our lifetime, the clock could be ticking on the parking garage.
View of the garage
Lombard Swim Club across the street
At the end of last year, we got an email from MPN Realty, advertising that the parking garage at 2031 Lombard St. was available for sale. This seemed like an amazing investment opportunity, as the building sits on a quarter of an acre of land in Rittenhouse, runs street to street, and is zoned for multi-family use. A condo building would fit the bill for this spot, or a row of $1.5M to $2M homes would also make all kinds of sense on this block. After all, we've seen very successful high-end projects appear on the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Lombard Street, so a similar project on this block would seem like a slam dunk.
So much has changed at the western end of Penn's campus since 2001, when Fresh Grocer opened at the northwest corner of 40th & Walnut. The Radian sprouted on the 3900 block of Walnut, replacing some run down stores and a gross movie theater. A pair of Hub buildings have appeared at 40th & Chestnut, adding more high end apartments to the mix along with a Garces restaurant. So many buildings have been renovated to accommodate new student housing, and an extended stay hotel opened on the 4100 block of Walnut. And through it all, Fresh Grocer has remained a fixture, along with the hundreds of parking spaces in the garage above it.
Old City and Northern Liberties are both great places to live. The former has seen an explosion in high-price-point development, with dozens of mansions springing up on former surface parking lots. And let's not forget the long awaited and finally happening Bridge on Race Street project. The latter, meanwhile, had the "up and coming" label for years but we'd tell you that the neighborhood arrived quite some time ago. We've seen countless residential projects in Northern Liberties, along with steady improvement to the 2nd Street commercial corridor. These neighborhoods are adjacent to one another but it's rather unpleasant to walk between them because of the combination of the Vine Street Expressway overpass and the desolate stretch between Callowhill and Spring Garden Streets. A new project at 4th & Callowhill will seek to better knit these neighborhoods together.
Abbotts Square is a gargantuan building compared to its neighbors on the eastern end of South Street. Developed in 1982 by Jack W. Blumenfeld, it carries many design markers that make its era of construction fairly evident. As we walked by the building this past weekend during Oktoberfest on South Street, we couldn't help but notice some construction signs in the parking garage 3rd floor of the building, so we decided to do some research.
Notice the Domus signs
Being naturally curious about every property in Philadelphia, especially those that are such an integral part of an old commercial corridor like this one, we decided to visit phillyhistory.org to see what the area looked like before this building existed, and we discovered this photo from 1930:
Looking west from 2nd & South in 1930. Note that the Bridget Foy's building is the same structure today.
When you cross the Delaware River on the Ben Franklin Bridge, one of the first exits takes you down 8th Street through the edge of Chinatown. Since the 1960s, a large parking garage has spanned 8th Street between Arch and Filbert Street and it's pretty much looked terrible since the day it opened. Here, take a look:
View in the past
We learned a couple of years ago that the PPA, which by the way owns the garage, was planning to renovate the exterior and its dank underbelly and we were hopeful, but appropriately skeptical. We just couldn't wrap our minds around the idea that this garbage building could possibly turn into something attractive. But we've gotta say, with the project seemingly complete since our visit last year, we can see that they actually did a pretty good job. The garage now looks extremely cool thanks to "veils of metal mesh and glass with screening made of glass louvers."
Getting in the ground for the Museum Towers II project took quite some time, so it's a little jarring to see that construction is moving along so rapidly. It was back in 2012 that we first told you about plans to replace a surface parking lot between 18th & 19th, Buttonwood Street & Mattias Baldwin Park with a residential tower and some homes, but it was two years before the project even went before Civic Design Review. Finally, last summer, we discovered that developers Forest City had started construction, with a pile of fresh dirt announcing that the project was underway.
Passing by last week, we discovered so much progress.
Market East is getting another major development, thanks again to the efforts of Brickstone Companies. Years ago, this company was perhaps best known for their renovation of the Wanamaker Building on Market Street. But more recently, they've been actively involved in multiple projects in Market East. On the 1100 block of Chestnut Street, they're in the middle of a combination new construction/renovation project which will have 115 apartments and a bunch of retail, including a Target. They have plans to renovate the Sound of Market building into a mixed-use project with ground-floor retail and creative office space. And for their next trick, they've got plans for a parking garage at 12th & Sansom.
Current view at 12th & Sansom
If you consider the location, it's clear that this two-story garage is a major underuse. For decades, the property was owned by famous slumlord Samuel Rappaport, and late last year his estate sold the property to Brickstone for a hefty $14.45M. According to the Inquirer, the company is still figuring out their plan for the property, but they're considering building two towers on the site which could each rise over 300 feet. Options include residential, office use, hotel, and retail.