The Market East neighborhood was a hub of commerce in Philadelphia from the late 1800s through the middle of the 20th century, with the Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Bros., and Gimbels department stores at 8th & Market in the center of it all. By the later part of the 20th century, the department stores were either closed or heading in that direction, the Gallery was an inward looking fortress of a mall, and Market East was a shell of its former self. The Lit Brothers and Strawbridges buildings were preserved and reused, while the Gimbels building was unfortunately torn down in 1980 and turned into a surface parking lot. It's currently owned by the Goldenberg Group (who seem to be coming up regularly on this blog, of late).
Gimbels department store, demoed almost 40 years ago
You're probably well aware of this, but it's still a surface parking lot today.
One of our first predictions for 2017 was that North Broad Street would take a major step forward this year, and it didn't even take two weeks for news to emerge that supports this expectation. Hey, when you're good, you're good.
Lovers of vinyl mourned about a year ago when Sound of Market closed their doors at 15 S. 11th St. after about three decades in business. Surely anyone that ever visited the store over the years was impressed by the five-story building it called home, though looking at the structure it was clear that it once possessed greater grandeur.
The building, typically referred to as the Sound of Market Building thanks to its longtime tenant, was designated historic back in 2013. Per the historic application, it was constructed in 1912, designed by William Steele and Sons, and the reinforced concrete structure features a blend of Art Deco and neo-Classical architectural styles. In particular, the polychromatic terra cotta ornament gives the building a unique and unusual appearance for Philadelphia. Here, take a look at a view of the building from 1965:
The other day we were ambling around Old City and found a giant hole at 2nd & Race. We've been doing this real estate blogging thing for years and can't think of many holes we've been happier to see in person. See, this one has been in the works for a really long time.
Fencing around the site
They'll need a crane
Our compadre over at the Philly Business Journal, Natalie Kostelni, had the scoop on the groundbreaking for the Bridge on Race Street back in August. In her story, she noted that Brown Hill Development bought the property fifteen years ago and that their plans for the property changed over time. A decade ago, plans emerged for a ten-story condo building but then the financial meltdown happened and the project landed on the shelf.
A decade ago, the mostly vacant lot on the northwest corner of 2nd & Wildey fit right in. Northern Liberties was on the way up, but there was still so much vacancy everywhere. As the years have rolled off the calendar, you know the story. Liberties Walk; The Piazza; Dramatic improvements to the corridor on 2nd Street; Hundreds of projects from small, medium, and large sized developers. We've seen so much development in this neighborhood that it's almost odd to see any lingering vacant lots or buildings. A few, like the lot at 2nd & Wildey, have remained. But that lot is on the way out, according to a story from the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Corner of 2nd & Wildey
The story tells us that How Properties has purchased the parcel, which measures about 25K sqft. Their plan calls for a fifty-five foot building with 53 apartments and ground-floor retail. The story indicates that there's a rumor that a grocery store could be the tenant but we don't buy it. Taking aside the fact that there's an Acme just up the block, a 14,500 sqft space would only accommodate a specialty store like Trader Joe's. And we have a strong feeling that TJ's would never open in a space that has no parking lot. People like driving to Trader Joe's.
Across the street from Rittenhouse Square sits one of Philadelphia's most prominent and embarrassing vacant lots. Once upon a time, the Rittenhouse Eric Theater made its home on the north side of the 1900 block of Walnut Street. When the hundred year old historic brownstone-turned-office next door caught fire in 1994, the damage to the theater resulted in its demolition. The lot has been vacant ever since aside from a temporary use as a PHS pop-up in 2012.
From a few years back but it still pretty much looks like this
Over the years, the property has seen a collection of possible projects come and go. It's a particular challenge because the parcel is also tied to several properties on Sansom Street including the mysterious Rittenhouse Coffee Shop (long vacant), the empty seven story Warwick building (shuttered since 2003), and the Oliver H. Bair funeral home. We covered the collection of proposals for this site years ago, including the plan for a parking garage with restaurant and movie theater from the PPA, a concept from Michael Singer in 2004, and another idea from Castleway, the current owners, in 2008. Clearly, none of those things happened.
In 2008, bold plans emerged for 1601 Vine St. that would have involved two mixed-use towers with over 500 residential units, a 150-room hotel, a Best Buy, and a relocated Whole Foods. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal, that plan fell apart as the recession hit and large-scale development mostly disappeared for a couple of years. And so, this large surface parking lot has regrettably remained as such for over half a decade. But not for long, according to the Inquirer.
Last summer, the historic mansion at 1801 Walnut St.went up for sale, and there was speculation that long-time tenant Anthropologie could be on the outs. When we heard about this, we wondered 1) what new location could possibly serve the store's needs as effectively as their current home, and 2) what store could successfully take over the space, which is not without its challenges despite its extremely desirable location.
The building itself has some interesting history, as you might imagine. According to the Preservation Alliance, It was constructed right before the turn of the 20th century, by Sarah Drexel Fell. She inhabited the mansion, along with her husband Alexander Van Rensselaer, for roughly three decades. After they passed, the building was used by the Pennsylvania Athetic Club rowing association, and for the last few decades it has housed Urban Outfitters and then Anthropologie. The building was designed by Peabody and Sterns in the Beaux Arts style, and still looks wonderful after nearly a hundred and twenty years.
If you've driven near Lemon Hill or the Philadelphia Zoo along Girard Avenue in recent past months during rush hour, or tried to come down Girard towards I-76 from points west at that time, then you likely got caught in some terrific traffic. But the these problems should be greatly reduced moving forward because of the now-completed improvements to the Zoo, Girard Avenue and 34th Street. Now, the intersection that houses the Zoo at 34th & Girard looks a whole lot nicer.