125 N. 10th St. stands as a unique example of a building that has been designated historic both locally and nationally, even though its defining features only date back to the 1970s. According to the nomination to the local register, the building dates back to the 1830s, but none of the original facade is currently visible. T.T. Chang founded the Chinatown YMCA on the second floor of this building in 1955, providing services to Chinese immigrants as well as native born children of immigrants in what was then a growing Chinatown neighborhood. Chang purchased the building in 1966 and two years later the YMCA transitioned into the Chinese Cultural and Community Center. In an effort to connect the building to the heritage of the local community, Chang hired architect C.C. Yang from Taiwan to completely overhaul the building's facade to reflect the "Classical Chinese Style." This work was completed in 1971, and was the basis for the building being added to the historic registers. Looking at the building, it's hard to argue against its historic nature.
Market East was a commercial center in Philadelphia in the early part of the 20th century, but as the decades rolled along, increased competition from the suburbs and other factors resulted in a diminished status for this shopping district. The Gallery opened its doors in 1977, in an effort to beat back this phenomenon, creating a suburban shopping experience in an urban setting. And people were really into it! The first phase of the mall had Strawbridge's at its eastern end and a relocated Gimbels to the west with stores in between, and for for a time the mall was a major attraction. It was successful enough that a second phase was constructed in the mid-1980s, stretching the mall to 11th Street and connecting it to the (then newly opened) Market East Septa Station.
But if you've lived here for any length of time, you know how things went. It wasn't too long after the Gallery II opened that the mall started falling on hard times. According to a story on deadmalls.com, Gimbels closed in the late 1980s and mall patrons couldn't get from Gallery I to Gallery II on the upper floors. Clover eventually opened in the former Gimbels, but only on the first two floors, which resulted in snowballing vacancies on the 3rd floor of the mall. As the years went on, the Clover became a K-Mart, the JC Penney at 11th Street became a Burlington Coat Factory, the Strawbridges closed, and the mall took on a lower budget vibe. Combined with the fact that the building had absolutely no street presence, the Gallery has been long overdue for a major renovation effort.
The last few years have brought major changes to 4328-44 Ridge Ave., a property that we first told you about almost exactly three years ago. At the time, the property was listed for sale for $1.5M and we were hopeful that a developer would buy the 42K sqft lot and build something "big, dense, and residential." At the very least, we were hoping that whoever bought the property would change up the looks of the buildings on the site, as they resembled ugly ski lodges.
A few years ago
About a year ago, we told you that Overbrook Real Estate Investors had purchased the property and would indeed be converting it to a residential use in a project called Falls Bridge Lofts. The plan called for the renovation and reuse of the existing buildings on the site and the construction of a new five-story connnecting building with frontage on Ridge Avenue. When we reported on the property last year, construction was just getting underway. But when we passed by the other day, we noticed that the project is seemingly finished. And it looks pretty good.
Intuitively, you might expect that the block of 50th Street south of Baltimore Avenue would be a solid block, with a mix of housing and retail runoff from the commercial corridor. And you'd be correct! What's somewhat surprising though, is that this situation is a relatively recent development. If we look back just a few years, we see a couple of blighted buildings just south of Dock Street Brewing and further south, some former industrial buildings that looked rather underused and unloved.
In the past
Also in the past
As the years have gone flying by, times have changed. The owners of Dock Street purchased 705 and 707 S. 50th St. back in 2015, giving hope that these long vacant buildings would come back into active use. In the time since then, they've totally renovated 705 S. 50th St., opening Dock Street Cannery a few months ago. In the back, they put Dock Street beers into cans (hence the name). In the front, there's a lounge and tasting room that offers beer, cocktails, and small bites. If Great Caesar's Ghost knows what's best for you, you'll make your way over there sometime soon.
Next door, the permits call for retail sales on the first floor and office space above. We don't know what kind of retail to expect, but figure it'll somehow relate to beer.
We're always game for a good zombie project, and it seems that's exactly what's in store for a crappy looking garage that we last checked in on quite some time ago. You may recall, but we'll understand if you don't, we told you about plans to renovate the former auto garage at 1128 S. 13th St. back in late 2013. Those plans called for a 3rd story addition, with an office and 3 parking spots on the 1st floor, and 4 apartments upstairs. For some reason, despite the support of the Passyunk Square Civic Association, the ZBA denied the application. It's a shame, it would be have been a nice addition to the block.
Elevations drawing from 2013
Since then, it's been nothing doing for this property, at least as far as we were concerned. So you can imagine our surprise when we passed by the other day and saw a construction fence around the front of the building. This was a strong sign indeed, that the project was coming back from the dead.
South Kensington has seen all kinds of development over the last few years, and as we told you earlier this week, there are some pretty significant projects still in the pipeline. Through it all, the former Gretz Brewery at 1524 Germantown Ave. has been sitting vacant and blighted, a reminder of what so much of the neighborhood looked like less than a decade ago. We first wrote about this building years ago, noting that the brewery was founded as Rieger & Gretz Brewing Company in 1881, and stating our belief that the buildings had not been used since the brewery ceased operations in 1960.
Back in the day
By the end of 2012, the City had posted a demolition notice on the building, and we were worried that the entire compound would be torn down. Fortunately and unfortunately, the demo notice only applied to the building at the corner, which was demoed in 2013. Checking in on the property today, we see that aside from the demolition from a few years ago, it pretty much looks the way it did when we first wrote about it. And by that we mean it has amazing bones but looks severely distressed.
Needless to say, Point Breeze has experienced a dramatic shift over the last few years, as developers have bought up all available vacant land with an eye toward new construction. Along those lines, most existing homes that come onto the market have either been rehabbed and flipped/rented out or demolished and replaced by more new construction. We see this development all across the neighborhood, but the northeast corner of 18th & Reed in particular presents a microcosm of Point Breeze in 2017, as the entire corner has turned over in the last few years.
Here's a view of this corner from 2011, thanks to Google Street View:
Six years ago, looking south on 18th Street
Six years back at the corner
Viewed from the north, we see 1335-37 S. 18th St. was a two-story home, while 1339 and 1341 S. 18th St. were sitting vacant. Looking to the east, the corner was a mixed-use building with a church next door. 1729 and 1727 Reed St. were unrenovated three story buildings, and 1356 S. Bouvier St. was another vacant lot. Checking in on this corner today, we see a world of difference.
We've probably walked past the corner of 40th & Ludlow dozens of times over the years, and at no point did it occur to us that the building on the northwest corner of the intersection might have a notable history. We were way off base, but if you look at the building you can't really blame us for not noticing it. For as long as we can remember, the building has had a 1970s-style ugly to it that almost begged you, as you passed by, to look away. And so many people have looked away for a long time.
A few months ago
Woof, does this thing ever check off a lot of ugly boxes. Corrugated cladding on the upper floors? No street presence whatsoever on the first floor? Faded, yellowish looking windows? Check, check, and check. If you look closely at the building though, you'll notice there's a little tower on its northern side that suggests it has a far more interesting history than one might expect. It so happens, our old friend GroJLart wrote up this building for Hidden City a few years back, sharing the information that the building was, quite unexpectedly, designed by the legendary Frank Furness.
Wow, we hate when this happens. Just last week, we told you about some ongoing demolition at 2nd & Washington, where developers are planning a quartet of new duplexes. We also took the opportunity to update you on the progress of the renovation of the former Snockey's Oyster House into condos, happening right next door. If we would have only looked a little farther to the north though, we would have noticed there's some additional construction happening just a few steps away. Alas, a reader reached out to let us know about it, and back we trudged to the corner of 2nd & Carpenter.
View at 2nd & Carpenter
What you're actually seeing here is two different projects happening at the same time. The property at the corner has historically been a triplex (though the first floor was surely commercial at some point), and it was listed for sale last year for $625K. Eventually, and probably because it needed a ton of work, it sold for a much more reasonable price of $375K. The new owners are now in the process of gutting and renovating the building, and we wonder whether the units will be rentals, like some many buildings in the area, or condos, like the projects at the southern end of the block. We'd bet on the former.
After closing the Abigail Vare School at 1619 E. Moyamensing Ave. in 2013, the Philadelphia School District put the property up for sale in 2014, ultimately selecting the Concordia Group as the buyer. If the name of this developers sounds familiar, it's because they're involved in another project in Pennsport, the Southwark on Reed project that's bringing almost a hundred new homes to the former Mount Sinai Hospital site at 4th & Reed. By 2015, Concordia had a plan in place for the former school, to convert the building into 45 apartments and build six townhomes next door on Mountain Street. It seems the project had to go through some small changes to appease the community, as the ZBA approved a project with 41 apartments and five townhomes next door.
If we quickly glance at the calendar, we see that it's 2017 and almost two years have passed since the ZBA blessed the project. We've been patiently waiting for the project to start moving forward, but it's been crickets at the site. This is probably due to the fact that the sale of the property has been jammed up in the legal system for almost two years, but the case finally got resolved back in May. So it should come as no surprise that the project now seems to be proceeding, as we spied a dumpster in front of the building when we passed by earlier this week.