We confess, we don’t make our way to Harrowgate very often, as we generally stop on our travels in that part of town once we get to Lehigh Avenue. The Harrowgate name dates back to the late 18th century, but as this story from Billy Penn details, the area is not commonly known by this name and is often considered an extension of Kensington to the south. Its built environment actually has a lot in common with Kensington, as it played a similar industrial role in the 1800s into the first half of the 20th century, and also endured a significant downturn as industry left the city.
While South Kensington and the adjacent Norris Square have seen huge and growing waves of construction over the last several years, Harrowgate has only seen more sporadic development activity. This is surely due in part to geography, as it’s the next neighborhood pushing north from Norris Square, and the viaduct next to Lehigh Avenue presents a significant natural boundary. Also limiting development in Harrowgate is the fact that this neighborhood is essentially the epicenter of the opioid crisis in Philadelphia, a situation that doesn’t appear likely to change any time soon.
We found ourselves in Harrowgate the other day though, and discovered a couple buildings we didn’t know about previously which were renovated about half a decade ago by Shift Capital. The buildings in question are collectively known as MaKen Studios (get it?), and include 260K sqft of industrial, creative, business, and community space. Both buildings are examples of industrial adaptive reuse, and represent dramatic steps up, aesthetically, from the previous state of affairs.
MaKen Studios North is located at 1000 E. Venango St., in a building that was originally constructed in the 1910’s for the Richardson Mint Company. Discount textile reseller JoMar operated out of the building more recently, and as you can see the building looked pretty rough after a century of various industrial uses. The conversion popped windows into all the old openings and the building now hosts “various art-based entrepreneurs and small, creative businesses” in its studio spaces. On the top floor is an event space called FAME, which opened in 2017.
MaKen Studios South is two blocks to the south (naturally) at 1001 E. Ontario St., in a building that was constructed around the same time as the northern building, but as a textile mill. Various industrial concerns occupied the building since, but since its renovation, the building hosts small-batch manufacturers, large-scale visual artists, and businesses looking to expand to spaces of at least 1,500 sqft. At this building, there’s an active demolition permit for a small, one-story building plus smokestack located in the parking lot. We wonder whether there will be some kind of addition constructed in its place or just more parking.
Looking at the MaKen website, we see numerous tenants listed, including artists, photographers, writers, musicians, and makers. Surely, these businesses are attracted to the cool look of the building, the community of artists and entrepreneurs, and (what we have to think is) lower rents than, say, Center City. As we said, this project is a few years old at this point, and while it’s wonderful, it isn’t changing the overarching dynamic in Harrowgate. That being said, there are still numerous old industrial buildings in this area, and this can serve as a template for the reuse of other properties here. Certainly, additional industrial conversions would be a welcome sight, with room for this community to grow.