With many old churches in Philly going the way of the dust, we were happy to hear that the former 26th Precinct Police Station in East Kensington is being preserved and renovated. It ain’t a church, but it is definitely both old and lovely. (Can we say lovely on this blog? Editor’s note: Yes.) It’s been vacant since the 1970s, when it was last used as a kitchen and bakery, so this has been a looong time coming.
Set at the intersection of Trenton Ave. and E. Dauphin St., the Victorian structure, built in 1896 and designed by architect John T. Windrim, will become home to a bank on the first floor, and nine, 700-800 sqft one-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors. Construction could begin as early as this holiday season, according to architect Victor Barr Jr., of VLBJR Architects, Inc.
Over the summer, Barr’s application was approved by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, after he made small design changes to reflect a wooden door, as seen in a hundred-year old photograph. Other changes included enclosing areas that were once exposed in order to allow police wagons to enter the station, and using wood in spaces where Barr’s original application called for aluminum.
“We’re taking this historic building a breathing new life into it,” said Barr. When the building was used as a bakery, much of the interior was altered and removed, including the lower level of the stair detail. Plywood paneling covered most of the walls. A walk-in freezer was installed, openings were blocked up and many other interior details were changed.
In 1984, the site was placed on the National Historic Register. As the years passed, the city blocked in the windows in an effort to preserve the property from vandalism, Barr explained.
In its time, the building was designed as a hybrid of wood and steel construction with large rooms, presumably for the morning call-up and other police district affairs. What look like dormitory rooms on the third floor may have functioned like rooms in a firehouse, providing sleeping quarters for off-duty personnel, according to Barr.
The project intends to restore the facade and the windows. The layout of the upstairs apartments will attempt to keep the sense of the large interior spaces by subdividing internal partitions at the beam line and short of the ceiling. Care will be taken to preserve existing original materials such as the wood ceilings in the original main public entrance from Trenton St. Baseboards and other trim will be reused or recreated to keep the character of the late Victorian interiors.
“They don’t build them like they used to,” said Barr. And he knows. A few years backs, Barr and company were behind the renovation of the former Bell Telephone building at 19th and Arch and the Drake Hotel next to the Kimmel Center. Both of those projects saw old buildings renovated into luxury apartments.
“This will create extra life in the neighborhood,” Barr said. At present, the building stands where the cobblestones of Trenton Avenue meet the gravel of Dauphin Street. And as the gravel meets the cobblestones, so too does the redevelopment of Fishtown and Northern Liberties meet the redevelopment of East Kensington and beyond. And we can’t think of a better symbol for the improving fates of the surrounding neighborhoods than the long-awaited redevelopment of this gorgeous old building.