New Apartment Building Will Wrap Around Kensington National Bank Building

Surely you’ve heard the idiom ‘money in the bank,’ used to express a level of certainty about a thing occurring. Maybe you’ve also heard it to describe a wrestling pay purview event, but we digress. The idiom relates to the fact that putting money in the bank is a secure and certain thing, and that’s certainly been our personal experience. Back in the day, however, people weren’t so sure about the whole putting money in the bank thing. And they had a good reason for this perspective, since from time to time, banks would fail and people would lose all their money. Kind of makes us wonder whether people used to say ‘money in the bank’ to express uncertainty, and the potential for financial ruin.

These days, with the FDIC protecting our deposits, there’s not much concern about losing all the money you have in the bank, and banks, quite frankly, just aren’t trying as hard as they once did. Once upon a time, banks hired famous architects to design gorgeous edifices, as to encourage customers that yes, their investments were indeed safe at said financial institution. Today though, we are so confident that our money is in good hands that we are willing to deposit it in a place that looks like this:

PNC at 6th & Girard

When Kensington National Bank commissioned Frank Furness to design their location at 1148 Frankford Ave., a one-story brick and stucco shed simply wouldn’t have done the trick. The building was completed in 1877 and still stands today at the corner of Frankford & Girard, a monument to a very different era in the banking world. We should note that the building originally only had five bays and was surrounded by other buildings. Sometime after World War Two, the building was expanded on Girard, with two new bays matching the existing building’s design, and it was also picked up a one-story addition along Frankford Avenue. The adjacent lots were also subsumed into the bank’s property, to be used for surface parking. Wells Fargo has a branch in the building at this time.

Current view from Girard
View on Frankford

You may recall, Fishtown is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and today a surface parking lot represents an underuse at the corner of Frankford & Girard. Good thing that’s about to change! Alterra is coming to Civic Design Review next month with plans to build a new apartment building on the parking lot that wraps around the old bank building. The building, designed by Oombra Architects, will rise five stories and include 60 apartments on the upper floors. The new building will also include 20 parking spots, accessed from a drive aisle on Girard. Tenants will enter the building through the lobby on Dunton Street or through a small entrance on Frankford. Wells Fargo will be relocating to a space in the new building, a bit farther east on Girard. With that change, we imagine the current bank building will be vacant, and we confess we don’t know what plans are in store over there, as its redevelopment is not included in the plans.

Project rendering
Relocated bank space
New view on Frankford
Entrance on Dunton Street
A good stretch on Frankford

We should note that this project, which is objectively a great plan for a unique site, is permitted by right. The property is zoned CMX-2.5, which allows some height and density but still requires ground floor commercial uses. We’ve pleaded for years for district city council members to remap other commercial corridors with this forgiving zoning designation, but unfortunately many of our corridors remain underzoned and therefore underutilized. Let this be yet another lesson in the power of proper zoning maps, yielding an awesome project and a massive upgrade for Fishtown, and that’s before we even know what will happen to the historic building on the site. More of this, please!

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