You’d have to be in your 60s to remember when the Palm Theatre stood at the corner of Frankford & Norris, and you’d have to be even older to have seen a film there. According to Cinema Treasures, this building was constructed in the late 1800s as a vaudeville theatre, converting to movies in the early 20th century. Eventually it became a furniture store, and then, like so many great movie palaces, it met the wrecking ball. Temple University Collections has a photo of the building shortly before its demolition in 1969, and we can only imagine how awesome it was before it fell into severe disrepair.
Shortly after the theatre came down, a car wash appeared at 1868 Frankford Ave., and remarkably there’s been a car wash at this location ever since. The latest incarnation was called New City car wash, perhaps best known for the colorful graffiti that adorned its walls in the last few years. Thinking about it, when we’re choosing where to wash our car, an endorsement from the Monopoly Man is pretty much all we need. We imagine other people felt the same way.
But change is a constant in Fishtown, and in 2019 a car wash isn’t anywhere near the highest and best use for a prominent Frankford Avenue corner. So it should come as no surprise that the car wash closed down a few months back, and its former home is now gone, with the exception of the old sign.
In its place, we’ve learned that the owners of the property are planning a new five-story apartment building. This project will include 21 apartments and about 5,500 sqft of retail space, and will be built entirely by right. It might sound odd that the project is by-right considering the height and the CMX-2 zoning, but it’s easily explained if you appreciate that a portion of the retail space is reserved for a fresh market business. Like the proposed building at 20th & Waverly, this building will take advantage of a zoning bonus that allows additional height in exchange for a commitment to include a fresh market on the first floor. As we told you previously, future projects seeking this bonus will need a much larger fresh market space, but this project got approved before the change was made.
A five-story building on a Frankford Avenue corner makes all the sense in the world, and it’s a little strange that this project needs a zoning bonus in order to make that happen. Certainly, Frankford Avenue isn’t hurting from a development perspective, but we wonder whether some remapping to CMX-2.5 might result in more straightforward development as the corridor continues to evolve. We’d sooner see those changes happen on Point Breeze Avenue or Washington Avenue (to IRMX or CMX-4), but tightening up the zoning map should be a city-wide effort, so let’s remap ’em all!