There’s a four-story building at 2501 Oakford St. which was obviously constructed for industrial purposes, hearkening back to a time in Philadelphia’s history when manufacturing played a prominent role in the local economy. The building was constructed in the early 20th century as a factory for Howard Clothes, a men’s clothing business that was based in Brooklyn but had a large footprint across the northeast. Consumer Grouch details some of the history of this defunct company, and shares that the business had 150 retail locations at its height, includes several in Philadelphia. One of those was at 432 South St., in a building that’s still standing today.
The business faded into obscurity in the 1980s, we believe and at some point their factory at 25th & Oakford transitioned into a storage facility for electric supplies. As the years went by, the building fell into a state of disrepair, mirroring the Grays Ferry neighborhood to the west and the 25th Street viaduct across the street. Even as the building has looked worse for the wear, it has stood the test of time and always seemed to us to be an excellent candidate for adaptive reuse. We kind of thought some kind of commercial redevelopment might make the most sense, though the idea of a residential conversion also passed muster.
This kind of property is generally subject to speculative investment from developers, so it should come as no surprise that it changed hands a few times over the last couple decades with no apparent progress toward redevelopment. The current owners bought the building in 2016, paying a little over $1M, and in 2018, it looked like something might finally happen here as they got a zoning variance to redevelop the property. Said variance calls for the conversion of the basement into eight artist studios, the construction of a fifth-floor addition, and the renovation of floors 1-4 into 54 apartments. We were obviously pleased when this variance was issued, but bummed out when it seemed like nothing was happening here in the years that followed. We were feeling the opposite way, however, when we passed the building the other day and discovered a great deal of construction ongoing.
So yeah, this project is finally happening. When all this construction is finished, the building will look something like this rendering, which we cribbed from architects Stanev Potts. This will obviously be a gigantic improvement over the longtime status quo.
While we’ve seen countless projects over the years in western Point Breeze and eastern Grays Ferry, we’re always a bit surprised when projects move forward along the 25th Street viaduct. Day to day life near this viaduct, at least in terms of noise, is far better than living near the elevated tracks on Front Street, since CSX trains tend to traverse these tracks only a couple times a day and move much more slowly than the El. And yet we’ve seen rampant development along Front Street around Fishtown, South Kensington, and East Kensington.
That’s surely related to the energy in that part of town, but don’t forget that the El tracks are maintained by Septa, while the 25th Street viaduct is in terrible condition and CSX has seemingly given up on making some much needed repairs. We suspect this will eventually come to a head, but until it does it will remain a harrowing experience under the viaduct, and that may depress other projects along 25th Street. Then again, given the development pressure from both directions and the limited inventory of available properties, maybe it won’t matter, as it hasn’t for the project at 25th & Oakford and the others we’ve seen along this corridor.