Newly Designated Historic Buildings Will Stick Around at 17th & Race

We here at Naked Philly like to bang the drum for increased density, increased height, increased commercial presence, and basically increased everything when it comes to land use, especially in Center City. However, not all proposals that would lead to these outcomes are built the same. Nary a tear is shed when a surface parking lot disappears or a dilapidated building is demolished and replaced with a good-looking project that better serves the needs of the city in 2023. But there are some instances where the juice clearly isn’t worth the squeeze. And there are some situations where it’s not obvious what would be best.

One of those less than obvious circumstances was for a set of buildings near 1700 Race St. in Logan Square, where three low rise buildings leased by Friends Select School were slated for demolition to make way for a modern, mixed-use highrise on this CMX-4 zoned lot. Despite receiving permits for a 17-story residential tower designed by Raymond F. Rola Architecture, no movement took place on site for the Residences on Race as this version of the proposal fizzled.

Recent view of the corner of 17th & Race
A rendering of the proposed Residences on Race

This past summer, new renderings emerged for a similarly scaled project that was being marketed along with the sale of the buildings. These plans from DesignBlendz showed a modern structure with ground floor retail, with programming to accommodate up to 56 units, or flex to become office or hotel space. This iteration also called for the demolition of the buildings on the site.

A similar scale and a contemporary feel for the newer proposal
A closer look at the ground floor plans, with commercial space
Balconies would feature spectacular views looking down the Parkway

Despite these sexy renderings, it is pretty certain that the original buildings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. 1700-02 and 1706 Race St. were all designated as historically protected last week, meaning no alterations or demolitions can take place without the approval of the Historical Commission. So go ahead and throw all those renderings in the trash, since the Historical Commission ain’t approving any demo here, especially in the immediate aftermath of designating the buildings. And that’s probably for the best? Philadelphia’s charm is incumbent on its historic architecture and human-scaled experience, and they certainly don’t build ’em like they did in the past. And indeed, this row of Georgian beauties will remain for many many years to come.

If you are looking for some new density in the area, however, look no further than across the street, where One Cathedral Square is just about wrapped. We told you about plans to revamp this block which is owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia way back in 2017, when conceptual designs for two towers were revealed. The residential-focused first tower from SCB shoots 23 stories into the skyline, with its glassy facade broken-up by the brick facing on the first-floor commercial space. While this is nearly complete, Two Cathedral Square is also slated to rise on the northern portion of the block. This gold-glass tower also from SCB would be a mixed office/residential proposal that would nearly double the height of One Cathedral Square, creating a gorgeous new landmark along the Parkway.

Rendering of One Cathedral Square, nearly complete across the street
Landscaping and warm tones give a welcoming presence to the street level
Two Cathedral Square's undulating massing would include residential units over 14 floors of office space

Taking the place of surface parking lots, these two towers offer exactly the sort of height and density we love to see in such a central location. Let’s hope that more and more surface parking lots bite the dust and that more and more of the architecture that makes Philadelphia so great continues to be treated with respect and care. And at 17th & Race, perhaps an overbuild could be in store at some point in the future? That would sure feel like a win-win.