Like a vestige from another time and place, a one-story Wendy’s sits on a skyscraper-zoned plot of land in Center City, on the northwest corner of 11th & Walnut. How in the world did this happen?

Believe it or not, the building was not built as a Wendy’s and it wasn’t built all that long ago. In 1967, developer Keefler & Kessler Associates acquired a 19th century commercial building that was in use as a 27-unit rooming house, with the intention to tear it down and build a Fidelity Bank branch. The new branch would be a modernist design by architect Emory Jackson out of Nashville, Tennessee. The one-story design seems extremely out-of-place today, but another 1-story retail building was already standing directly across the street at the time. That one was demolished in 1985 to make way for Jefferson Hospital‘s 1100 Walnut Building.

11th Walnut 1929
View in 1929

Demolition and Construction was complete by the end of 1968. The bank branch, known as the Fidelity Bank Jefferson Office, stayed alive in its one-story glass curtain-walled glory for ten years before shutting down. In 1978, the ownership of the property changed hands and the new owner, an entity called 1101 Walnut Corp, altered the building into a short-lived restaurant.

Fidelity Bank 1974
Fidelity Bank in 1974
Fidelity Bank 1975
Fidelity Bank in 1975

In 1980, Wendy’s came along and purchased the parcel. They had fast food chain architect Wolfgang Doerschlag (whose firm still exists today doing the same kind of work as WD Partners), design the alterations that turned it into a building more matching to the corporate brand. In 1985, the large brick planters that surrounded the building were removed and replaced with an expansion of the restaurant’s footprint with curved solarium windows, bringing the building into the form it still has thirty plus years later.

Wendy's 1981
Wendy's in 1981
Wendy's 2018
The view today

Despite all the changes to Center City and the surrounding neighborhoods since then, Wendy’s has stuck around on this incredibly prominent corner. Adding to the intrigue of its continued existence, it has the infamous distinction of being one of the worst-reviewed locations in the entire chain. A stabbing, a car crashing into the corner, and even illegal snow-shoveling have been associated with this location in just the past few years. And to make matters worse, when we snapped the photo above, the frosty machine was on the fritz.

In theory, a slim mid-rise as tall as the local height limit of 311 feet could be built on this property by-right, with no zoning variances. Given the small size of the parcel, just under 3,000 sqft, we’re not sure that such a project would even make sense, but we can say with a high degree of certainty that a one-story burger joint isn’t the highest and best use at this corner. Of course, if a developer did decide to take on a mid-rise building at this location, they’d also have to consider the Jefferson helipad, regularly generating wind and noise from directly across the street.

–Dennis Carlisle