If you’ve ever driven on the southern part of Columbus Blvd., you may have come across a standalone hoagie shop next to two imposing structures that jut out into the Delaware River. Shank’s Original sits in a one-story structure in the parking lot of Piers 38 and 40 at 775 S. Columbus Blvd., buildings which have served most recently as warehouse space. Shank’s used to be located near the Italian Market, but they now sling cheesesteaks and chicken cutlet sammies in this spot which sits just off the Delaware River Trail.

Shank's standing proudly in the parking lot of 775 S. Columbus Blvd.

Despite the fact that we would happily inhale a cheesesteak at any hour of the day, we visit this site to get a better look at the two gigantic piers which sit on site. These Beaux Arts-style buildings were built from 1914-15 for the City of Philadelphia and were to serve as municipal piers, used for loading and unloading cargo by boat. However, the future of these buildings is a little up in the air at this time. This past summer, the ever-busy Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments purchased this 12-acre property from the city for $18 million. Since that time, however, the buildings have been nominated to the local Historical Register, meaning these buildings may have some restrictions on what can be done in the future. And in our mind, that’s wonderful news, as these buildings are still in solid shape and have some wonderful details that are often missing in current architecture. Let’s zoom out on the site before we zoom back in and check things out a little more closely.

Looking north towards the two piers, with the southern Pier 40 in the foreground
Another look at Pier 40's muscular frontage
A massive surface lot sits between the buildings, with rail tracks still visible on the left
A look at a recent shot of Riverview Plaza, not exactly oozing charm
Could we see something like this go up along the riverfront?

Pier 38 is currently leased as a warehouse and shipping center, and interestingly, it’s back on the market. The listing we read indicated that the building is available for an investor that wants to keep the tenant or for someone that wants to boot the tenant and use it for their own purposes. Pier 40, on the other hand, is not for sale, and Tower Properties is still examining their options, moving forward.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, they don’t build them like they used to, and either of these hulking structures would make for an extremely interesting project, architecturally speaking. The paved area between the buildings, not currently for sale, also leaves us dreaming of what could be, as a landscaped, public space would be extremely welcomed compared to the current sea of pavement. We aren’t sure exactly what the viability of repurposing the structures into anything non-commercial or industrial would be, but we are cautiously optimistic that we could see some kind of exciting adaptive reuse here, with so many other waterfront projects focusing on ground-up construction.

And speaking of reusing land along Columbus Blvd., Blatstein has other plans for the area as well. Riverview Plaza, just a block or so to the south, has its sights set on repurposing the current movie theater/strip mall into a mixed-use project which would be much more pedestrian friendly than its current layout. Things haven’t moved forward here since the Inquirer reported on this potential change back in 2019, and the former theater remains as it was since it closed down a few years back.

Clearly, these would be huge changes to an area that could most certainly use an injection of residents. This auto-oriented stretch could sure benefit from some more pedestrian action, as other projects close by have been stalled. Let’s hope we see these moving forward in short order, as we wouldn’t mind some more friends as we mosey on up to Shank’s to grab a wiz wit.

EDIT (2/10/2023): We incorrectly stated that these buildings had been added to the local historical register; they are currently nominated for designation and are planned to be heard in March by the Committee on Historic Designation (Thanks, Jayfar!)