Developers have been trying to demolish the historic former Oliver H. Bair Funeral Home at 1918-20 Sansom St. for years, and Southern Land Company has finally succeeded where others have failed. This property, along with the neighboring Warwick Apartments and Rittenhouse Coffee Shop buildings, has been in the demolition cross hairs for years because it’s associated with 1911 Walnut St., Philadelphia’s most embarrassing and most desirable vacant lot.

View from Walnut Street

In 2003, the PPA (yes, seriously) had a plan to develop the property into a large parking garage with a movie theater and retail along Sansom Street, but the project fell through in part because of pushback against the demolition of the trio of historic buildings on Sansom Street. Also, we’d like to think that someone from a City agency scuttled the plan after recognizing the sheer insanity of having the PPA redevelop such prime real estate. Turn the clock forward to 2007, and a new developer called Castleway stepped forward with plans for apartments and a hotel which also called for the demolition of the three buildings on Sansom Street. The economic downtown in 2008 did that one in, and now we’re finally looking at a redevelopment plan from Southern Land Trust that we’ve covered several times already.

This project will include roughly 300 luxury apartments, retail along Sansom Street, and an underground parking garage. Initially, the developers were looking to demolish the three buildings on Sansom Street, but community negotiations resulted in a change of plans, with the developers agreeing to spare two of the three for use as 35 units of supportive housing in a partnership with Project HOME. The Bair Funeral Home was the odd man out, and according to Plan Philly the Historical Commission granted a financial hardship exception in March to allow the developers to tear down the otherwise protected building. Here’s a look at the before and after views.

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In the past
Current view

As you can see, the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop and the Warwick are still intact.

Rittenhouse Coffee Shop
Looking up at the Warwick

With the Bair Funeral Home building now demolished, we believe it’s only a matter of time before construction gets moving for the 1911 Walnut project. For a property that’s had its share of false starts over the years though, we won’t truly believe that the property will get redeveloped until we see active construction activity underway. Here’s to hoping it starts soon.