Perhaps you’ve noticed 173 W. Berks St. at some point over the years and wondered about its history. From the looks of the building, it’s clear it was constructed at some point in the 1800s, when Kensington was a manufacturing hub known as the Workshop of the World. There are plenty of leftover factories from that era in this area, though this is surely one of the finer examples you’ll see, and even though the building has obviously seen better days, its fine bones are evident. A ghost sign on the building’s western side names Peter Woll & Sons Feather Company as a previous owner, and in fact this is the company that built the building in the first place.
The property was placed on the local historic register back in 2018, and its nomination provides some great history about the building and its original function. The five-story edifice was constructed in 1886-87 by Peter Woll & Sons, a precursor entity to the aforementioned feather company. Peter Woll & Sons was in the business of manufacturing curled hair, which essentially entailed taking animal manufacturing waste, generally from tanneries, and processing it to create material for stuffing furniture, like sofas and mattresses. This was a huge enterprise in the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, but obviously it’s not much of an industry these days. At its height, this company operated out of five different buildings in this general area, but ended up selling their main building at 173 W. Berks St. to a paper manufacturer in 1939. We believe it’s been used as such until quite recently.
But manufacturing and industrial use in general doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense around here anymore, as residential development has proliferated in South Kensington and points east and north. On Berks Street over the last several years, we’ve seen multiple residential projects move forward, with townhomes and apartment buildings adding countless residents to the area. And more are on the way here, as developers Urban Conversions are currently, uh, converting the historic building into apartments. When they’re done, there will be 30 units in this building, and based on the looks of things, they’ve already made some solid progress on the project.
While we’re here, we might as well note the progress of another project, located immediately next door to the east.
171 W. Berks St. was previously a blah one-story industrial building, the likes of which we are never sad to see demolished. We told you about a year ago to expect a new building here, with 28 units and 9 parking spots. That project has progressed nicely in the last year, and looks like it could be ready for tenants within the next few months. Combined with multiple other projects that are ongoing or upcoming on Berks, this corridor is gaining residents rapidly, and whatever business rents the retail space in the new building should be able to take advantage of the new density in the area. Certainly, the potential of a retail business here is only increasing as new projects continue to fill in on this corridor.