After Decades of Vacancy, Demolition at 9th & Locust

Wills Eye Hospital has owned the buildings at 229 and 231 S. 9th St. for decades, along with several additional buildings moving north on the block. Wills Eye is a great hospital with a wonderful reputation, and as such, you’d think that they’d do a decent job of maintaining their real estate holdings. But that has not been the case for these two buildings, which have been sitting vacant for a number of years.

In the past

The buildings are relatively pleasing to look at, if a little worn down. A few years back, GroJLart wrote a Hidden City story about the buildings, giving a bit of insight into their history. 229 S. 9th St. was once home to the Shell Art Novelty Company back in the day, providing jewelry made from sea shells to tens of customers over the years. The building next door had a slightly less unique use, and held an optometry office when it was last occupied.

We theorized that Wills Eye owned these properties because they had a plan to eventually build a new facility on this site, with a footprint that would likely travel up 9th Street. At the end of last year, we learned that the hospital had pulled demolition permits for the two buildings, and we assumed we’d soon hear about a shiny new building planned for this location. Alas, that wasn’t the case. Instead, a representative from the hospital indicated that the buildings were getting torn down and that there’s no imminent plan for something new at the site. The demolition plan is apparently in the “interest of public safety.” Go figure, when you don’t do anything with an old building for twenty years, it starts to fall apart.

A reader reached out to us the other day and gave us the heads up that the demolition had begun. By the time we got there, the southern building was mostly gone and work was proceeding on the northern building.

Current view
View on Locust

On the one hand, it’s a shame to see these nice buildings get torn down, especially in a demolition by neglect situation. On the other hand, we can’t say we blame the hospital for tearing down these buildings now, even though there are no immediate plans for something else on the site. At some point in the future, they’ll surely look to build a state of the art building that advances their mission, something that would have likely been impossible or prohibitively expensive in the existing buildings. At some point, someone was probably going to nominate these buildings to the local historic register, and the hospital seems to be preemptively tearing down the buildings before anyone can make that move. It’s yet another example of the broken preservation system in Philadelphia, which will ideally be addressed by the Historic Preservation Task Force.