Every once in a while, a project comes our way that both catches our eye and catches us off guard. When we saw a new zoning permit for the properties at 700-04 Chestnut St., the eye-catching part was easy. After doing a little bit of research on this property, we can now say we are officially in “what is going on here?” mode. For those of you familiar with the area, Stephen Starr‘s restaurant, the now-defunct Jones, used to take up the ground floor of 700-02 Chestnut, with Las Vegas Lounge next door in 704. This area is also a part of the Chestnut Street East Commercial Historic District, which became designated late last year. This ensures that buildings won’t be needlessly torn down or have a facade slapped up that doesn’t relate to the character of the area. So color us surprised when we saw a zoning permit that called for the demolition of 704 and the partial demolition of 700-02. Let’s check out how things are today.

View looking south down 7th St, at 700-02 Chestnut St., former home to Jones
700-02 on the left, with 704 on the right, home to Las Vegas Lounge
Eastern facade of 700-02 Chestnut

These two buildings have long and storied histories. 700-02 Chestnut was built in 1922 and has been a fur trader, an ad agency, several jewelers and one company which was a “discoverer of growing hair on bald heads.” The building at 704 was once known as the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph building. This was originally built in 1851 as a five-story structure, but a later ordinance changed the necessary width of Chestnut Street, leading to a rebuild in 1891, and then later again in 1896 to the current look. The Evening Telegraph operated out of this building until 1918.

Given the contributing nature of these buildings within the historic district, we are not sure how a demolition permit was granted for the LVL building. Perhaps L&I has made a mistake or there was a hiccup with the Historical Commission, but we are puzzled and saddened to hear that 704 will be totally demolished. It appears that 700-02 Chestnut St. will see its interior demoed, leaving its exterior facade in place, so we at least understand how that demo is being allowed.

Coming soon, at least in theory, look for a 13-story building with 148 units for visitor accommodations. This building will rise from grade at 704 Chestnut St. and include a 7-floor addition over the building at the corner. Will this be a hotel? A collection of Airbnb units? We confess, we don’t know right now.

View looking east in 1970, with our two buildings highlighted in green

This isn’t even the biggest project proposed for this block. Just across the street, we told you about a proposal for 709 Chestnut back in 2018, which called for a 27-story building to go up on a surface parking lot. This design from Erdy McHenry Architecture would bring 278 dwelling units and a modern look to this historic block. Zoning permits were issued in late 2021, so hopefully we’ll see things move on this project soon. These projects would clearly make a massive different to this stretch of east Chestnut, which at times can feel a little sleepy once you get east of 10th Street or so. Hopefully whatever we see rise on these sites will do a good job highlighting the gorgeous architecture that exists today.

Parking lot and mural across the street at 709 Chestnut St.
Rendering looking west towards Center City of 709 Chestnut St.
Another view of the proposal at 709, with 700-02 in the foreground