In the summer of 2011, we asked whether anyone wanted to purchase 1021 Chestnut St., the historic Mercantile Bank Building.
For those who don't remember (and don't feel like clicking back to read the old story), this building was constructed in 1953, and designed by Sydney Martin. The Mercantile Library was originally an independent library, but it became part of the Free Library system in the 1940's. Today, the facade is almost entirely covered with plywood. But in its heyday, the front of the building featured polished granite, glass, and steel. At the front of the building's interior is an extended landing with two staircases, one going to the upper level, the other to the lower level. The rear of the building was all glass and once faced a garden. The library was in use until 1989, when it was closed due to asbestos problems. It's been vacant ever since. The city sold the building in 2006 to a private investor for $1.25M, but little if anything has happened in the years since. It's changed hands a couple of times, but still no real progress. Thousands of people pass by this building every day, but few have any idea that it was the first midcentury modern building listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
Now, the building is on the market again. It's listed by Michael Salove Company for just under $1.7M. The listing includes some striking past and present pictures of the building.
As we've said previously, the process of redeveloping a historic building presents all kinds of logistical, bureaucratic, and financial challenges that could scare away the faint-of-heart developers of the world. In this case, there's also the question of whether a low-rise building in this location can produce the cash flow necessary to make it worthwhile to purchase and renovate the building. The listing presents one possible solution to the latter problem- building on top of the existing structure.
Since we're not structural engineers (yet) nor do we sit on the Historical Commission, we're not sure whether a plan like this is physically possible or legally permissible. But you have to admit, it would be a phenomenal transformation to see if a developer could pull it off. And just think of what a wonderful addition such a project would be to this stretch of Chestnut Street, which is finally beginning to reawaken after decades of slumber.
So… who's interested? Anybody wanna go 50/50 with us? Think about it, folks. We could own a part of history together!