The campus of Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company at 4601 Market St. has been a gargantuan ghost of West Philadelphia's economically prosperous past for years. Vacated by the company in 1983, it was transferred to various organizations with big hopes and visions for community benefit. The building eventually got the best of all of them, proving to be too large and expensive for any to handle. In 2008, the building was acquired by the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID).
In 2012, we learned of the the City's plan to re-purpose the building for the City's public safety and health services, including the Police Headquarters, the Morgue, and various Department of Public Health offices and ground was broken in 2014. Currently, the building is being gutted and prepared for the renovation. However, ever since the City announced its plans, it has been playing its hand pretty close to its chest. And we only got a full view of what the final product would be last month. The full plan went mostly under the radar of most local media outlets and we wanted to share a few images and plans from the plan with you.
From the front, the property will pretty much remain a refurbished version of its current self. From the back though, we'll see some big changes. When the project began, there were two fairly large and architecturally interesting buildings that sat at the rear of the property, fronting 48th Street. One was an old auditorium and the other was an old-school heating or power plant that must have burned oil or gas to run the facility. The plan calls for the demolition of these buildings and construction of the following:
It's a little sad to see that both of these buildings will be gone when all is said and done. Not only that, but it seems they'll be replaced with open space and a much less exciting utility plant. We visited the site recently and found that one of the buildings is already gone.
The old facility plant is obviously long abandoned but is still a beautiful landmark at the corner of 48th and Market. Taken together, these buildings represent an architectural interest equivalent to some of the many churches that are in danger around the city, and yet it seems the City had few qualms with getting rid of them. Perhaps if the case was made that this land was going to be used for some higher purpose or that the buildings were beyond repair, we would better understand. But the plan makes no mention of any of this.
Could the two buildings have been moth-balled or put to some other use? Could the corner on 48th and Market have been sold to a private developer at some point in the future? We'll probably never know. Maybe we're totally off-base in our criticism and the building and its eventual use necessitate the walled-off nature of the back part of the lot. Heck, the current headquarters on Franklin Square is certainly a fortress of sorts. The fact that this property is so incredibly close to 46th Street Station makes us excited about its adaptive reuse, but it also makes us scrutinize these plans and really consider what could or should have been.