Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fill This Front: Society Hill Furniture

1031 Chestnut Street

Outdated pic of the front from last August. Its a little better-looking now.
       C'mon folks-- how does a storefront that was filled for 45 straight years manage to stay empty for 6? This is in an awesome building in a neighborhood that is on the rise. Get it now before its too dang late! This is, of course, the 6,000-foot space in the old Watkins/Wurlitzer Building on the 1000 block of Chestnut. This storefront has seen a lot over the years, but in the last six, it hasn't seen shit. Not only that, its directly next door to a storefront that hasn't been in use for even longer!
       While it started out in 1894 as an auto showroom, the space has been known over many decades as the sales room of whatever operations were going on in the upper floors: the Wurlitzer Piano Company, American District Telegraph Company, and the Hess & Son construction company. However, Society Hill Furniture was so popular during its 1963-2008 tenure that the building itself came to be known as the Society Hill Furniture Building. That's pretty much it.

In its final days as Society Hill Furniture in 2007 via the Google Streetview Time Machine
            In 2012, a new owner proposed a residential conversion of the building and, after long last, the work seems to be almost complete. The storefront went back up for lease in 2013, though in 2012 it ended up becoming a giant ad-- kind of like a much more commercial version of the old Artfront Partnership from the 90s, when empty Center City storefronts were made into art installations. Whatever happened to those folks?

The storefront as an Amstel ad in 2012 via the Google Streetview Time Machine

                  This is the storefront at 1031 Chestnut. Its 6,000 square feet with 40 full feet of street frontage on a highly foot-trafficked, car-trafficked, bus-trafficked, and everything-trafficked street. Its one block away from an EL stop and very close to the Jefferson Regional Rail Station. This area definitely shows promise: Brickstone Realty is re-doing 3 buildings in the immediate area while also building a massive new mixed-use development on the very next block. The new East Market development is currently underway just around the corner. The building next door, long filled with shit stores, now has a Taco Bell and the first Philly location of LA's Robek's smoothie chain.
                That means that it is nearly inevitable that this storefront will soon be falling into excellence. That means if you sign that lease for this space, you can take advantage of the wave of kick-ass coming through here. The space rents for $120,000/year. Here's the listing. Be Chestnut East's latest hero and FILL THIS FRONT!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fill This Front: Broad Street KFC

701 South Broad Street

Look at also those potential customers whizzing by!
                 Ok, so this is outside the range of my normal Fill This Front zone of influence, but needs to be called out nonetheless. At the southeast corner of Broad and Bainbridge stands this shitbag suburban-style retail pad site. One so fucking shitty that it hasn't had a store in it for years.
                 This building has been around since about 1968 or 69. It replaced the Strand Ballroom, a well-known dance/jazz hall that was popular in the city's African-American community of the early-to mid-20th Century.  I'm not exactly sure when KFC came along but I've found evidence of it being there as early as 1995. The KFC was gone by 2007. On July 24th, 2007, the property was purchased for $1.28 mil by a family who has been running a kosher grocery/catering company in the region for the last 50 years. Apparently this is part of their portfolio of shitty storefronts in the city which contain 99 Cent Stores and other assorted crap.
                In 2008, the building became the office of a temp agency. Other than cleaning up the front entrance and un-boarding up the windows, they pretty much kept their presence a secret. They didn't put any kind of signage up nor did they bother to take any of the "FOR RENT" signs down. The parking lot became leasable monthly spaces going for $200/month. Otherwise, the building looked abandoned.

Prodigy Staffing Solutions was there in this 2009 Google Streetview Time Machine pic. For reals.
              The employment company was gone by 2012. The windows were boarded up and the graffiti made it look like a shitty piece of urban blight. Since the place has been empty, every other property near it has seen change. The big empty lot on the 1300 block of Bainbridge has expensive-ass homes on it, 777 South Broad was built, and even the lot at Broad and Fitzwater has a plan.
             This is a 3,222 square foot space on an 8,900 square foot lot. This corner is highly trafficked by car, foot, and multiple forms of public transit. Its located in an area that is seeing growth in every direction, including new residents with waaaay too much money. The owner is willing to build-to-suit on this, meaning that you can propose anything the fuck you want for this place and it might actually be able to happen. Here's my suggestion:

                 This is an opportunity to jump on an area of the city that is seeing massive amounts of change. Get Carl Dranoff on the phone. He'd be able to do something with this spot-- and should! Here's the listing, which includes a suggestion on how to configure the space. Don't miss the wave of awesome around this neighborhood! FILL THIS FRONT!

The store as a bank space, from the listing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Butt-Fugly Buildings: Scottish Rite House, Scottish Rite Tower

1525 Fitzwater Street, 1530 Fitzwater Street

Scottish Rite House

Scottish Rite Tower

           Whoa whoa whoa hold the phone here... these buildings are from the 1980s and 1990s? What the fuck? I always though they must have been from the 40s or 50s, 60s at latest. Here I was last time talking shit about an old folks home from the 60s, when these two ugly bastards here were built in my goddamn lifetime! What the hell went wrong?
           These two very similar buildings, built a decade apart, were the result of the extreme philanthropy of the United Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Prince Hall Affiliation. In case you didn't know, Prince Hall Masons are the traditionally African-American order of Masons. This particular set had a Horace Castor-designed Cathedral at 1514-20 Fitzwater since 1927, but started taking over almost the entire 1500 block of Fitzwater in the early and mid-1970s. 
           In 1979, they purchased 1511-1533 Fitzwater Street, which was just a load of abandoned rowhouses, and demolished the shit out of them in favor of a big surface parking lot. It was on this lot that they would years later fundraise/get government $$$ and build a 13-story 165-foot Section 8 building for seniors and the handicapped. The name? Scottish Rite House, completed 1986.
           Again, calling a building a house-- I hate that crap. I've said it before: its like calling a truck a car! The design was by a firm that called itself Livingston/Rosenwinkel, who would go on to design the Philadelphia Clef Club building nearby and was one of the firms involved with the design of the Great Wall of Pennsylvania aka the PA Convention Center. Not a great record.
           Over the next few years after this was completed, the Scottish Riteys acquired property after property to the west of their lodge until they owned 1522-1530 Fitzwater, the rest of the block. In 1995, they demolished all the buildings that were there, which included the old Octavius V. Catto Elks Lodge #20, a converted industrial building that had been an historic African-American Elks Lodge since 1928. It was quite the place-- not only was it an Elk's Lodge-- it was a well-known banquet space and spent some time as the Two-Bit Club, a famous dance/bar/debauchery spot.
            Shortly after that, the second building in the complex was completed, the Scottish Rite Tower. The two buildings are the exact same height, yet one is called a House and the other a Tower. Plerff.

Scottish Rite Tower under confucktion.
                 Anyway, these buildings suck butt and I'll tell ya why. First of all, like stated above, you can't even tell what fucking time period they're from. It you put this building up next to Penn Center House or the 2101 Cooperative, they look like they are from the same era despite being several decades apart. Second, I'd hate to be one of these people but it looks like I've become one: they are way way way too tall for their neighborhood. The nearest building exceeding their height is at 19th and Lombard.
                Third, the never-ending puke-colored bricks. I guess they were trying to match the old Scottish Rite Cathedral on the same block, but this type of theme isn't always a great idea-- just ask Jefferson Hospital. They liked the color scheme from the old Jefferson Medical College/Curtis Clinic so much that they used similar-colored bricks for their 1960s and 70s expansions. Sounds like a great idea, but in the end it leads to block after block of butt-fugly.

Nice big blank wall facing the street corner ya have there.
                Fourth, the surface parking. Remember when I told you that the Scottish Rite dudes acquired 1511-33 Fitzwater in 1979 to make a surface lot? Well, a large portion of that surface lot still exists at the corners of 16th/Fitzwater AND Senate/Mole Streets. I won't even count the Lodge's surface parking lot at 1508-12 Fitzwater.
There's another totally unrelated surface lot on the next corner.

              What is it with these government-subsidized old folks' homes? Why do they always have to look like shit? I know they're 20th Century government buildings and all, but don't we owe seniors something a little bit better? At least the latest one built in the city, the John C. Anderson Apartments, has SOME level of design to it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: Middle of October, 1915

Camden Population Passes 100,000!!

        In the middle of October, 1915, a two-day celebration was held in Camden celebrating its population passing the 100k mark. Local businessmen paid for the whole affair. It started out with a parade of floats designed and built by each local industry. At night, there was another parade, led by Boy Scouts and the Walnut Street Patriotic Association. Ten dollar pieces of gold were awarded to the Boy Scout troops that had the most in line, the best display, and came from the farthest distance.
The Victor Talking Machine Company's float.
              On the second day, there was a Baby Parade, where proud parents created floats and presented Camden's latest offspring to the crowds. Ten dollar pieces of gold were awarded to the best float, an order of one dozen photographs was awarded to the prettiest baby, and a $2.50 piece of gold was awarded to the fattest baby. After that, a Charlie Chaplin impersonation contest was held. Five bucks and $2.50 were given to the first and second prizes respectively.
           Today, Camden doesn't have much to have a parade about. While the future construction of 1,000 houses was announced in the 1915 parade, Camden is now going about demolishing 600 houses, no doubt some of those that were built during that period. Things are shitty enough in Camden right now that the opening of a supermarket there was big news. The current population of Camden is 77,250.

Typhoid in Town! Dont Touch Ya Fren!

It's Dangeruss!!
        Despite vaccines developed in 1897, 1898, and 1909, in the middle of October, 1915, it was revealed that there was an official Typhoid outbreak in Philadelphia. 112 cases were reported and doctors warned that potentially thousands could be afflicted and that many more could be carrying and spreading the disease.
       Typhoid starts out as a really shitty flu-like sickness that seems like its going to go away until the 2nd stage, when the patient will go through periods of uncontrollable diarrhea and extreme constipation. Eventually, a big distended belly will occur. In the third stage, the patient becomes delirious and then goes into what's called a "Typhoid State", lying down exhausted with eyes half closed. Even if someone manages to survive it without treatment, symptoms can re-occur up to two weeks later. Its a pretty shitty disease to get.
        After an investigation, the State Department of Health blamed the curbside vegetable markets for the disease. They were able to isolate Salmonella Typhi in various products purchased at these markets, and declared the origin found. In the Spring of 1916, Typhoid ravaged the city again. Initially thought to be a whole other outbreak, it was eventually found that this was a second wave of the 1915 outbreak. This time, the State Department of Health took it a little more seriously and investigated markets, restaurants, and bars more thoroughly. They then blamed saloons for the spreading of the disease, stating that their practice of providing free lunches for customers spread the affliction through the common utensils that were used.
       Interestingly enough, 1915 showed the least Typhoid deaths in Philadelphia up to that point. For example, in 1906, Philly had 1,063 Typhoid-related deaths, while 1915 had only 106. An antibiotic treatment for Typhoid was developed in 1948 and there are now seven different Typhoid vaccines available, so no one in the developed world gives a shit about it anymore. Nonetheless, outbreaks still occur all over the world, most recently in 2005 the Democratic Republic of the Congo where 42,000 cases were reported.

Chestnut Blight Reaches Philadelphia

           At the same time Typhoid was hitting Philadelphia hard, Chestnut Blight was kicking the American economy's ass. At the time, chestnut trees were found all over the country and were a major staple. Not only were chestnuts themselves a valuable food, chestnut wood was used for telephone poles, roof shingles, you name it. Chestnut trees were prolific and grew gigantic-- ones over 100 feet tall with a diameter of 8 or 9 feet were found in every city park.
         At the turn of the 20th Century, Cryphonectria parasitica was accidentally brought to America by East Asian trees planted at the Bronx Zoo. By 1915, the state had already developed the Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree Blight Commission to combat the destruction. At this time in 1915, it was determined that 88% of the Chestnut trees in the city were infected. Local industry was really upset about this, especially the leather tanners, who used Chestnut tannins for their processes.
       The city went about clearing most of the Chestnut trees in the city at this point, stripping them down for use as telephone, telegraph, and electric poles. They then stored them all in a big pile at the electric company's yards in North Philly.

The pile.
               The Commission figured that they could save the American Chestnut Tree if they cross-bred it with the Asian Chestnut Tree, which was immune to the fungus. This was attempted in the 1930s and 40s by the USDA. They managed to create one single hybrid in 1946 that survived the blight... until 1976.  Big-ass American Chestnut Trees became a thing of the past... its hard to get one to grow over 15 feet before the fungus takes it out. A few sixth-generation hybrids have been able to resist the fungus, but there's only a handful of them.
              In 1987, an attempt was made to create a virus that could take out the fungus that causes Chestnut Blight, but the fungus spreads more quickly than the virus could keep up with, so it didn't work. Today, genetic manipulation is being used to create mega-hybrids that will be able to resist the fungus. Its possible that in our lifetimes, the American Chestnut Tree will tower over all of our shit just like it used to. The same fungus also took out a once-common edible nut-bearing bush called the Chinquapin, but no one seems to give a shit about that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fill This Front: Thomas Lofts

726 Market Street

           This right here is a damn travesty. This building has been on the receiving end of a shit-ton of bad luck, but its storefront has suffered even more. FINALLY, a new owner has taken over this building, but the storefront, while available for a whole year, has still sat empty...making it a decade since it was last in use! Let's finally save this building and get this motherfucker filled!
            This building is, of course, the Kirshbaum Building, built in the 1890s under the designs of badass architect Frank Watson. It is not unlike many other buildings that used to be on Market Street before they all got fucked up as a result of the "improvements" brought on by the Gallery at Market East. The storefront pretty much exclusively held women's clothing or hat stores over the building's first 8 decades or so. To list them all in order would make this article reach a sector of outer space that would be out of range of the Argus Array
          This building has had a lot of shitty luck in the more recent decades. When Sam Rappaport owned it, he was able to fill the storefront with two tenants at a time but sealed off the upper floors. The last two tenants to use the ground floor were a McDonald's and the La Paradis Beauty Salon. After Rappaport died, his estate started using the building's big exposed party wall as a giant illegal billboard. They first had a giant ad for Jerry Blavat's radio show which never even got finished before it was declared illegal. The party wall then had a giant Nike ad featuring Dawn Staley that was actually approved by the ZBA. Finally, the wall had a giant Absolute Vodka ad featuring Ben Franklin before SCRUB and a few other organizations went bananas and forced the Estate to have the ad space removed. Ironically, after the sign bill for Market East got passed in 2011, those giant ads might have been able to be legalized. The Rappaport Estate put the building up for sale in 2004.
       People were excited about this, hoping that the building would be restored and no longer be owned by a shitbag speculator. Boy, were they wrong. In December 2006, the building got sold to the infamous Lichtenstein brothers out of Brooklyn.

Yay! It sold! 2007 view via the Google Streetview Time Machine
          The Lichtenstein brothers installed condos in some of the upper floors and ripped off the facade of the storefront. Though they re-exposed the old brick design, the facade was half-destroyed and the windows where kept boarded up for years thereafter.

2009. Love that Google Streetview Time Machine.
               Probably due to the massive amount of flack they got over the burning of the old Buck Hosiery building, the brothers (or the bank that owned the place) finally decided that they should pay their property taxes on the Kirshbaum Building, get their many building violations fixed, and finally restore the street level facade. By the start of 2013, it was finally done. While this was all going on, the Lichtensteins were in a 4-year legal battle over the bank's foreclosure on this property.
              On August 26, 2013, the building sold to a new owner for over $10 million dollars mysteriously named "Market Street A", whose address leads back to an apartment building in Union, NJ. Whoever this new owner is, they are now offering up the storefront space for the first time in a decade... so now's the time to get it filled!

             This space consists of a 4,138 square foot ground floor spot with a 1,333 square foot mezzanine under an 18 foot ceiling! It is accessible by more public transportation than probably any other available storefront its size. It is located two doors down from the 8th and Market PATCO/EL stop which serves thousands and thousands per day. An unbelievable amount of bus lines pass this location on both Market and 8th Streets, including New Jersey Transit lines! The Jefferson Station (formerly named Market East) regional rail stop is nearby. Across the street, the Lits Building holds thousands of office workers AND is about to have a large residential building added to it! Catercorner is the old Strawbridge's Building which also hold a whole shitload of office folk and is about to open a Century 21.
         So here you get a large, high-ceiling store space, excellent access to all public transportation, and endless amounts of foot traffic. Get the right thing in here and you can't fucking lose! The space leases for 10,345/Month for the ground floor and an additional $3,332.50/Month for the mezzanine space. Its managed by Precision Realty Group. Here's the listing, now FILL THIS FRONT!

The mezzanine blueprint.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Old-Ass Building: Baum's Dancewear

106-114 South 11th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
                  I've been trying to find the origin of this building ever since I started this shitty blog. Finally, after 3.5 years, I've finally found it. Read it all at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fill This Front: Robinson's Luggage

211 South Broad Street  

What a great spot.
         I tried to stay away from this one for as long as I could, hoping this spot would get filled... but its been nearly 11 months and this thing is still empty as fuck. What's worse is that this storefront has had only two tenants in its entire existence in its current configuration. Its location, its size, its length of window coverage, it all kicks ass. Let's get this thing filled.
             Though this building has been at the southeast corner of Broad and Walnut for over 100 years, this storefront was created when the Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company took over the building in the 1950s and mangled the shit out of it under the designs of Thalheimer & Weitz, known destroyers of Gilded Age awesomeness (ask Chestnut East). The first tenant was a Horn & Hardart location that lasted all the way until the company left Philly in 1982.

The Horn & Hardart right before it opened.
                  In 1984, Robinson's Luggage came along and somehow stayed open at that corner for 29 years until finally folding this last December. It even survived after UArts restored some of the old facade.  Ever since, this prime-ass storefront has stayed empty, doing a whole lot of nothing. There's some sort of pop-up art exhibit type thing going on there now, but that's not gonna last.

The storefront in 2009 via the Google Streetview Time Machine
                  This is the 5,378 square foot space at the southeast corner of Broad and Walnut Streets. It has 148 total feet of window frontage that wraps around the corner. Both Broad and Walnut Streets are served by countless buses and the corner has its own stop on the Broad Street Line. The space isn't too far from the El and trolley lines either. This space was able to have two consecutive tenants that lasted well over two decades each. The place is being managed by Metro Commercial and is listed at a price of "Negotiable". Here's the listing. Get on this shit and FILL THIS FRONT!!

The blueprint. Metro Commercial