Friday, July 29, 2011

A Final Entry

I must apologize in advance for the somewhat cryptic and esoteric references which appear in this final entry of Brick Canyon Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the time has come to abandon this small, modest platform and leave it to the omnipotent Gods of to dispose of during some distant, unforeseen date.

To the pageviewers, the image googlers, the site linkers, the loyal occasional peruser, friends, family and to those who once viewed this blog and never returned, I thank you for your mild interest. I intended to capture the zeitgeist of the Philadelphia urban landscape and reveal the unknown happenings between its past and future. Whether or not I failed in my intent may ultimately be irrelevant in an age when anything mammoth and blue is preferred to a cornice, a pediment or a Corinthian column. Perhaps the pictures were uninspiring, the rhetoric opaque, the stories hackneyed, the style unimaginative or perhaps I know better words instead of using four letter words when writing prose, but then again anything goes.

As I abandon this platform, I also depart the city to which I surveyed. A man cannot stand at Speaker's Corner without being in London and so I must move on. Finally, I leave you with an image of an urban planner's vision of a more beautiful Philadelphia and a quote which forewarns of a paradise lost.

Jacques Greber's original 1917 design of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Square and what is now Love Park.

"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes."
 -- Jacqueline Kennedy's response to the planned demolition of Grand Central Station in 1968

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Pulse At South Broad?

Real estate development in Philadelphia appears to be showing signs of life after a near fatal heart attack (aka the recession of 2007) nearly crippled and halted almost every major development in the city. After four years of setbacks and disappoints it now seems the city's main artery is poised for a rebound. 

The newest proposal on South Broad comes from Dranoff Properties who outbid P&A Associates (builders of the St. James and Murano) to develop the parcel of land located at the northeast corner of South and Broad, which is now occupied by the Garden of the Arts. Dranoff has given us such architecturally "unique" buildings as the Gumdrop Mountain-inspired Symphony House and the take-it-or-leave-it faux-art deco, 777 South Broad. While something reminiscent of Peanut Brittle House or Candy Cane Forest might have been more interesting for Broad Street's missing tooth, the design offers an acceptable and pleasant alternative to what seemed to be P&A's homage to the decaying Soviet Era buildings of suburban Budapest. The proposed project features an L-shaped six-story apartment building with an adjacent "pocket park", which may possibly serve the retail space located on the ground floor.

While critics continue to censure the shortcomings and follies of Dranoff's previous projects, this particular proposal seems to compliment the architectural aesthetic of the neighborhood and provide the necessary density/infill for an area that desperately needs it.  Regardless of the final design, this project has the potential to inject some much needed vitality into the southern extremities of Center City. 

                               Dranoff Properites' winning proposal for Broad and South

                                   P&A Associate's proposed building for the site

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Round One: Church of the Assumption, Round Two: St. Boniface?

The Battle over the Church of the Assumption has been won, however the war to save Philadelphia's historic churches languishes on. St. Boniface, another late nineteenth century gothic revival church, presides with a forlorn magesty over the modest brownstones and row homes which encapsulate Norris Square. Since its abandonment by the Archdiocese in 2006, it's brownstone facade has begun to deteriorate, it's stained glass windows were replaced with plexiglass and pieces of it's pews and altarpiece have been given to local residents and parishes as mementos. As of February, the circa 1872 structure has been slated for demolition to make way for a mixed-use retail/residential/community complex. While the project seems to incorporate the lesser structures of the original St. Boniface complex (rectory, convent and school), it appears that the church itself will go the way of the wrecking ball.

There will be many who assert that any effort for it's preservation is futile and we should passively accept it's imminent destruction, but I say, "Remember the Assumption!" We have seen the power and influence of community activists and associations as exemplified by the dedicated efforts of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association. Let the Church of the Assumption serve as a reminder and paradigm for future efforts by preservationist groups who strive to save some of the citys most important ecclesiastical structures.

As of yet there is no concerted movement to save St. Boniface and the local council (Norris Square Civic Association)  appears to be in support of it's demolition. As the days and months wane so do the odds that any such movement will ever emerge. Subsequently, this  beautiful  edifice may vanish before our eyes without any objection or appeal. However, I believe the time has come to take a stand! Why must we idly and passively mourn the loss of our city's greatest architectural treasures, while there are so many of us who advocate their preservation? Let us turn the tide against the razing of Philadelphia's ecclesiastical masterpieces. The time has come to rally, organize and act!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Starr's Secret Garden

I had the pleasure of dining at one of Stephen Starr's newest restaurant creations, Talula's Garden, last week. Tucked away in narrow alley overlooking Washington Square, the intimate garden retreat's menu highlights garden-fresh ingredients and fresh preparations. Upon entering this cached urban oasis one is instantly enchanted by the manicured wall-plants, whimsical trickling fountain and rustic outdoor seating. Kudos to Starr for transforming an underutilized back alley into one of the best outdoor urban spaces in the city.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The British are Coming! The British are Coming!

Following the announcement that Doc Marten's will open it's fifth U.S. location at 1710 Walnut Street, yet another British retailer has laid claim to a property on Rittenhouse Row. Jack Wills, the preppy-collegiate British apparel and homeswares brand will open its first US store location outside the New England market in the fall of 2011.

The Philadelphia Jack Wills store will occupy 6,800 square feet of 1617 Walnut and will also restore the greek-revival facade to its original early-twentieth century appearance.

The Church of the Assumption Lives for Another Day

Yesterday, the Board of Licenses and Inspections Review voted in support of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association's appeal to save the nineteenth century gothic-revival Church of the Assumption. The five members of the L&I Review board voted unanimously to uphold the appeal, which consequently overturned the Philadelphia Historical Commision's grant to allow Siloam Wellness to raze the building.

More good news...

According to a board member of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, the Clay Studio, the non-profit ceramic arts organization located at North 2nd St., is seeking to expand its headquarters into the historic structure.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Urban Jungle

This was taken from the rooftop of a friend's apartment building. Philadelphia truly possesses a remarkable collection of diverse architectural styles ranging from colonial row houses to glass skyscrapers, which together create one of the most unique and beautiful cityscapes in the country.

Demolition at 1215 Walnut

Yet another turn-of-the-century neo-classical facade fell to the wrecking ball last Tuesday thus clearing the way for a proposed 29 story modern mixed use tower. The former Jewish Federation building has been vacant for more than a decade and while it is unclear whether the demolition was due to renewed interest to develop the site or if the building itself was structurally unstable, it is for certain that another relic of the city's brick and stone past has been lost to us forever. It only takes the demolition of a few historically significant buildings a year for a city to lose it's classical aesthetic and historical appeal in a century's time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blossoms and Brownstones

Progress on the Parkway

Thought I'd share some pictures on the progress of the Barnes Foundation's new $100 million facility on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More News on 1710 Walnut

The British footwear brand, Doctor Martens, is scheduled to open its second East Coast location on Walnut St in September. Before then, the 3,800 SF site will undergo a $300,000-$500,000 rehab of the first and second floors to create a high-end designer store. The design will be similar to the NYC SoHo location (as seen below), which opened in November.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Tenant for 1617 Walnut!

Yet another vacancy on Walnut has been filled! A new sign has been placed in the window of the former Jennifer Convertibles store announcing that a new tenant has been obtained. However, no news yet on who this new retailer will be.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dr. Martens to Open Store on Walnut St.

The British footwear brand, Dr. Martens, is set to open its fifth retail outlet in the United States on Walnut St.  The company signed a long-term lease with landlord, Weisberg Trust, to rent the 3,800 Square foot space at 1710 Walnut (formerly Design Within Reach.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tenant Obtained for 1710 Walnut!

A sign has been placed in the window of 1710 Walnut St. by the commercial real estate firm Colliers International announcing a tenant has been obtained for the former Design Within Reach store.

Also, there seems to be more good news at 1619 Walnut where the sign advertising its availability has been removed. Perhaps, we can soon expect an announcement for a new tenant.

Update: Bad news. The sign is now back up at 1619 Walnut St.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Le Pain Quotidien Comming to Washington Square

Having recently established a presence at 1425 Walnut St., Le Pain Quotiden, the upscale-rustic Belgian boulangerie/cafe, will open its second location in center city in the former flagship store of Robins 8th & Walnut Jewelers, a block off Washington Square. Occupancy is on track for this summer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

1201 Chestnut St. to be Converted

The 1902 Beaux Arts Commonwealth Title and Trust Company Building is being converted into a 98 unit apartment complex, which will be targeted toward young professionals as well as students attending Jefferson University and other nearby educational institutions. Additionally, the planned conversion will carefully restore the 15 story brick exterior and establish a commercial/retail space on the 1st floor. The new complex is to be called "The Commonwealth" and is scheduled to be completed by July.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Fight to Save the Church of the Assumption

Amidst car washes, gas stations and parking lots stands the forgotten edifice of the Church of the Assumption. A nostalgic relic of Philadelphia's past when spires and domes towered over the low expanse of row houses and mansions, which dominated nineteenth century Spring Garden. Presently, this majestic neo-gothic structure is being threatened with demolition by its owner, Siloam Wellness. The non-profit AIDS/HIV organization is intending to raze the structure on the grounds for financial hardship and as of September 10, 2010 the Historical Commission has granted Siloam a permit for demolition. However, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association with the support of the preservation community has appealed the demolition permission to the Licenses and Inspection review board who will ultimately provide a ruling on March 28.
The Church of the Assumption was erected in 1848-1849 and is considered to be a prolific example of American ecclesiastical architecture . It was designed and built by noted architect, Patrick Charles Keely (1816-1896) who had built over 600 churches during his career. Assumption Church is the oldest extant Keely structure in the country and subsequently possesses great architectural and historical significance. In addition, John Neumann helped consecrate the church and Katherine Drexel was baptized there. Both became Catholic saints.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Welcome to Brick Canyon Philadelphia

I am excited to get the ball rolling on my new blog dedicated to architecture, historic preservation, urban planning, and real estate in Philadelphia. Over the last several years, I have wanted to express my fervent passion, curiosity and knowledge  for this great city. However, I had continuously and perhaps slovenly relied on the numerous forums, blogs and online journals, which have come and gone like the plethora of architectural styles which have graced this amalgamated city for the past three hundred years. So, here is my cautious attempt to establish a new and bold media platform, which will hopefully surpass its paltry beginnings and eventually serve the city to which it surveys.