Morning Headlines: Saffron On the New Family Court Building

Photo credit: Google Street View

Photo credit: Google Street View

It’s been a long time coming, but last week, the Philadelphia Family Court finally moved its headquarters to a recently completed, nine-story, glass and metal building at 15th and Arch. And like all new additions to the city’s skyline, the building was the focus of Inga Saffron’s appraising eye.

According to the Inquirer, the new Court location offers 544,000 square feet and includes 29 courtrooms, administrative offices, judges’ chambers, and a staff training facility. But unlike its former site, which had all of the former features, the latest has extras like a playroom and computer room. Saffron says that its amenities like these that save the building from being straight-out bad: Read more »

Morning Headlines: Someone Finally Stands Up To Blackwell

Rendering of 4224 Baltimore Avenue. Photo credit: U3 Ventures.

Rendering of 4224 Baltimore Avenue.
Photo credit: U3 Ventures.

Will Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell respond now? Since April, Blackwell has ignored a zoning variance request from developers planning a mixed-use condo complex at 43rd and Baltimore. Even pleas from her constituents who loved the proposal have not moved her to speak. This morning, however, Inga Saffron called her out.

“But how long can she ignore this chunk of her constituency?” asks the Inquirer’s architecture critic after praising the “excellent design” of the Cecil Baker-crafted structure, which locals and the Planning Commission are excited about given Baltimore Avenue’s status as an growing commercial corridor. Developer U3 Ventures seeks a zoning change that would make the space’s current residential zoning to residential/commercial, thus helping the corridor grow.

Saffron says neighborhood reaction to Blackwell keeping mum is a perfect example of  a “quiet revolution” in the face of “councilmanic prerogative”, which is to say, the all-encompassing power council members have when it comes to land use. Or as she puts it:  “They alone determine what projects get built, where bike lanes are located, whether residents can nominate their neighborhoods for historic status, and much, much else.”

Read more »

Morning Headlines: Saffron: Philly’s Boardwalk Beats NYC’s High Line

Photo via Schuylkill Banks on Facebook.

Photo via Schuylkill Banks on Facebook.

Phila.’s new gem: A stroll on the Schuylkill [Inquirer]

Inga Saffron is downright ebullient today. Her feelings about the newly completed and opened Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk are unmistakable:

As wonderful as the High Line is, it merely allows people to wend their way through Manhattan a few stories above its bustling streets. When the latest segment of the Schuylkill Banks trail opens to the public Thursday, you’ll be able to walk on water, under the glittering gaze of the Center City skyline.

Take that, New York.

Saffron is convinced that the Boardwalk trumps the High Line mostly for its transformative powers. She alternately says the distanced perspective can make Center City feel like “outer space” at night and that at other times, “strange optical illusions appear.” Why, she asks, does it look like there’s a Penn building on Spruce Street when we all know it’s on Walnut?

Read more »

Everybody Hates Dilworth Park [UPDATED]

dilworth-park-panorama-940

UPDATE 9/9/2014: OK, OK. So not everybody hates Dilworth Park.

ORIGINAL:

Well, the redesign of City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza debuted last week as the $55 million Dilworth Park, with all of the political blowhard speeches, self-back patting and pompous fanfare that you’d imagine with such an event in Philadelphia. But make no mistake about it: Everybody hates Dilworth Park. Read more »

Morning Headlines: Saffron Crashes the Dilworth Praise Party

Renderings are beginning to meet reality.

Maybe she liked the renderings better?

The torrent of accolades for the city’s newest public (well, “public,” but more on that in a second) park continued through the weekend … right until Inga Saffron’s review dropped on Sunday.

Saffron begins innocuously enough, praising the cafe and popular spray fountain. Things start to turn when she italicizes the word “park.” Uh oh. Then the death blow:

But the vast granite prairie is still very much a plaza, with all the weaknesses the word implies.

To be clear, Saffron had no love for the park’s predecessor. And she does concede that the CCD has made some major improvements:

There is no doubt that this important civic space, once a smelly, run-down municipal embarrassment in the heart of Philadelphia, has been greatly improved by the Center City District’s Paul Levy, who marshaled a dream team of Philadelphia’s most renowned designers and engineers. The amenities, from the food vendor to the picnic lawn, are reason enough to applaud.

But what follows is a thorough catalog of the park’s deficiencies. Most of all, she seems offended by the amount of hardscape. The park misses the mark when it comes to balancing its position as Philadelphia’s “communal family room” while maintaining enough pomp for the city’s “civic stage,” Saffron says.

Yes, there is real magic when the fountain’s jets of water shoot into action, but inactivated, the granite landscape is dry and stiff. The new Dilworth is a suit in a jeans-and-T-shirt world.

Read more »

Morning Headlines: Inga Saffron’s Take on Building Plan Behind Rodin

Photo by jcapaldi</a" via Flickr.

Photo by jcapaldi via Flickr.

An apartment building has been proposed for the narrow space behind the Rodin Museum, and you can bet the Inquirer’s Inga Saffron has feelings about it (and her usual well-reasoned, bigger-picture analysis).

At issue is not just the aesthetics of the grounds ringing the well-loved museum. There’s also the city’s “low line” rail park to consider. The “low line,” of course, is the underground equivalent to the city’s other dreamed-of rail park. Should the Cross Properties (owned by David Blumenfeld — not that Blumenfeld, but his brother) plan move forward as proposed, the nascent park idea would be kaput.

Saffron explains:

Read more »

Morning Headlines: A Mini PSFS Building? Historical Commission Makes Final Decision In One Week

Big Brothers Big Sisters Warner Bros film exchange 230 N 13th Street

Could a smaller model of the PSFS building rise from the corner of 13th and Florist? That’s what Inga Saffron seems to think after reviewing the planned addition for the former Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters, a proposal the Historical Commission must decide on next Friday.

See, soon after the historic property went on the market last June (it was once the Warner Bros. film exchange building), Baywood Hotels expressed interest in adding a tower on top of the original Art Deco building, in pure Hearst Tower-style.

A July 11th vote by the commission approved this proposal, despite its architectural subcommittee protesting its design and subsequently offering suggestions for improvement. Spg3, the architect Baywood hired, took some of these suggestions, resulting in what Saffron calls a “not-so-subtle copy of the shaft of the PSFS building.”

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Open House at 2116 Chestnut on Thursday

2116 Chestnut. Image via the building's website.

2116 Chestnut. Image via the building’s website.

2116 Chestnut, the 34-story apartment tower near Rittenhouse Square that opened last summer, will host an open house on Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will be held on the building’s rooftop deck, and will feature complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. There will be a DJ and tours of sample apartment units for all guests.

The slick glass 2116 Chestnut has 321 units and was built by the John Buck Co. of Chicago, with additional funding from the Indure Fund, a union-backed real estate investment fund, and the state of Pennsylvania. Electricians’ union chief John Dougherty played a major role in getting the project off the ground.

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Ted Beitchman Is Back With Fast Philly Sports (And Inga Saffron Is Not Amused)

philly sportJust when we’d almost forgotten about publisher, ex-convict, and colorful Philadelphia character Ted Beitchman, he has resurfaced with a new website: FastPhillySports.com.

Beitchman is the publisher of Philly Sport magazine (left), which apparently still exists. Prior to Philly Sport, he published the magazines RealPhilly and The Player. Both were spectacular flops.

His other claim to fame is that he held a senior position in Ed Rendell’s mayoral administration, prior to being convicted of tax evasion and impersonating a state official.

If you ask Philadelphia notables about Beitchman, they tell you fantastic stories that could fill an unauthorized biography, but they’ll never tell you on-the-record. For some reason, people seem to be scared of Ted Beitchman.

Read more »

Morning Headlines: Carl Dranoff’s One Riverside Gets Urban-Friendly Redesign

carl dranoff one riverside

Rendering of the project via Philly.com

“A true urban tower,” that’s what Pulitzer-winning architecture critic Inga Saffron has called Carl Dranoff’s redesigned One Riverside project at 25th and Locust. The building, proposed last summer, had originally sparked complaints from locals and Saffron herself.

So what exactly are the differences between the old and new design?

Read more »

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