Morning Headlines: Church to Condo Conversion in Narberth

Side view screenshot via Google Street View.

Side view screenshot via Google Street View.

The proposed adaptive reuse of St. Margaret’s Church, also known as the Gleason Center, made headway this past Wednesday after the Narberth Planning Commission voted to recommend approval for the project.

Developer Ted Moser plans to convert the church to a condo with four two-bedroom units and underground garage with eight parking spaces, while making minimal changes to the building’s exterior. However, certain conditions must be met before the conversion can go through, according to the Main Line Times:

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Union Protests At Trolley Car Diner Because They Are Angry About Something Different Than Trolley Car Diner

detail of st pete's

Detail of the church in question. Original photo by Smallbones via Wikimedia.

Real estate developer and Trolley Car Diner owner Ken Weinstein sent out an email to many, many people (from Pete Hoskins to Terry Gillen) to alert them to a…disagreement he’s having with the IBEW over his construction of a Waldorf School campus on Wayne Avenue in Germantown. Weinstein says the diner has been subject to union protests outside.

The president of Weinstein Properties and Philly Office Retail, Weinstein isn’t a newbie to development; he’s been in the business for 24 years, and currently owns and manages 500,000-plus square feet of commercial space. Additionally, Weinstein has been something of an eatery investor, founding (and selling) the Cresheim Cottage Cafe, and buying up the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy and Trolley Car Cafe in East Falls — the two neighborhoods, along with Germantown, into which he puts most of his energies.

Before we look at the union battle, let’s assess Weinstein’s latest project: the conversion of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church — designed by Frank Furness and George Hewitt — on the 6000 block of Wayne Avenue.

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Pennsylvania’s Most Endangered Properties

wynnewood bank former public federal savings bank building featured image

Photo courtesy of Christian Busch.

Each year, Preservation PA puts out “Pennsylvania At Risk,” a statewide report identifying a handful of properties threatened by “demolition, significant deterioration, vandalism, inappropriate alteration, and/or loss of historic setting demolition.” The recently released 2013 list includes the Blue Horizon (not a big surprise) and a midcentury building in Montco.

Once a Public Federal Savings Bank, the latter’s modern architecture might have deemed it innovative in its heyday. But its attractive, clean-cut style has since become ubiquitous and is more often than not missed by passersby, or discounted from being a historic building.

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Morning Headlines: 84 Percent Endorse iPic’s Plan for the Boyd

Google Street view of the Boyd Theatre.

Yesterday, Philly mag conducted a poll that asked the question: “Is it time to tear down the Boyd?” A startling 84 percent of respondents said, “Yes, it’s time for a new beginning.”

But the actual decision-making entity, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, tabled the vote yesterday until Friday, February 14th.

According to the Inquirer, longtime champions for the Boyd’s conservation are livid and believe it was “a lack of patience and public will” that resulted in inadequate maintenance and lost preservation opportunities. Friends of the Boyd President Howard Haas pointed to similar situations that ended successfully, saying, “almost every major U.S. city has a restored downtown movie palace.”

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Philadelphia’s Most Endangered Properties 2013

The big news that was embargoed until this morning yet released yesterday anyway is the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s 11th Annual Endangered Properties List. It should come as no surprise that the list includes all of the city’s closed schools. But let’s start with Market East.

Robinson_webRobinson Store
Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, 1946 1020 Market Street, Philadelphia

As interest and activity increases around development of East Market Street, older buildings — some of them historic — may be threatened. That’s certainly the case with the Robinson Store, built by Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, who partnered to design 11 stores for the Grayson-Robinson chain (which sold ladies’ underwear at low prices. Oh, Robinson, where are you now?). Gruen is an especially important figure in commercial architecture, whether you love him or hate him, as he’s known as the inventor of the shopping mall.

The Robinson Store in Center City is easy to pass by without a glance, but as the Alliance points out, it is “the last surviving example of a building campaign that epitomized the use of architecture as advertisement.” It’s a Don Draper dream.

And that’s not all that’s threatened by East Center City development. The former Coward Shoes at 1118 Chestnut is scheduled to be demolished in early 2014 — and that circa-1949 building was designed by Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much impossible to tell that either of the buildings were ever especially impressive, so the facades would need to be restored.

As that’s not going to happen with 1118, the Alliance is calling for the restoration of the Robinson façade, which actually would benefit the developer who did it because the store is within a district that incentivizes facade improvements. “It would be a major preservation victory and could anchor any number of redevelopment plans for the rest of the block.”

Now for the other sites…

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Gallery: The Demolition of Ortlieb’s Brewery

ortliebs demolition

Photo by Laura Kicey

Property photographer Laura Kicey went over to the Henry F. Ortlieb Brewery site in Northern Liberties this weekend to chronicle its end. She came away with good news about the Bart Blatstein-owned four-building complex: “They seem to be handling the demolition responsibly–even stopping work every time a pedestrian or car passed by on the street nearest where they were working!” No one’s taking any chances these days.

Gallery below.

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Morning Headlines: Zoning Board Says No to Ori Feibush

Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush stirred some controversy this month when his lawyer, Wally Zimilong, sent a letter to a woman, Haley Dervinis, opposed to his latest project: four single-family homes around 20th and Annin. The letter cautioned her not to libel or slander Feibush with disparaging comments in an upcoming zoning hearing, and was, to our eyes, a fairly ridiculous cease-and-desist scare tactic. It worked–she was scared. The letter got press as a threat, and Feibush came off as a bully trying to censor her.

At the hearing, Dervinis was certainly not alone in her opposition, and now, according to Jan Ransom of the Daily News, the Zoning Board has denied Feibush’s petition to go beyond the current zoning, which is for three homes rather than four.

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Armory’s Developer Not Known for Preservation, But the Building Has to Come Down

The Broad Street armory as seen a couple days ago.

The Broad Street armory as seen a couple days ago.

Michael Carosella, the developer who owns the dilapidated armory on the 1200 block of South Broad, is not exactly known for preservation work. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the latest news about the armory–first built in 1886 for the Third Regiment of the National Guard–is that it’s going to be demolished.

Initially, the armory was sold with a “no demo” stipulation. But that was vacated, and by the time Carosella bought it a few days ago, his plan to demolish the building had been opposed only by neighborhood residents who felt it should be protected due to historical value–and due to the Frank Sinatra mural on its side. But that doesn’t matter now. Due to the Market Street disaster, the city wants the armory, which is in terrible shape, to be torn down quickly to avoid any collapse.

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Exquisite: Laura Kicey’s Photos of Former Lace Factory

“Get out of town,” said Cole Porter. “Don’t fence me in,” he said, also. The guy had serious wanderlust, and when it’s nice out, so do we. This weekend Property photographer Laura Kicey went to the former Scranton Lace Factory for another Abandoned America photo workshop. The photographs she got are absolutely gorgeous, but she also learned a bit about what’s happening to the building–which is more than to the SS United States, the subject of her last extensive photo gallery of this sort.

Though it looks abandoned, the building–which was featured on National Geographic’s Abandoned program–has had some recent good fortune: The current owners, Lace Building Affiliates, who purchased it in 2007, have been granted permission to repurpose it, and they have seriously grand plans.

Kenny Gamble’s Petition to Demolish Royal Theater Due to “Financial Hardship” Faces More Opposition

Kenny Gamble’s attempt to demolish most of the historic Royal Theater on 15th and South, an African-American landmark, faces more than just the approval of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. It faces a state challenge that he himself put into place, according to Eyes on the Street:

In 2006 Universal Companies was awarded a $50,000 Keystone Historic Preservation Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) for exterior repairs. And when the grant was finally processed in 2008, there were strings attached: A restrictive covenant filed with Universal’s deed requires that Universal and any subsequent owner preserve the building for 15 years. Until 2023 all alterations must be approved by PHMC.

The Commission will probably try to mitigate the damage Gamble wants to do to the building, which he’s applying to do under a hardship provision that claims he simply doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to fix it up. When he purchased the building in 2000, he had grand aims–goals that still hadn’t been realized as of 2007. That year, Philadelphia Magazine’s Matthew Teague wrote about Gamble’s plans for a South Philly music renaissance:

He envisions South Philly as an entertainment corridor with an emphasis on the city’s musical heritage, similar to Beale Street in Memphis. In a major step toward that goal, Gamble persuaded the Rhythm & Blues Foundation to move from New York to Philadelphia, and next he plans to develop a $50 million National Center for Rhythm and Blues on the empty plot at Broad and Washington. He envisions a massive complex including a concert hall, a music academy and a Hall of Fame.

But the Royal’s role in all this was confusing. In 2000, Universal said it would be converted “into a live performance theater.” In 2007, Universal’s Rahim Islam told Teague, “We bought it to preserve it.” Apparently, the past 13 years have not improved Gamble’s financial standing enough for him to be able to afford either plan.

Along the way, there have been would-be buyers of the property, an important factor when determining whether the hardship provision should apply. In other words, if Gamble can’t afford to fix it up, could he sell it to someone else who could? He says there haven’t been viable offers. Developer Ori Feibush says there have been–and that he was one of them. He also wants to demolish much of the building in order to put in two floors of commercial space and two floors residential. He, too, would be bound by the approval of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

At the moment, however, the fate of the building is in the hands of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which is examining the case. It’s a tough one.

PREVIOUSLY: Petitioner Seeks to Turn Royal Theater Over to Feibush [Property]
Universal seeks OK to demolish most of Royal Theater [PlanPhilly]
Demo or alteration of Royal Theater requires state preservation review [Eyes on the Street]
Royal Theater Can’t Be Demolished Without Approval From State Historic Commission [Curbed Philly]

Meanwhile, Ori Feibush competes with Gamble to destroy the landmark as well

Forgive us our skepticism: The building is in wretched condition partly due to Gamble’s poor stewardship, but is there something we don’t know about Gamble’s

and will have the same right to intervene should someone else buy the building.

That’s the other wrinkle here.

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