Rittenhouse Coffee Shop Spared, Its Two Neighbors Still on Chopping Block

Southern Land Company released a statement saying they've pulled back the demo application for one of the three historic buildings on Sansom Street.

The Rittenhouse Coffee Shop on the 1900 block of Sansom Street

The Rittenhouse Coffee Shop on the 1900 block of Sansom Street

We’ve devoted quite a bit of time to the 1911 Walnut project already. The fact that something, anything, was going to happen at the lot was one of our bold predictions for 2015, so it’s only natural that we check in on any and every happening with the project. Well, news is starting to come fast and furious and it’s been a mixed bag of sorts, especially on the preservation front.

As you probably know, Southern Land Company bought the massive L-shaped assemblage in February for $30 million and recently submitted an application to the Historical Commission to demolish a trio of buildings on the 1900 block of Sansom Street, the northern border of the property. The list includes the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop, the Warwick apartment building, and the O.H.Bair Funeral Home. The developer has claimed economic hardship and cited that it would be too costly to revive the handsome structures, even though they told us in February that they intended “to work with the historic commission to restore the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop and Warwick.”

Well, it looks like they’ve done a slight about-face, as the company announced on Friday that they’ve pulled back the demo application for one of the three buildings, specifically the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop.

“As a result of meetings with officials from the Preservation Alliance and the Center City Residents’ Association task force, Southern Land Company, as a demonstration of its ongoing commitment to principles of historic preservation, will withdraw its application to the Historical Commission for the demolition of the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop.”

However, as per the next sentence in the release, we also learn that its neighbors aren’t necessarily so lucky: “The previously submitted applications for the severely deteriorated Warwick apartment building and Oliver Bair funeral home will remain in place.”

According to Hidden City, the total cost of remediation the three buildings is estimated to be $1,610,000.

So how did we get here in the first place? Interestingly enough, CEO Tim Downey spoke with Inga Saffron about the buildings, which are deemed historic because they are within the Rittenhouse-Fitler historic district. Here’s a snippet from Saffron’s excellent piece pertaining the state of historic preservation under the Nutter administration, and what it might look like under new mayor, Jim Kenney:

Southern Land’s chief, Tim Downey, acknowledged in an interview that he never took time to check the condition before the purchase. Because the historic buildings aren’t in the way of the tower Southern Land wants to build, he figured he would incorporate them into the project.

As Saffron points out, the Historical Commission probably won’t get around to reviewing the application until February, meaning this will be Mayor Kenney’s first test on the historic preservation front.

Southern Land Company has said they’ve met with neighborhood stakeholders regarding the development of the long-vacant lot, as they look to develop an “iconic” high-rise project that brings a vibrancy back to Walnut Street, Sansom Street, and even 20th Street across from Shake Shack.

“During these discussions,” the release says, “CEO Tim Downey and Development Manager Dustin Downey repeated their desire to develop the coffee shop property and retain its most important elements … The firm looks forward to presenting a plan that will balance preservation ideals with economic feasibility.”

We have to admit, we’re looking forward to hearing more about these plans as well.