A Midcentury Modern Apartment Complex Gets a 21st-Century Redo

Park Towne Place is now old enough to be a historic landmark. The redesign turns it into not only a modern development but also an art gallery.

The rejuvenated South Tower and amenities complex at Park Towne Place. | Photos: Sandy Smith

The rejuvenated South Tower and amenities complex at Park Towne Place. | Photos: Sandy Smith

I will confess it’s a little unsettling to report on a ribbon-cutting that includes the unveiling of a historic plaque on an apartment complex that was built the year after I was born. But Midcentury Modern architecture is now reaching the point where it’s the subject of historic preservation efforts, and in that sense, the revamped Park Towne Place, which city officials and Aimco executives rechristened June 9, is one helluva preservation project.

Actually, the project not only rehabilitates the 959-unit, four-tower development but upgrades it with new and improved apartments and amenities that bring the complex in line with 21st-century residents’ tastes and desires. Along with the redesign comes a new name: Park Towne Place / Museum District Residences. And in honor of that new moniker, the complex has also become the city’s newest art gallery.

National Register plaqueThe plaque, placed at the entrance to the completed South Tower, indicates that Park Towne Place is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “This development holds an important place in the development of multifamily housing and of Midcentury Modern design,” Aimco East Region Senior Vice President for Redevelopment Wes Powell said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony program.

It was also part of a 1950s effort to help the Ben Franklin Parkway live up to its potential. The Parkway still isn’t everything it could be, but the apartment development is now a lot more than what it had been, and Aimco used the occasion of the South Tower’s completion to show off the changes, which also include a dramatic improvement in the complex’s resident amenities.

The South Tower, located next to the community amenities, is the first of the four towers at Park Towne Place to get the full makeover treatment. The photos below give you an idea of the improvements that have already taken place. Others are under way now and in the works. The East Tower is currently under renovation; when it reopens, it will include a restaurant facing the Parkway that will be open to the public. Improvements to the pedestrian pathways, streetscapes and shuttle bus service are being funded by a $1 million multimodal transportation grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; State Sen. Larry Farnese, who also spoke at the ceremony, played an instrumental role in securing the grant.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell stood in for Mayor Jim Kenney at the ceremony and performed the honors in unveiling the National Register historic plaque by the entrance. “It was the first Midcentury Modern multifamily housing development in Pennsylvania” to earn this honor, Ott-Lovell said.

The Aimco officials who spoke at the ceremony all said Park Towne Place occupied a special place in their portfolio. “It’s been appealing to us since we acquired this property in 1997,” said Patti Fielding, executive vice president of redevelopment and construction services. Fielding said one of the reasons it was so appealing was because of the city it’s in. “It has a strong, diverse economy and a highly educated workforce that produces a discerning customer. And the city’s public transit system is second to none.”

Powell noted that this was no mere cosmetic project: “The guts of the building are new and will last for the next 55 years.”

Aimco will have spent $200 million on the reconstruction of Park Towne Place by the time everything is complete. Work is now under way on the East Tower, which will have a restaurant on its street floor facing the Parkway when it reopens. After that, the North and West towers will be renovated.

Tryba Architects, based in Aimco’s hometown of Denver, is in charge of the redesign, working with local partner Barton Partners.

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