Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fill This Front: Southside Cleaners & Shirt Laundry

1342 Lombard Street

                Ok, so I'm a little late on this one because there is some activity in motion for this storefront after nearly 8 years empty. Nonetheless, I shall still tell you all about it. This storefront has only ever had one occupant-- Southside Cleaners & Shirt Laundry. The reason for this, of course, is because despite how it looks, this building is only 29 years old! It was built in 1986!
               Its origins, however, go back to the end of 1981. Back then, some young bull named Bart Blatstein had acquired an empty lot/former car dealership that covered the entire corner of Broad and Lombard. The next year, he built the shitty drive-up retail building that now takes the corner, still standing today with a combined Smokers Express and Subway Restaurant-- something that belongs in a rest stop off the highway in the middle of nowhere, not at Broad and Lombard.
              Having had split the lot into two lots, Bart commissioned local architect Jerry K. Roller (nowadays JKR Partners) in 1985 to design a small retail/office building on the 20' x 52' lot behind his new place that would face out to Lombard Street. By 1986, it was done and Southside Cleaners & Shirt Laundry had arrived, staying in business for 21 straight years.

As seen in 2007 via the Google Streetview Time Machine.
                   The building was up for sale by 2009 and sat empty for years. This last September, the owners of the building got approved for a third floor addition that would add two apartments to the structure under the designs of local architect Yao Huang (aka YCH Architect). This must have become a big selling point for the place because it sold exactly one month later for $390k to the folks who own BJ Hardwood Flooring. This only leads me to assume that they are planning to open an outpost of their store in this location, but what the hell do I know? Maybe the owner is just graduated from the Restaurant School and will try his hand at a vegan spelt flour waffle cupcake restaurant.
                 A construction permit for the addition went in on January 22nd and judging from the pile of trash bags out front, the place is getting gutted now. Good! So how about this-- take the goddamn "Available" sign down! I'm excited to see yet another long empty storefront not only get filled, but completely upgraded. However, I'll be even more excited when its done and the new occupant comes along to FILL THIS FRONT!

The proposed addition by YCH

Monday, January 26, 2015

Butt-Fugly Building: Liberty View Apartments

2009-2051 South Street

            Its hard for me to walk down the 2000 block of South Street without puking and this is why. This shitty apartment building is a nearly block-long pile of putrescence that should have never been allowed to happen. See the length of this thing? That's how long it takes me to finish saying "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK" every time I see it.
          Its long as crap, short as shit, and is covered in garbage stucco. It has the worst street level presence of any apartment building in this whole goddamn city, and that's saying something. What's with the doors without knobs? The caged-over skylights? The ribbon windows along the first floor ceilings? The uneven roof height? The windows sticking out of the damn walls? The cheap slanted metal roof-cornice things? WHAT THE MOTHERFUCK IS UP WITH THIS PIECE OF SHIT!?!?!?

            Well, I'll tell you. This building was not originally constructed as one building. This was a set of rowhouses between 2009 and 2051 South Street combined into 61 apartment units.

The same buildings, 1964.
                In 1977, a General Partnership called Union Investment Company proposed this abomination and, after getting their ass kicked by the ZBA for about 2 years, finally got approved and started what would become one of the ugliest things to ever hit South Street. The architect was Edward Harrison Bernstein, who despite being in his 80's still practices out of the former fitting-up shop and cleaning shed of his family's old iron works. You know the building-- its the ivy-covered shit at the southeast corner of 23rd and Cherry Streets.
              I don't know exactly when it opened but it was completed by 1980. Ok, so I was just a fetus when this place was created, but how bad was this block of South Street back then that the building had to completely turn its back to the street? Places built in the same time period in the city's shittiest neighborhoods aren't even like this!
             Some new owners in the mid 80s proposed a one story addition on that back that would include a pool and health spa. The ZBA, probably embarrassed that they ever let this thing get built in the first place, denied and denied the idea over and over again until they gave up.
             Nowadays, this place is called "Liberty View Apartments" and is managed by PMC Property Group. Liberty View? You can't see the Statue of Liberty from this building! Do they mean the skyline views that that 3rd floor units have looking north? That's still not a "Liberty" view. For the longest time, I figured that this building was just showing its bad side to South Street and had its nice side on Rodman Street. Boy, was I wrong. On thin-ass Rodman Street, there's just a huge stuccoed wall running all along one side!

                  On the other side of the wall, some of the units have a small patio that faces out to some kind of cement-covered common area with bike racks and shit. What the fuck kind of "Liberty View" is that?

View from Liberty View Apartments outdoor space.
                According to info I've found online, the apartments inside range from $1390-$1740 per month, which is pretty cheap for the area. Some have fireplaces and balconies.
              Look, I understand that this end of South Street wasn't exactly a nice place until fairly recently, but there's no reason to ever build a nearly block-long building with no street engagement save a shitty glass entrance at 2031 South. Though it would be nice if this place was either destroyed or head-to-toe reconstructed, I'm pretty sure that's not gonna happen in my lifetime. So enjoy your shitty late 70s design, everybody. Its gonna be here for awhile.

They made up for the door by having five bays of brick wall next to it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

99 Years Ago in Philadelphia: End of January, 1916

Huge Gas Explosion in Point Breeze!

The dotted line indicates the direction of a flying manhole cover at 20th and Watkins.
             On an unusually warm winter morning near the end of January, 1916, a gas leak was detected around 20th and Morris Streets. The U.G.I. spent hours looking for the source of the leak, and then shit went bad. The gas ignited and rocked the block like nothing else. People were rocked out of their beds, windows shattered for 3 blocks around, and 150lb manhole covers flew up 40 feet. One landed on someone's marble steps and shattered them. Another blew a hole into the cornice of a corner building. Luckily, no one was killed and only one person was injured. A 300-pound Mrs. Holden was thrown out of her bed from the force of the blast and landed on her arm, fracturing it.
           Sadly enough, the whole gas explosion situation has not really changed. Nowadays, gas explosions still happen all the time in this city. Just last year, there was one a few blocks away from the one described here.

The same corner today via Google Streetview.

NIMBYs Go Nuts Opposing Saloon on 52nd Street

         Saloon owner P.J. Malone was tired of having to run his bar in what was then a shitty neighborhood (3rd and Arch) and wanted to move to the burgeoning commercial district found in the city's newest and nicest neighborhood, 52nd Street. He petitioned to move his saloon to the Northwest corner of 52nd and Larchwood, across the street from the new park created from the old Black Oak Woods (now Malcolm X Park).
        This sent the neighbors into a huge tizzy. They had moved over to this neighborhood to get away from the types of characters that would frequent this place! Not only that, it was very close to whqat was then one of the district's finest schools, Samuel B. Huey!

The old Huey School at 52nd and Pine before it was replaced with a shitty building from 1964. Pic from
          The neighbors and local civic advocates had slated this area of 52nd street to be a "Church District" and were pissed off. These saloon NIMBYs were already successful in stopping one from opening at 52nd and Ranstead the year before, so their NIMBY powers were primed to take down another one. The fear, of course, was that 52nd Street would one day become a bad neighborhood. Some were already talking about the shady characters that have been hanging around the corridor ever since the Davenport Saloon at 52nd and Walton opened. The goal of many was to create a "neighborhood of sobriety" here.
          Church leaders, local suffragists, a whole mess of temperance movement groups, and even the owner of the Davenport Saloon opposed the new place. Eventually, the NIMBYs won and P.J. Malone was shit out of luck.
         As many of us know, efforts to keep the 52nd Street corridor from becoming a bad neighborhood, well, weren't quite as successful as those early residents had hoped. Today, the shitty 1964-built replacement of the Huey School has a Great Schools rating of 1 and has a perpetually unfinished mural along its Pine Street facade. Cousin Danny's Exotic Heaven stands even closer to the school than Malone's saloon would have. At least there's a church in between the two. Imagine what kind of stripper you would have to be to only be able to get work on 52nd Street in a club assembled from three D.F. McConnell Modern Porch Houses. I guess teachers at Huey could always point to the place and tell kids "You don't want to end up working at Cousin Danny's, do you!?!? Do your work!"

Huey school on the left, church in the middle, Cousin Danny's on the right. Google Streetview.
"Demented" Choir Boy Steals 10 Grand Worth of Loot From St. Mark's

           Over the course of 2 years, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, still located in their kickass building on the 1600 block of Locust Street, was losing items one by one. A rector at the church hatched a plan to cut a secret peephole in the wall of the choirroom to see who the thief was, and finally figured out that one of the choir boys, 16-year-old George F. Davis, was the one stealing all of these valuable objects. The police went up to his house at 2423 n. 23rd Street and searched the place, finding silken robes braided with golden thread, silver candlesticks, satin stoles, jeweled ornaments, a big-ass censer, and a bunch of other church shit wrapped in newspapers and tucked into little corners in the attic and basement.
          After the cops locked up George, folks started coming out of the woodwork in his support, stating that the boy's mind was impaired by "too much reading" and that he was suffering from a "religious mania". The kid was a Freshman at Central High, which back then meant he had a verified IQ of over 115, so he was no dummy, just "demented". Young Davis, when asked why he was stealing all this valuable shit priced at about $10,000, stated "I wanted to have church of my own where I could preach my own sermons".
          Magistrate Pennock didn't give a fuck about Davis' crazies and held him on a $600 bail, which was pretty high for the time. About six days later, the church chose not to press charges and were able to get their rich-ass parishioners like George Wharton Pepper to pay for him to be treated in a sanitorium. Magistrate Pennock was satisfied with this and let the boy go.

George's house where he stored all the loot via Google Streetview.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- Stetson Hospital

1745 North 4th Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
              Holy crap! This is all that's left of the old Stetson Hat complex! Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fill This Front: Aramark Tower

1101 Market Street Suite 125

               Though sometimes its hard to tell, One Reading Center aka the Aramark Tower has lots of leasable street level spaces besides the big one at the corner held down by that Santander Bank. They're kind of hard to see because all the ones that aren't Santander are accessed by a tiny little door with minimal frontage on the street. Most of them change hands quite frequently and have found themselves though all kinds of different uses. However, there is one of them that has been empty for 7.5 years.
          This little 1,099 square foot retail space is the only Aramark Tower retail spot besides the Santander one that faces Market Street at street level. It stands at the bottom of one of the building's rounded corners. What's unique about this space is that it also has a 1,220 square foot basement space attached that is not accessible to the public via the transit concourse. Its hard to tell all the uses this little space has had since the building opened in 1984 but its last use was as a cafe, and from what I can tell, is still configured as such.
The configuration of both the street level and underground spaces.

                 The street level space also has an entrance from the Aramark lobby that includes some large display windows. Due to the angle the outdoor entrance faces, this little front is visible all the way down the block (from the west). This would be a great spot for a small coffee place that's trying to be way more badass than the shitty Dunkin' Donuts in the Reading Terminal Lobby down the block. This would be a great spot for one of our home-grown coffee companies to set up. La Colombe? Passero's? Green Street? There's like a million others. They all have small spaces like this found in office building lobbies or corners where you wouldn't expect them. How about a Federal Donuts? They'll open everywhere the fuck else but are afraid of Market East. If they were as badass as they say they are, this is the kind of place they would open.

Lobby entrance with display windows
              This location has a lot going for it,in case you're a dumbass and you didn't know. Not only is it right next to Jefferson Station and the Convention Center, you've got two gigantic hotels and a few smaller ones in a two block radius. You have countless bus lines on the same street and a subway spot directly underneath. On top of all that shit, there's a giant mixed-use development in progress across the street.
               What the fuck are you waiting for? Bring this little corner of the Aramark Tower back to life for the first time in the teens. Bring your badass coffee shop here and tell the others how much they can fuck off. Take advantage of all the new shit that's about to take place across the street. The space is managed by Precision Realty Group, here's the listing, which offers other spaces in the Aramark Tower as well. FILL THIS FUCKING FRONT!!

Across the street in a few years.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Athenaeum's Looking Forward: GroJLart Picks His Own Winners (and Losers)

219 South 6th Street

That white box with question mark is better-looking than some of the submissions.
          2014 marked the 200th Anniversary of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the badass library/resource center/museum housed in a kick-ass 1845-built John Notman-designed building on the east side of Washington Square that was the first brownstone building in the city. I'd go more into what the Athenaeum is, but, if you read this blog regularly, you should already fucking know. However, if you're new to this blog or just a general dumbass, here's all you need.
          To celebrate their bicentennial (and because they didn't bother celebrating their own centennial in 1914), the Athenaeum held an architecture contest named "Looking Forward" for both professional firms and students, imagining if the old John Notman building was replaced in 2050. Here's the full fact sheet that lists all the requirements and outlines badass jurors who would pick the final winners. 
           The Athenaeum received 88 submissions from all around the world, 46 professional and 42 student-made. Bruce Laverty, Gladys Brooks Curator for Architecture, and Michael Seneca, Director of the Athenaeum’s Regional Digital Imaging Center, have been huge boosters of Philaphilia and myself for the last 3 years. They've provided me with access to untold shitloads of information and images and this blog would be pretty boring without them, so thanks.
           They've also given me access to all the submissions to Looking Forward, so I have taken it upon myself to choose my own winners and losers for this contest, who of course will receive no prizes besides my mention of them. I'm sure if any of the real jurists read my review of these designs they would puke in their own mouths, but my choices are made nonetheless. To see the real winners of the Looking Forward contest, go down to the Athenaeum of Philadelphia at 219 South 6th Street, where the winners are on display until February 14th.
The Professional Submissions
         Ok, so as everyone knows, I don't care much for contemporary urban architecture or what today's firms have been producing. I like the old shit much better... out of all these submissions, the John Notman building still outdoes them all. The professional submissions range from very very detailed and thought-out to basic and barely rendered. Architecture firms are busy places and few even have the time to sit around and commit to fully designing a building that would never exist just to submit to a contest, so I understand why some look like they were farted out onto the paper. Nonetheless, some do stand out as pretty good and really bad.
        Note: the submissions are anonymous, I have no idea who the architects were for any of them. However, you can tell which ones have actually been to the site or know anything about the surrounding area. Some of the submissions didn't bother to look at page 6 of the fact sheet, which shows the context of the site:
Page Six shows how the site is surrounded by the Penn Mutual Towers, the St James houses, and Dilworth House.
              Therefore, any submission that didn't have the Washington Square side as the primary facade went on my immediate shitlist. With some, however, you could tell its originators knew about the area and even went as far as eliminating the Dilworth House property or acknowledging the poor souls at the St. James houses who have been in perpetual shadow for decades.
                 There were also some that seemed to think the building was to be placed in the year 2550 instead of 2050, having outlandish-ass technology and other whacky shit involved. Others went way more staid, with the most basic re-do of the building, almost like they just took off the John Notman facade and put a boring contemporary one on. Some are Supertall Skyscrapers, others put the whole thing underground like the never-built Calder Museum. Anyway, enough talk. Here are my professional winners and losers:

The Winner

               I had a hard time picking a winner... again, I'm not a fan of contemporary urban architecture nor am I much into some of the attitudes behind a lot of ideas that get shoe-horned into today's building designs. Of the 46 professional submissions, this was my favorite:

Looks like the guy on the right is about to take a shit.
                 Pretty good. It has all the kind of crap that should be involved with a place like this without going overboard. A thin tower section holding all the library/museum stuff and a shorter section for rentable studios and "collaboration pods" that is topped with an outdoor space.

             Futuristic without too much whacky shit going on. Doesn't much acknowledge the Randolph Street side, but that's ok, I still enjoy it. This one would really make a great addition to Washington Square. My only two criticisms of this one are the big "Athenaeum" sign and the grey facade of the short section.

 Honorable Mention

            This one gets an Honorable Mention-- out of all the submissions that were skyscrapers, this one was the best looking and had the best conceptual shit going on. Its fucking gigantic at 1,040 feet but that's not the only thing that makes it cool. The top floor has a 360 degree interactive observation deck whereby a person could get info about each building visible from the deck through a display on the windows themselves.

How fucking cool is that?
          Out of the many whacky, outlandish, and totally impractical submissions to this contest, this one stands out to me as best of those. Others included little flying robots that would retrieve resources for you and the conversion of South 6th Street into a series of public baths in front of the place. Seriously.
         Another I would also give a semi-honorable mention to is this one that was one of the real winners of the contest. Though the architect is all the way from Hungary, he acknowledges the site much better than many of the others.

The Losers

           I thought I had a hard time picking a winner until I had to pick a loser. I don't know what some of these firms are smoking but I'm mad that they've never offered me some. Don't get me wrong-- they didn't all suck. Some were pretty good but nothing to write home about, others were boring more than bad. However, I've narrowed it down to a few that require some good old-fashioned GroJLart shit-talking.

No... just no.
             What the fuck is this shit? Nice quality renderings but the design... I don't know where to begin! That goofy-looking green and blue tower? The base that looks like it was designed by a broken android? Though just one of the many submissions with a residential tower attached, I'm pretty sure this is the only one that also has a 60-car parking garage!

             Is this Athenaeum supposed to be in Hell? Its in the middle of a desert with shadow people walking around it. The submission for this one is more about the system the originators created to access info at the library than the building itself. Why so all the windows face the St. James Street side? That just ends up facing the back of the Penn Mutual Towers!

            What the hell are they trying to do with this one? It looks like a gun pointed at Washington Square. The interior of the cylindrical section is configured like a submarine and the whole place has all this indoor-outdoor shit going on like the Athenaeum is located in a place where it never rains or gets cold. Blech.

The Student Submissions

           Ok, so many of us know what its like to be a college student. All those lofty ideas in your head but no experience in knowing the best way to execute said ideas. When I first started looking at the student submissions, I was excited for a couple of reasons. One was that I would see what the real future of architecture would look like, the other was that I would see ideas that the pros would never come up with.
          What a disappointment. Some of the student ones look like they were given as a class project and were executed at the last minute after two weeks straight of binge drinking (I went to Art School, I know what it's like). Others seemed like tumblr opened an architecture firm. Therefore, I'm only picking a winner in the student submissions and no losers, because talking shit about some of these student ones would be too mean, even for me. They're not all bad though-- I narrowed it down to about six I kind of liked and chose a Winner and Honorable Mention.

The Student Winner

           Out of the 42 student submissions, this was my favorite:

              I didn't like this one at first glance but it the more I looked at it, the more it grew on me. Usually I don't like building with a big mass on top like that but this one makes up for it with the crazy curved ribs in the windows. The roof has a practically-designed public space with a small amount of greenery, as opposed to other submissions that had 100-year-old trees popping out from the basement. The glass with its curved ribbing pops out of the top as well. Good job, young'n.

Honorable Mention

           Ok, this seems borderline silly but I think it looks pretty cool, at least in the way presented here. Several of both the professional and student submissions made the John Notman building into a base for a taller building, but this one outdoes them all. Its a giant heart plopped down into the old building with veins/arteries popping out that are not only a design element visible from the outside, but also functional as elevator shafts/utilities/soffits etc. Pretty Neat.

           Overall, this was a great idea for a contest and a great way to celebrate one of Philadelphia's most important institutions. Make sure to check out the exhibit at the Athenaeum, where you can not only see all the winners, but models of their designs and a slideshow of ALL the submissions.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Update!! Fronts That Filled!!

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

          Hello, this is Robert Stack, and you are now reading this in my voice. Since last April, your shitbag author GroJLart has been highlighting long-empty storefronts hoping to get them filled. Almost 9 months later, some that have been empty for years and years have finally filled or now have activity in motion. Play the youtube embedded below to hear the appropriate background music.


        The infamous Murano storefront, featured in the first-ever Fill This Front post, is about to get filled! American Heritage Credit Union is moving over from the Stock Exchange Building in anticipation of its coming head-to-toe renovation. They will be taking a ~5,000 square foot segment of the space, leaving a 2,500 square foot section still available. After nearly 8 years without ever getting a tenant, the Murano's ground floor will finally rise! Here's the listing for the rest of the space.


        Another storefront empty for nearly 8 years, the Stapler space, finally has an occupant! Everything Fresh, an experimental grocery store concept being tried out that may expand further throughout Center City if successful. The place has only been open for a short time but always seems to be crowded and has some great Yelp reviews. Good Luck!


          The 5-years-empty 1518 Walnut space now finally has a permanent lessee. My.Suit (that's not a typo), has opened their fifth-ever store here, their first outside of NYC (unless you count their White Plains store as such, which I don't). If you have a lot of money, go in and get yourself a custom-made suit.


          Both storefronts outlined in a single Fill This Front post, 1200 and 1300 South Street, both have activity in motion. 1200 South went up for sale at the end of November and then was re-labeled "Off Market" on December 31st, meaning that it either just got sold or was just taken off the market after a month and some change. Hopefully it sold. Either way, the retail space is back up for lease.
          1300 South, a storefront empty for nearly 9 years, now has a tenant signed: the new location of Sansom Street Kebab House! The owner of the Kebab House told the Inquirer that he will be retaining the name of the place, so the new location will be labeled with a different street name that its actually on. This is a grand Philly tradition-- Paper on Pine is on 13th Street, Sound of Market is in its last month at 11th Street (and once had a location on Chestnut), Spruce Street Video is on 12th Street, and the short-lived 14th Street Audio was on Chestnut Street!

          Even when the Fill This Front about 137 South 10th Street was posted, plans were already in motion. In a very very short time, the space has been made into the Jefferson Acceleration Zone! This building looked like absolute shit for a long time so this is a great addition to the street and the neighborhood.

And now some smaller updates:

           -2108 Walnut has a new owner, therefore this long-empty storefront may come back into play.

           -Unsubstantiated rumor has it that the Sprucy Storefronts may be getting filled with an expansion of the CVS next door. We'll see what happens.
           - The Philadelphia Blueprint Company building is in the midst of construction-- additional floors are being added on top. Hopefully this means that someone will be coming along to use all this new space and maybe even Fill that Front after nearly 8 years empty.

              Something is afoot at the "Dinette" space. The sidewalk out front is blocked off and a candystripe notice from L + I has appeared.

       For every empty lot, effed-up building, new development, or empty storefront, there's someone, somewhere, who knows the truth. Perhaps that someone is reading this. Perhaps... it's you. If you have any new or extra information relating to articles posted at Philaphilia, write to us at You need not give your name.

"Now get the fuck out of here"