Monday, July 20, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Hamilton Whist Club

247 South 41st Street

Photo by Michael Bixler
             West Philly has lost a lot of places as interesting as this, but once in awhile one of them manages to stay alive. Read all about this crazy bastard at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fill This Front: 1900 Arch

1900 Arch Street, Suite 102

I guess if you want to name your store/restaurant PARKING you won't have to change the sign.
           Ok, I gave this one some time, but for fuck's sake, if you're going to build this little dinky disappointing shitbird of an apartment building on a lot that should have a fucking supertall skyscraper on it, you might as well get some nice retail on the street level! Nonetheless, this shit has been available for over a year and still can't get filled. What the fuck is going on here? Let's FILL THIS FRONT!
           So in case you've been under a rock for the past couple of years, there's been a lot of goings-on in the development world at 19th and Arch Streets. A few years ago, PMC Property Group, longtime student-ghetto and aging apartment building operator/manager (read their awesome reviews along with some more here and here and here and here) decided that they should get into the game of actually building their own shit instead of poorly managing (again, according to the reviews which you can read even more of here and here and here) or rehabbing existing properties.
         And shit is what they did build. Everyone was excited when they were going to re-do the old AAA Building into apartments, but the result ended up being even uglier and more boring looking than the original. After people started living there for awhile, they complained about the shoddy construction and shitty management. However, at least they were able to get the storefronts filled with some half-decent stuff so the rest of us who don't live there would at least get something out of the street level experience.
          While that ass-scraper was starting construction, PMC teamed-up with EB Realty to develop a new apartment building at the long-derelict southwest corner of 19th and Arch Streets. It was to be a miniscule building much smaller than other midrises to the south and northeast... I know they couldn't have possibly known about the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center's coming to the lot across the street AND there was a shitty real estate market at the time, but even so, the building is too damn short for the area.
          Right after groundbreaking, some legal shit ensued and EB Realty was no longer involved with the project. Once completed in April 2014, the two retail spaces on the ground floor of what ended up being a plastic-facaded-looking little building anyone could probably knock over if they kicked hard enough went up for lease. Oh, and the apartments above started getting almost the same exact reviews as 2040 Market. I must say the lobby, courtyard, roofdeck, and gym look pretty nice though.
          Maybe I'm being a little hard on PMC. After all, their two new builds were done during a shitty time for real estate across America. They are currently on deck to do some more new shit-- they are currently building One Water Street which isn't exactly getting my hopes up, but at least is new construction on the waterfront. They are also the ones that will re-do the Marketplace Design Center, and they just bought one of Richard Basciano's 1903-built slum properties next door. Hopefully, they'll do it right this time.
           The two retail spaces on the ground floor of 1900 Arch are 7,000 sq ft and 4,300 sq ft. The 7,000 sq ft one faces a long stretch of Arch Street and is integral to giving this building the ability to make up for its crappy look by engaging the street level so no one will notice-- therefore let's just focus on that one getting filled right now.

Rendering of the storefront in 2013 with translucent walls behind the display windows and a generic "CAFE" sign.
               This is a 7,000 square foot space with 137 goddamn feet of street frontage along Arch Street and another 21 ft facing 19th. Not enough? There's another 77 feet of frontage along the courtyard of the building itself. There are 234 apartment units above with a whole bunch more about to come online with the addition of 1924 Arch along the back of this building. Literally hundreds of thousands of people work every day in the surrounding buildings and another tens of thousands live nearby. This location is accessible by nearly every form of public transportation in the whole city, there's not reason to go through it all.

The courtyard side of the space.
               If that's not enough for you because at this point you must be nuts, the tallest goddamn building in the entire city that includes a motherfucking high-end-ass hotel is being built across the street and after that, the same developer is eyeing up the corner across the other street for another big-ass building in the future. That means that if you can stick it out at this storefront for awhile, you'll have access to even more thousands of potential customers. The place rents for $315,000-$420,000/yr which seems a bit high for me, but what do I know? Its been empty long enough that you could probably talk them down on the price a bit, right? Anyway, here's the listing on Loopnet via Precision Realty Group--be the one that will FILL THIS FRONT.

The big motherfucker going up on the opposite corner.
 UPDATE: Jacob Cooper from MSC Retail tells me that the space is now leased!! Thanks for the info, Jacob!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Old-Ass Building: R.C. Ballinger Building

218 North 13th Street

             I've always loved this old baller down in what I call Season City. However, I wasn't expecting this much history! Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Butt-Fugly Public Art: Life Savers by Billie Lawless

38th and Spruce, Southwest Corner

               I haven't done one of these in awhile but when I happened upon this tarnished piece of elephant dung I couldn't resist telling you about it. What a piece of trash-- people wonder why art/design/architecture from the 1980s constantly gets derided. Well, this is your answer.
              It started in 1982. The Philadelphia Art Alliance had a sculpture show at Rittenhouse Square in order to celebrate the city's 300th birthday. The city was doing pretty shitty at the time but there were signs that things were about to get better-- plans were being put into motion to clean up/rebuild the City Hall clock tower, the One Logan Square/Four Seasons complex was breaking ground, the Hershey Philadelphia Hotel (now Doubletree) Broad and Locust was just finished, and a major motion picture was being filmed in the city. 
            Sculptor Billie Lawless prepared a submission for the show and I guess he didn't have to think very hard about it because he already designed a sculpture one year earlier called Cockle-Doodle-Doo (now standing at the Buffalo State College campus) that was EXTREMELY similar. He made this 1,200 pound pile of metal dogshit in the shape of 3 half circles, painted them goofy colors, and called it Life Savers because they kind of look like the candy of the same name. I don't know how they got a hold of it, but a year later, art patrons Phillip and Muriel Berman donated it and another sculpture to the University of Pennsylvania.
            UPenn put it up right next to the doorway of their veterinary hospital's emergency room, I guess so that when you bring your dying dog in, you can see the sculpture and say to yourself "Well, it sucks that my dog's dead, but at least I didn't make that shitty sculpture!"

Photo of it from when it was first installed. Source: University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 22,1983.

             Maybe they put it next to the veterinary hospital because it's called Life Savers and lives are saved in there? Anyway, the sculpture sat in the same spot for the next 31 years until, in the latter half of 2014, it was mysteriously moved to the corner of 38th and Spruce along with the plaque from its dedication.
             Since the move, a large pockmark has appeared on the red part, which is even more mysterious. Its not there in the Google Streetview at the original location from May 2014:

            Whatever. You'd think that if they were gonna move this thing to a location where waaaaay more people were going to see it, they would have restored the motherfucker first. Oh well-- just yet another UPenn public art atrocity. You'd think that all those fancy professors and students over there would try to make this kind of shit better, but it just keeps getting worse. Get on the ball, Penn. Get us some public art that people will actually want to look at once in awhile.

From this angle it looks just like the one at Buffalo State. Way to be creative, Billie.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Old-Ass Building: Philadelphia Savings Fund Society

200 W Washington Square

Photo by Michael Bixler
                  Everyone loves this old bastard, but now its fucking Jefferson!?!? How the hell did this happen? Read all about it at the Hidden City Daily!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Fill This Front: Qdoba Wash West

1105 Walnut Street

            A year goes by an this nicely laid-out restaurant space is still empty. What the hell is going wrong? Let's see if we can figure this one out and finally FILL THIS FRONT!
          1105 Walnut was built in 1901 under the designs of J. Franklin Stuckert, a pretty prolific local architect who doesn't really get any respect. He did the Heid Building in the Eraserhood, the long-lost Hotel Vendig, and the bitchin'-looking Berean Presbyterian Church. This and the buildings that once stood where the Wendy's is now were built due to a widening of Walnut Street in 1900.
         The building's first occupant, the Bussa Sculptured Leather Company, used the storefront for their walk-in sales so I guess they were the first user of the space. In 1905-06, S.N. Rhoads' famous Franklin Book Shop sold exotic and hard-to-find books here for a couple of years before moving down the street.

           A couple of decades later, the building became the LaSalle Hotel and they used the ground floor for their restaurant of the same name.

All the way on the left in 1929.
            I'm not sure what was going on with it for the next few decades after that but in 1956 its owner of the period decided it was time to knock it down and build something new. For some reason, those plans were shelved and the building survived. By 1965, the storefront was back in use as a barbershop.
           In 1983, the front went from use as a psychic's place to a jewelry store that only lasted one year. In 1984, Formal Dimensions came along, renting out tuxedos from the place for many years thereafter. The ghost sign of the place still decorates the eastern party wall to this day.

           In 2004, some new owners bought the building for $895k and commissioned architect Sabrina Soong to make a new storefront design, combining with the basement store retail spot(where School of Hard Knox Barber Shop was) with the 1st floor and wiping out a portion of the 2nd floor to give the space a mezzanine. In 2007, the storefront opened its doors again as Qdoba Mexican Grill.

2007, when they didn't even have a proper sign yet via the Google Streetview Time Machine.
               Things seemed to go just fine for the place but just like what happened on the 1500 block of Walnut, a Chipotle opened half a block away. There's no way of knowing if it was related, but this Qdoba location was closed by the start of the Summer of 2014. The place went up for rent that August and is yet to be filled-- but its mysterious. The listing for the place went "Off Market" November 16th but still has a "Restaurant Available" sign on it. The sign has no phone number so I don't know how anyone who is interested is supposed to get in contact with those responsible. Maybe this is like the Home 2 Suites space where someone has leased it but hasn't gotten their shit in a pile yet to get opened.
              Anyway, just in case it IS still available, let me tell you about it. The spot is 3,200 square feet (basement + ground floor + mezzanine), has 20 feet of street frontage, and, like the sign says, is fully equipped for restaurant use. This is a great block to be on if you're a food establishment, since you're right next to Jefferson Hospital, where thousands of daily employees and patient's visitors get hungry every day. You've also got the Forrest Theater across the street, and when they do have a show running (which is unfortunately like once a year), there are tons of folks milling about. At night, the bars on the block give you a whole new mess of customers.
          The space has great transit access-- Walnut Street has a whole shitload of bus lines that run along it and, like others I've mentioned, it's very close to the system's longest and most-used bus line: the 23. Combine that with proximity to the 11th Street EL stop and Jefferson Station and you get some good-ass transit options. Now all you have to do is FILL THIS FRONT!

UPDATE 7/15/2015: Someone must have read this post because this space now has a listing on Loopnet with some actual contact info on it!! Of course, no price is listed because why the fuck would anyone want to know!!? Idiots.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Old-Ass Building(s): 15th and Federal

1438 Federal Street, 1440-42 Federal Street


             Everyone knows I love a good cornice-- when I found out that one of the buildings I've been wanted to write about forever was home to a Cornice King, I had to look further. Read all about the three buildings at the Southeast Corner of 15th and Federal at the Hidden City Daily!