Thursday, August 25, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- August 25th

Trump 35.5

Pier 35.5, 709 North Penn Street

What a travesty. Image from Google.
                    This is a pretty sad sack of a case. Though it appears to look just like all the other undeveloped old piers, this one is unique. This pier stands as a symbol of all of the broken dreams and unfinished plans that have come to this neighborhood.
                     Pier 35.5 began as the southern shore of the mouth of Cohocksink Creek, aka Stacey's Creek. That little creek was an important waterway for the early Swedish settlers of the Philadelphia area. During the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777, the British dammed the creek and set up artillery along it's south side, including the site of this empty lot. After the war, the area didn't see much development until Philadelphia County consolidated in 1854. At that point, the creek was organized into a canal and used by all the industrial needs in the area.

Pier 35.5 as seen in the 1875 G.M. Hopkins map.
                      The Cohocksink Creek Canal was covered over and still runs under Canal Street in that neighborhood. The only remaining outdoor section of Cohocksink Creek is the little piece between Pier 35.5 and Waterfront Square. For many decades, Pier 35.5 was used as an outdoor storage area for lumber and cement. A few ice houses dotted the lot. By the time the 20th Century was a little more than half over, the pier became the empty lot we know and love today, 94,616 square feet of fuck.

There it is on the left, being cleared on January 7, 1960. It was called Pier 36 back then.
                 Fast forward to 2006.  Inspired by improvements in the residential neighborhood nearby and by some new creative zoning, rich-ass developers became interested in Pier 35.5's neighborhood. It was a great time in Philadelphia when new construction and new building proposals were EVERYWHERE. A great multitude of tall building projects came to this 'hood and Philaphiles creamed themselves with excitement over the possibility of what could have become a whole 'nother downtown for the city.
               Then the market tanked and almost all of the projects never happened. The ones that did get through were built in a half-ass way. Here's a diagram from that crazy period, with updates:

Click to read all of the details.
                      Even after most of those projects died, the plan for Pier 35.5 was considered the most possible. The plan for this pier was Trump Tower Philadelphia, a $300 million dollar 45-storey residential skyscraper that would be the height of City Hall.

Alright, so it's not that exciting.
                      Not a fan of having the entire pier covered in a parking garage pedestal, not a fan of the design, but fuck it... this is better than the pile of dirt that's been sitting in that spot for all these centuries. When approvals actually came through and site prep was beginning, people thought this thing was actually going to happen! Even as late as March 2008, ads for the project were appearing in Philadelphia Style Magazine:
Giant Trump will rise out of the ground and shit on you if you don't buy. Originally posted by Swinefeld at Skyscraper Page.
                   All of the excitement went to shit in November 2008 when the project was declared "postponed". Even though that doesn't mean its totally dead, the likelihood of this thing happening  is next to nil. The only glimmer of hope we have for this sucker is based on two pieces of evidence:

           1) The same owner that purchased the lot for 10 million bones on April 4, 2006 still owns it and is paying the $61k property tax bill every year. Strangely, the address of the LP that owns the space is based in a residential home in Brooklyn.

           2) Pier 35.5 is one of the only piers that goes completely ignored by the Master Plan for the Central Delaware. This gigantic plan uses up almost all of the empty lots and piers along the river, yet Pier 35.5 stands alone and untouched.

There it is on the right. Suspicious, this is.
                   Could this be proof that Trump Tower Philadelphia might actually still be a go? Other so-called "postponed" proposals from the 00's building boom have started back up (State Office Building, 600 North Broad)... could this one be next? HIGHLY DOUBTFUL, but maybe, just maybe, a new development for this lot will spring forth. Here's a weird design I found by some architect named Dan Ionescu:

Don't know if it's old, new, fantasy, or an actual proposal.
                     Right now, it looks like this sad Pier of Penis Cheese is going to stay sad as fuck for a least another generation. Even if the area around it gets developed, this lot may stay waiting for Trump for the rest of our natural lives. Trump, are you reading this? Take the chance! Build! BUILD!!!!!!!!!!


  1. Get ready to see a bunch of new zoning-mandated parking coming to the pier, because it will still have parking minimums in the current plans. I posted something on Twitter about writing to the Delaware waterfront commission (or whatever it's called) and asking them to remove the parking mins, and it got retweeted and in the end a few dozen people wrote in. This earned me an email from someone there thanking my "group" for our interest, but politely telling me that they don't actually care what people who write in have to say (there was a dedicated feedback form), because they've already decided the area needs parking minimums. I believe she said something like, "Until we can get better transit access in the neighborhood…" which I think means some streetcar project they wanna build, but likely won't. I guess having an El stop offering you a quick, frequent one-seat ride anywhere you wanna go in Center City and West Philadelphia mere blocks from the development isn't good enough?

  2. See my book, "Philadelphia's Lost Waterfront," released last month by The History Press, for more about this part of town.