Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fill This Front: The Witherspoon Building

1319-1323 Walnut Street

               This is a goddamn disgrace. After spending well over a decade as a totally unavailable ground-floor office, this spot finally gets re-born into retail availability, only to sit there empty for another 2 years! What a shame. This, of course, is the ground floor retail of the iconic Witherspoon Building at the northwest corner of Walnut and Juniper Streets. Ok, so the same bum has been standing in front of this place for over a decade-- who cares? If it was filled, things would be different. Its not like retail is foreign to this corner, block, or even building... this particular spot was once filled with retail for 80 straight years! 
              To list all the crap that has been in this front over that time would be foolhardy, but I'll try to break it down as succinctly as possible. The first retail tenant in the building, built, owned, and operated by the Presbyterian Church, was the Presbyterian Book Store. It opened on the ground floor in 1898.
Full page ad announcing the opening of the store in the Red & Blue, UPenn's periodical of the day.
             Meanwhile, the mezzanine of the building was a huge auditorium that was built to hold lectures and events. It didn't do very well, so by 1900, it got rented out as a retail space. The Book-Lover's Library Company, a private lending library that had offices in the Witherspoon Building, made it their Library Centre, starting a chain that would reach across the country and Canada over the next several years. The Witherspoon Building has been internally altered so many times that its difficult to determine how the mezzanine was accessed, but I believe it may have been from the 1321 Walnut door, the one that looks like its the front door, but isn't. The Juniper Street side of the building once and has always been the intended front the building. The I.C & Brothers Typewriter Company held down the western storefront at 1323 Walnut during this time.

The storefronts in 1898. Image from the PAB.

             By the mid 1910s, the Book-Lover's Library was done for. The Presbyterian Book Store then moved up into the mezzanine and the two ground-floor storefronts became the Rittenhouse Trust Company and the International Merchant Marine Freight Office. 
             Over the next few decades, the ground floor shit switched out numerous times but the mezzanine stayed the Presbyterian Book Store  (except when briefly re-made into an auditorium in the 1920s and 1930s). In the 1940s, Westminster Press, a publisher of Christian-themed/Christian-friendly books that had offices in the Witherspoon Building, opened a bookstore as well. They would stick around for almost three decades, moving to different parts of the building at different times, finally settling into the 1323 Walnut space in 1955.

1956. Check out that awesome Mid-Century signage. At this point the other storefront had an un-named housewares store. Image from
                   In 1963, the hall on the mezzanine was given up yet again and converted into the offices it is today. On July 31, 1972, the Westminster Book Store closed, right before the Presbyterian Church sold the building. There is a store with the same name and theme today at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA. That Seminary was founded and once entirely existed within the Witherspoon Building. In the 1980s, a chain print shop and a small book store inhabited the ground floor. At some point in time after that, the whole first floor frontage was made into offices.
               Fast forward to the start of the 21st Century. After years of neglect, the immediate area was re-born with regard to retail. Then came Tony Goldman's Midtown Village revolution. Suddenly, nearby storefronts that had either been empty or drastically under-utilized for years were now coming into play. Even suburban chains, like the IHOP catercorner to this space, made their way in. Now was the time for retail to return to the Witherspoon Building!
              In 2010, the choice was made to put the space up on the market, along with the whole rest of the building, which has emptied out due to Wells Fargo, who has a lease on the place until 2020, adjusting some shit. In 2012, the ground floor retail space was separated out as a different kind of listing, pushing for a restaurant space.
The space on the right. The other two spaces would only ever be accessible from the lobby. Image by FameCo via Naked Philly.
                    It appears that in its office conversion, the 1319, 1321, and 1323 spaces were all combined into one 7,767 square foot space. Therefore, any retail put here would be accessed by the big decorated door out front. So how the fuck has this thing stayed empty? Let me help.

                 This is the Walnut Street-facing retail space at 1319-1323 Walnut Street. As stated above, this space in 7,767 square feet. It gets a full 75 feet of street frontage at the heavily-trafficked corner of Walnut and South Juniper Streets. This location has full retail at every other corner but this one, sharing it with a Dunkin Donuts, Potito's Bakery, and IHOP. Going further from the corner, everything from eyeglasses to porn to mixed nuts is available! Don't be discerned by the empty retail across the street. Almost all of it has big plans!
                This location is extremely close to the Broad Street Line subway and is walkable from the Market-Frankford Line, the PATCO, and all the Subway-Surface trolleys. So many buses pass this location that it would take 200 years to read a list of them all. Countless pedestrians pass this spot each day. Thousands of people work nearby, stay in the nearby hotels, and make residence in this area. YOU CAN'T FUCKING LOSE!
                 Its hard to tell who exactly is in charge of leasing this space, so even if you want it, good luck figuring it all out. CBRE/Fameco once listed the space in 2012 when it was first separated out, but that listing is now gone. Newmark Grubb Knight Frank seems to be currently handling the leasing of everything in the building that isn't this particular retail space. I don't get, probably due to being a dumbass. Either way, this storefront is the shit... in the time that its been available, a whole mess of new restaurants and retail have come and gone through the surrounding blocks. One storefront, further down Walnut Street, was an empty shell for well over a decade and re-made into a restaurant during that time. Obviously, the potential for greatness is here.
                Contact both NGFK and CBRE and try to find out how to lease this space-- its been empty so long that you could probably offer like 75 cents a year and you'll get in. FILL THIS FUCKING FRONT!!

Here it is in 1899, more filled than it is today. Image from the PAB

1 comment:

  1. Joan Shepp supposedly was moving into this space....but is now going to the space next to the Belgravia.