Thursday, August 18, 2011

Empty Lot of the Week-- August 18th

NIMBY Memorial West (aka Design Lot, aka University Lot [You know it's bad when you're not the first person to name the lot])

313 South Broad Street

Don't be fooled by it's small size.
                  NIMBYhood claimed this victim in 1999 and never looked back. Like the Great NIMBY Memorial, NIMBY Memorial West is the direct result of whiny neighbors fucking over development just to get their way, no matter the cost. For shame!!! This lot is the biggest eyesore on the Center City section of South Broad Street, and that's saying a lot. At this point, you could build a giant concrete sculpture of my ass on it and I'll be happy.
                 This lot's first known life was as the residence of the Fell-Drexels, yet another 19th Century Philadelphia power couple. They built a mansion at 313 South Broad, set back from the street, back when the term "street" would be used rather loosely. It was more like set back from the 100-foot-wide horseshit and mud conveyor belt that was called "Broad Street" back then. After the Fell-Drexels moved to what we now call Fort Washington, the residence changed hands a number of times until purchased by the City Club of Philadelphia.
                The City Club was one of the many many many gentleman's clubs that existed in American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The City Club was much newer and different from the Freemasons, Elks, Oddfellows, Saint Georgians, Columbians, Scottish Riteys, and all the other groups of rich men that sat around smoking cigars and shit. The City Club was basically made up of all the assholes who weren't allowed in or thrown out of any of those other clubs for any number of reasons. Naturally, they were the fastest growing gentleman's club of the era. They spread into Philadelphia in 1905.
                In 1916, they purchased the Fell-Drexel property and built their own five storey clubhouse around and in front of it for the then-hefty sum of 250 Stacks.

                       The Hall became a party spot for members and a rentable venue for small events. Decades later, after the Philadelphia chapter of the City Club disbanded, the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts used it for studios and performance space. They built a theater inside and called it "Theatre 313". The school gave the building the creative name Philadelphia College of Performing Arts Annex.

The Annex Building in 1978.
                      After the PCPA joined with 2 other schools and became part of the University of the Arts, Theatre 313 continued to stay in use. In 1995, U. Arts received a massive grant from rich motherfucker Daniel Terra and went apeshit with it. They purchased the Pennsylvania Lumberman's Building and planned a new 17-storey dormitory that would replace the old City Club building, among other improvements.

Hey, it's hard to find a rendering from the 90's. It's too old to be relevant and not old enough to be archived somewhere!
                      It was going to be awesome... a new highrise for Broad Street that would contain a brand new three-storey art gallery and space for 374 students. This was the key to saving this forlorn stretch of Broad Street. Four years of planning and thousands of dollars later, demolition of the City Club began. Then came... the NIMBYs.
                     Residents of the 300 block of Juniper Street lost their damn minds! How dare a private property owner build a 17 storey building on a city's primary street without consulting them on every detail!!! Like the recent situation with the Dog Park, the nearby citizens had no idea that this project was even happening until the demolition, despite U. Arts and the Avenue of the Arts Inc. mentioning it at every fundraiser, graduation, exhibition, press release, and event  for 4 years straight.
                    The NIMBYs were so blindsided by this that they just started making up shit in order to fuck the project over. Leon Chudzinski, then president of the Washington Square West Civic Association, said "...with 17 floors, the dorm would tower over other buildings in the vicinity by more than 10 stories... ...This is something that isn't within scale with the rest of the community", which is complete unadulterated bullshit. Center City One is LESS THAN A HALF BLOCK AWAY from the site and is THIRTY FUCKING STOREYS!! Fuck you, Chud.

Center City One as seen from the neighborhood in question.
                       The NIMBYs literally complained about every aspect of the project, even down to what materials would be used in the construction, as if they should have ANY kind of say on that. The project got delayed and delayed as NIMBYs fucked with U. Arts and the project stalled like a motherfucker. Thanks, assholes.
                       What goes through their heads? This isn't fucking Shanghai where a 2,000-foot skyscraper with six 800-foot support buildings will be built in your damn back yard. I suspect that many of these neighbors owned property that they often rented out to U. Arts students and were threatened by new modern student housing taking their customers.
                     The University still needed the dorm space so they gave up the plan and made a deal with the owner of the former Social Services Building at 311 Juniper Street, which was already in the process of being converted into apartments. Ironically, the Social Services building is located on the same block as all the residents that gave them shit. You can spot it in the middle of the picture at the top of the article. The NIMBYs freaked out and went for the jugular. In this case, there wasn't much they could do and the project was completed. Good. Fuck 'em.
                     After 1999, the NIMBY Memorial West just sat there with a shitty chain link fence in front of it for a few years until U. Arts started using it as an outdoor Art Gallery and Exhibition Space. This is a pretty good use for an empty lot but I'd rather have a building. Any other use stands as a reminder of how a few disgruntled residents stopped a perfectly good project on Philadelphia's primary street. What a fucking shame.

This is how it looked on Tuesday, August 16th.


  1. it is insane that claiming a building of any height would be inappropriate for broad street. actually, i take that back. any building UNDER 10 stories is inappropriate for broad street. some days, when i think of ways to spend the unlimited dollars i don't have, i often fantasize about building things that would intentionally piss the NIMBYs off. and since i have unlimited dollars i wouldn't care about time and cost...all that would matter would be bankrupting the NIMBYs and outlasting them.

  2. I've always wondered about this lot! Thanks for laying out its (depressing) story.

  3. Check this out man...

    Hopefully we can get something nice built there.

  4. So it's OK in your view to demo historic buildings in the middle of the night without a permit? And then you would expect the near-neighbors to be enthusiastic about their proposed variance for an 18 story building? Who was their PR firm, Stalin and Lenin associates?