Thursday, April 24, 2014

GroJLartitorial: Fix The Unit Block of South 11th Street!

Unit Block of South 11th Street, Ludlow to Chestnut

            So much potential, so little love. This little block on 11th Street between Ludlow and Chestnut looks like horseshit and has no goddamn excuse. For at least the last 100 years, this block was a regular retail street that offered everything from stationary to jazz clubs to car batteries. Nowadays, it looks like shit. Empty storefronts, underutilized architecture, barely any nighttime activity. Even the sidewalk sucks. You take Jefferson's Gibbon Building out of the picture and you'd have a hard time convincing someone that this was Center City.
           I'm going to ignore the also crappy block across the street, the one Inga recently called "near-slum conditions", because it is technically in a transitional period. The Girard Estate has some big plans for that spot once the Family Court Annex moves out so I don't want to shit all over it (until those plans are confirmed). But that east side of the block, it hurts.
            Fuck it, let's go through the whole thing. The block begins with a great looking building that I've written about before designed by William Steele & Sons about a century ago. While it was once known for its beautiful single Horn and Hardart storefront embellished with stained glass that matched the rest of the building's facade, nowadays it holds no less than five storefronts, three of which are long shuttered (but available for lease).
            The building's best current feature is probably the famous Sound of Market store, which fills the 2nd and 3rd floors, only accessible through another store called Mine Fragrances & Variety, that sells every fucking thing you've ever thought of. Need a gallon of shea butter? They've got it. Need a new bong? They've got it. Need a Ganesh statue? Got it. The only other active storefront on this building is a crappy jewelry store, just like all the other crappy jewelry stores you see in small storefronts all over the city. Who goes to these places? How do they make any money? This grossly underutilized building serves as a microcosm of the whole block: sad-looking, beat up, and in desperate need of new blood. It does have an "Available" sign on it, but it doesn't really specify for what. Apartments? Stores? Sex?
         Sound of Market is actually a pretty cool store. No reason for that to have to move off the block. More on that later.

              The next building on the block is a goddamn disgrace to any architect living, dead, or about to be born. 23-27 South 11th Street is the remains of three early 19th century extra-large rowhouses, so old that they were built before the Opera House that the Sound of Market building replaced. In the mid 1950s, a fire ripped through the three houses, at that point long having been converted to commercial use. The Girard Estate took control of the three properties on January 31, 1959 and combined them into one garbastic piece of ass-smash, throwing on a mid-20th-centuryesque facade that covered the two old houses on the right. At some point in time decades later, that facade was removed and this shitty building has looked like jizz ever since. It currently boasts a complete set of full storefronts and a dentist's office that's been rocking the upper floors for decades.
           One front is filled with yet another hole-in-the-wall jewelry store that no one cares about, another is filled with one of those whacky-looking electronic stores you see all over the city. Again, who goes to these places and how do they stay open? The storefront in the middle is some of the only new blood on the block, occupied by Rosa's Fresh Pizza. This place is exactly what this block needs. A new take-out spot created by a young boul named Mason Wartman who ran with the idea of a $1-a-slice pizza joint in Center City and put it on this underused block, in a storefront that was previously empty for eons. The place was even featured by Michael Klein's Insider column. Good job. Now get a proper awning.

              The next three properties are again old 19th Century Rowhouses-turned-commercial that have held scores of different kinds of establishments over the years. 29 South 11th, the grey one on the left in the photo above, has been rocking an empty storefront for several years now. The owner of the place, according to OPA, doesn't live that far away. You'd think he'd try a little harder to get the completely vacant building occupied. 21 South 11th is home to Paulie's Pizza and has been for quite awhile. Paulie's is valuable to the block for two reasons: 1) Its the only place on the block that is open late at night (closes 11:45) and 2) It has the most hilariously angry Yelp reviews (enjoy).
              33 South 11th Street is the only one of these three old rowhouses that isn't violating the  Doors and Windows Ordinance, which seems to have gone un-enforced on this entire block. It holds an active hair salon on the first floor and a psychic's place on the second and third floor. The place was recently renovated with some new ultra-green siding and lots of perfectly legal, permitted signage that looks fucking crazy. Remember back in mid-2012, when people came after that convenience store over their ostentatious signage? Where the fuck were you when these folks put their (again, perfectly legal and permitted) signs up?

             And now for the last. I've written about this sexy bitch-bastard of a building before as well, because it kicks ass and everyone should know about it. 1039 Chestnut, a 130+ year old Castle of Killer Cock-Slapping is looking sadder than it ever has, rocking four storefronts... but filled with what? Yet another mysteriously successful hole-in-the-wall jewelry store, a crap variety store, a dirtbag media store in the basement, and the block's newest edition, a nameless DVD/CD store, because people still buy those. The upper floors are completely vacant and boarded up. This building is a holdover from the infamous Daniel Rappaport's portfolio of once-awesome buildings that are underutilized and falling apart.
            So, as you can see, this little segment of 11th Street fucking sucks. Even the sidewalk. Its too damned thin!

The block's newest addition.White Rectangle Video?

            It wasn't so long ago that 13th Street was a shitty runway of alligator shit just like this block. The heroic Tony Goldman came along and, after some early setbacks, got the shitbag stores out of there in order to bring the right tenants in (though I'm still mad that Chicken King is gone). He also bought out a lot of the old slumlord owners. That's what needs to happen here. We can't force all those private owners to sell per se, but the right developer with testicles of tritanium ore could come along with an offer they couldn't refuse financially (which, unfortunately, is the very thing that many of these owners are probably waiting for). 
           The hardest part, I guess, would be getting the ball rolling. The super-ugly 23-27 South 11th Street is the best bet for a 11th Street Unit Block Revoution, since it is owned by the Girard Estate. They have three options for this space in my view. 1) Knock it the fuck down and rebuild on the same spot with some modern-kickass retail with residential above. 2) Buy the Sound of Market Building, knock 23-27 South 11th the fuck down, and build a modern addition to it, adding residential space and brand new retail space (that could hold a re-vamped Sound of Market!). 3) Sell 23-27 South 11th to a developer who has the ability to get some fucking work done and has a new idea for the space (which will most likely include knocking it the fuck down). The Sound of Market Building is currently for sale for 5.4 mil.
             It only takes one or two things to get it all started. Once the revolution begins, the rest of the block will fall together over the course of a few years, just like 13th Street did after El Vez opened. That, a renovation of 1039 Chestnut and some streetscape improvements (wider sidewalk maybe?) and you'll have gold, Jerry! Gold! Don't get me wrong-- its not like all these cruddy stores have to die-- just move to a place where they would be more apt to find customers. After all, there's three fucking jewelry stores on the same block. Move to different blocks!
             You want to know the best thing about this block? The whole thing is zoned CMX-5. You could build a goddamn crystal skyscraper 900 feet tall here and no NIMBY could say shit about it. You want to know the second best thing about this block? THERE ARE NO NIMBYS. No one lives on the surrounding blocks (at least, not yet), so there ain't no old codgers who will complain if this block changes. I know the Wurlitzer Building nearby was recently permitted for an apartment conversion, but its taking forever to get done. This means that the injection of nightlife onto this block would have very little resistance. Put a big-ass bar in the former Horn & Hardart space in the Sound of Market Building. There would already be a steady stream of auto-customers, since Friere Middle School is nearby (top of 1034 Market)-- any good bar owner knows that teachers like to fucking drink.
         I didn't even mention the transit! This spot is less than one block away from the EL, a couple blocks away from Market East Station, and is passed by more bus lines than I can count (the 23 on 11th Street and the buttload of buses that come through Chestnut and Market, including NJ Transit stuff). Accessible by tens of thousands of people without getting in a car.
         There you go-- now all you rich developers out there have no excuse to gather your shit and take a risk on this block. Your welcome. NOW GET IT DONE!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fill This Front: Sharper Image

1518 Walnut

                Here's yet another chronically empty storefront in an awesome-ass building. This space is fucking gigantic and can be used for pretty much any kind of store. Sharper Image was in there, for fuck's sake, so no one else has any damn excuse! This is probably the third or fourth blog post across the local internets written about this spot, but I don't fucking care.
                This bitch-bastard of a storefront is located at 1518 Walnut, a great property at the corner of Walnut Street and South Sydenham Street, right in the middle of Rittenhouse Row, the city's most badass shopping district. Like many gigantofucking spaces of this type, this empty pile of shit started out as a classy banking floor. It was designed by the architecture firm of Hokansen Heacock in the late 1910s for Middle City Bank. The building has been known as the Merlin Building, Middle City Bank Building, Union Bank Building, and was once hilariously named the Allen Rothenberg Building. Just to prove how badass this building is, let me tell you this: Paul Phillippe Cret, one of the greatest architects to wipe his ass in Philadelphia, didn't choose to put his own offices in one of his own buildings, but placed his offices in this one. That's saying something.
              This big-ass empty fuck of a space has held numerous banks over the years, but was most prominent as a branch of Industrial Valley Bank, which managed to fill this space from 1951 to the late 80s.  From 1995 to 2005, this space was Circa, a fancy-ass restaurant/nightclub that took advantage of the coolness of the banking floor and vault.

The space when it was Circa. Photo by Dave Hong.
                After that, the store held a shitty Sharper Image location where they sold a bunch of useless shit that didn't work. I bought some expensive-ass air purifiers from this particular store that did absolutely fucking nothing. What a waste. You owe me, Sharper Image!!! Somehow, that shitstore managed to stay open for multiple years, closing in 2009. After that, the front was always available for lease but ended up being a series of pop-ups. One was a sales office and model for non-existent condos in the ill-fated Waldorf Astoria Hotel Dead-Ass Proposal, another about this time last year was Indochino, some kind of on-line custom-made suit website that opened a brick-and-mortar pop-up store here because they're too fucking cheap to rent the space out for real.
               The space is managed by the Shenian Company, which seems to be having a hard time getting it filled. Therefore, I will help.

Pic of the place from its Loopnet listing.
                 This space, once again, is located at 1518 Walnut Street. It has a total of 4653 square feet. Some of the space is the old banking floor, some is the vault, some is the mezzanine above. This location is one of the most strategically profitable in the city, being on Rittenhouse Row, the city's premiere shopping district. This spot has so much fucking foot traffic that you'll have to move into the place at 4 am just to keep from getting run over by the stampede of humans that are constantly passing through. The location is convenient to so many transit lines that literally hundreds of thousands of people can reach this point without getting into a car. Thousands of people with incomes well over six figures live in the immediate area, along with tens of thousands of daily office workers. If you lease this space, you'll have so many customers that you'll have to employ bums to piss on the sidewalk out front to cool it off to defray from the heat generated by all those feet!
             All this and more can be yours for the low low price of $48,281.25 a month. Wait a minute... $48,281.25 a MONTH? No wonder they can't fill this bastard! Is this how much other Rittenhouse Row stores are paying?!?! Holy Crap!! Well... maybe you can talk the price down a bit, since the place has been empty (besides pop-ups) for five fucking years.
             Anyway, FILL THIS FUCKING FRONT!!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Butt-Fugly Building of the Week: The Pearl

111 North 9th Street

So that's where I left my tissue box!
           Ugh-- that's all I can say about this shitbird building when I see it. Years of anticipation spent waiting for this barren deadzone to get a building on it and this is what we get. A fucking block-long gray and white rectangle that comes equipped with a gigantic surface parking lot in back (the side?). I don't care how successful the project was and how great it has been for the neighborhood... I accept that shit. I'm just pissed off by how fucking boring and mediocre this Lego Longhouse is. I've seen better looking parking garages.
          As implied above, the block that this property sits on was once a decades-strong surface lot that only got re-enforced by the long-ass construction of the Center City Commuter Connection Tunnel in the mid-80s. Even back then, Pan-Am Realty was interested in acquiring the lot and building some new residential and retail to add to the already short-of-available-housing Chinatown and boost development in the gigantic deadzone between there and Franklin Square. The problem was, they couldn't afford to buy the space off of the Re-Development Authority, who controlled it for years (before the CCCC tunnel's construction it was part of Independence Mall's property, which is weird).
        In 2003, they teamed up with Parkway Corp to develop just this one property, forming the ridiculously-named Nine Arch Associates (its at 9th and Arch, get it?). They commissioned the firm of Vollmer Associates to come up with a design for a new condominium, some of the first new construction to his this area since the CCCC tunnel tore through. By 2005 they were ready for an official proposal. The new condominium would have 90 units, 12 retail spaces, 6 floors, and 121 surface parking spaces.
         The design was, shall we say, ABSOLUTE TAINT!
One of the final renderings
          The proposal got rejected by zoning... not for being an ugly shoe-box-looking piece of ass mucus OR for having way more parking spaces that it would ever need, but for the simple fact that it was 76 feet tall, 16 feet higher than the area's idiotic height limit of 60 feet! In November of '05, Nine Arch appealed the refusal and were granted a variance. Construction went throughout 2006 and the project was complete by the end of 2007.
Under construction as seen from the sky. They couldn't wait to get the parking lot done. Images from Google.
           The new building was named "The Pearl", which is the name of about a million other residential buildings around the U.S. Even more confusing is that there is a local developer named Pearl Properties that has nothing to do with this (though the Granary Apartment building they developed seems almost like The Pearl's much better-looking sequel). The new condos featured tax abatements and free parking in the gigantic parking lot. The project was marketed to middle-income, first generation Chinese immigrants that were relegated to the burbs due to a lack of middle-class housing in Chinatown. It worked. The units sold like hotcakes and the retail spaces got filled in no time. Despite being ugly as fuck, the new building was incredibly successful.
            You'd think that a condo that sold out so quickly would spur more development in the deadzone to the north and east, but it still hasn't happened. The renovation of the PPA Eighth Street Parking Plaza is now underway and a new quasi-halfway house/old folks home will soon be built on the same block as that garage... but other than that, NIENTE! Maybe Parkway needs to get into another Marvel Team-Up with a local developer to get another project like this going. Please... don't make it so fucking ugly next time.

Cool dragons, shitty surface lot.