Tuesday, December 4, 2012

205 Race Street

Back in 2004, when funky little firms like CREI were using up and coming urban neighborhoods as their architectural playground for experimental and pricy designs, Brown-Hill proposed its own avant-garde condo development for a forlorn bucolic meadow at 2nd and Race.

It didn't happen, but the sign promising the redevelopment of this inexplicably vacant lot remained for years, reminding pedestrians that a small group of idiots with nothing but idle time and the arrogance to dictate their irrational opinions really can make a difference.

At a sensibly scaled 9 to 10 stories and respectful ground floor relationship, it was good design; and adjacent to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, a noisy interstate, and a high speed rail line, it was a good opportunity to develop an unlikely location for residences. But in the heyday of financial optimism, it wasn't good enough for the Old City Civic Association and they managed to keep their beloved vacant lot vacant for another eight years.

Well Brown-Hill is back and, in the wake of the financial crisis and a more realistic outlook on construction opportunities, hoping that the OCCA has a new outlook of their own.

Brown-Hill's new design keeps the same interaction with the sidewalk that  it did in it's 2004 design, but proposes and additional six floors. At 198 feet tall it would be the tallest building in Old City. Not that height in any Center City neighborhood is a rational deterrent to development given precedents have been set in much more historically picturesque locations across the city, including Society Hill and Independence Mall. One could even argue that a high rise's presence next to a busy highway insulates the existing real estate from noisy traffic.

We'll find out the fate of the lot tomorrow at the Zoning Board of Adjustment's Hearing.


  1. This "inexplicably vacant lot" is vacant because the historic Lithography Building was demolished in order to make way for the development of the original plan. Mind you, if the original plan had been completed the loss would not have been quite so tragic, IMO. The fact this landmark was demolished for basically nothing, however, is just tragic.

    Maybe, if some version of the project eventually gets built, some of this will be justified.

    1. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-8lGC8HIaHKQ/UDeb_EcqJ0I/AAAAAAAADik/2KqJOQa9YmM/s1600/205+race+litho.jpg

  2. Based on the picture you posted above, The Lithography Building doesn't really appear to look all that overly "Historic" to me. It doesn't really meet my definition of a "landmark" either. Was its loss really all that "tragic"?

    Seems to me like the new 205 Race development project would be more of a "landmark" building given its location. I'm all for historic preservation of landmark buildings, but in my opinion it will be far more tragic if we continue to let Philadelphia's past limit its future.

    I love the historic charm and character the streets and buildings in Old City. However, it's important to remember that when neighborhood was originally built some 200+ years ago, Philadelphia was the largest city in the world.

    Somewhere along the line we lost that ambitiousness, determination, and desire for greatness and decided to settle for second best. Or third best. Or fourth.

    I believe Philadelphia has the potential to become a world-class city once again if only we could get out of our own way. Give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and trust that we've learned a thing or two over the past two centuries and are capable of making our own mark on the city.

    There's a little snicker in NYC, Boston, and DC every time another major development project in Philadelphia gets stalled, dumbed down, or rejected. Is it really necessary to condemn ourselves to parking lots, empty warehouses and vacant row homes? I vote no. Let's pick our battles.