Sunday, November 3, 2013

More Brick

The redevelopment at Old City's iconic Shirt Corner at 3rd and Market looks as though it will go through without protest. It's not surprising. Alterra Property's more-of-the-same approach to Old City's identity offers little to criticize. While the Shirt Corner may be more in line with what Old City's Market East was, the reality is that there's no market in the posh neighborhood for $50 canary yellow suits and alligator skin beatle boots.

Many in the neighborhood have come to regard the Shirt Corner as blight, largely because it's been closed for so long. Improvements to the site can certainly bring in more profitable retail, even though that prime corner retail appears to be going to yet another CVS.

CVS? Come on. We can do better.
What's interesting is Old City's wealthy residents have embraced the businesses of their neighborhood's past, restoring signage on many of their renovated condo complexes, even naming those addresses after those defunct businesses. Perhaps the Shirt Corner's overwhelming red, white, and blue signage crosses the line between a subtle nod to the neighborhood's history and garishness.

I still find it unfortunate. Much of what makes Philadelphia so visually dramatic is in its harshly contrasting styles, vibrant colors, and unusual history, even in Old City. From the PSFS Building to the Divine Lorraine, rogue murals, and Brutalist masterpieces, Philadelphia's true history is anything but brick and beige trim.

Alterra's Shirt Corner is what America thinks Philadelphia is and what Old City's transplants thinks Philadelphia should be, but it isn't Philadelphia. The Shirt Corner will go away and probably should, but the Colonial restoration and recreation that will follow pays no tribute to the neighborhood, or the city's history.

Say what you will about the Shirt Corner, when someone asked to meet you there, you knew where you were going. "Meet me at CVS" is as boring as this building. It will simply be there and that's all anyone will ever say about it.

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