Some people love movie stars. Others love musicians or athletes. We at PhilaRising love Frank Furness. Furness was a daring, unorthodox, Victorian-Gothic architect and Civil War veteran who was born in Philadelphia. Most of his work was built in our great city and the surrounding area. You may recognize some of his masterpieces from your walks around Philadelphia and its suburbs: the Fisher Fine Arts Building at UPenn, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) building, the Centennial National Bank building on Drexel’s campus, the gatehouses at the entrance of the Philadelphia Zoo, the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, the Kensington National Bank at Frankford and Girard, the Baldwin School (originally the Bryn Mawr Hotel), and the Merion Cricket Club. He also designed some of the most magnificent residences in the Philadelphia area.
Unfortunately, a lot of Furness’s finest works have been demolished. The Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broad Street Station sat across from City Hall. It was demolished in 1953. The unremarkable Penn Center buildings stand in its place. The Reliance Insurance Company building stood at 429 Walnut St. and was demolished in 1960. The extravagant Provident Life & Trust Company building at 4th and Chestnut on Banker’s Row was built in 1876-79 with additions coming in later years. It met the wrecking ball in 1959.
Well, we’ll end the history lesson as we do not want to bore you and don’t want to shed a tear today. If you want to learn more about the work of the great Frank Furness, read Frank Furness The Complete Works by George E. Thomas, Jeffrey A. Cohen, and Michael J. Lewis.
We did bring Furness to your attention for a reason. We recently saw an orange zoning notice on the building at 600 Spring Garden St. This building was originally the Northern Savings Fund, designed by Frank Furness. In recent times, it has been used for more recreational purposes. Steven Starr’s The Bank dance club occupied the building from 1988-98. Other clubs such as The District, Transit, Ninety Degrees, and Statuz Nightclub have resided in the space over the years.
To our knowledge, the building has been vacant since around 2014. Arts + Crafts Holdings, who owns a ton of buildings in the Spring Garden Neighborhood, currently owns 600 Spring Garden St. We heard some time ago that Arts + Crafts would be moving their offices into the building. However, we were surprised when we read the zoning notice and learned that there is an application to turn the basement and first floor into a banquet hall. The official zoning language reads as follows:
SPECIAL EXCEPTION FOR A BANQUET HALL FOR MAXIMUM ONE HUNDRED FIFTY (150) PEOPLE (NIGHT CLUBS AND PRIVATE CLUBS) (NO ACTIVITIES AS DEFINED IN 14-603 (13) OF PHILADELPHIA ZONING CODE ON BASEMENT AND 1ST FLOOR WITH EXISTING BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONAL OFFICE ON 2ND FLOOR IN AN EXISTING STRUCTURE.
There have been cases in the city where business owners have applied for this permit, but have not really been trying to open a nightclub. A particular instance that comes to mind is the 2424 York building in Fishtown where a church wanted to open a wedding venue and needed this variance. Neighbors were outraged and squashed the plan. The words “night club” in the zoning language probably helped stir up some fear. There were also some pretty crazy late night parties unrelated to the church in the 2424 space that pushed nearby neighbors to the brink, but that’s another story.
We reached out to Arts + Crafts for more information about the application. They told us that they do own the building, but are not the party applying for the zoning variance. They did not want to spill the beans to us. We also reached out to the lawyer listed on the application, but did not receive a phone call back.
With this building’s history of actually being a nightclub on numerous occasions, it wouldn’t surprise us if a club is in the works. Honestly, we support the rehabilitation and active use of this property. We do not want to see another historic building fall into disrepair. There are no residential units within earshot of this building. As long as the club owner keeps a tight ship and doesn’t allow loud drunks to hang out on the sidewalk, there should be no disruption to the neighborhood.
How do you feel about a nightclub possibly occupying this building again? How do you think Frank Furness would feel about this proposal?
UPDATE 7/28/19 – The requested zoning variance listed above was granted on July 10th. Use permits were then issued on July 23rd. We look forward to finding out more details about what will be opening in this beautiful building. As an aside, a cool mural was recently painted on the side of the building. Check it out below:
Kyle is a commercial real estate agent at Rittenhouse Realty Advisors, a homeowner, and a real estate investor in Philadelphia. Kyle uses his extensive Philadelphia real estate market knowledge to help his clients buy and sell multifamily investment properties, development opportunities, and industrial sites.
Email Kyle@RittenhouseRealty.com if you are looking to buy or sell a property