Columbia Theater to be Demolished to Make Way for 18-Unit Building

Columbia Theater - Philadelphia
Columbia Theater – 2709 Cecil B. Moore Ave.

Development in Brewerytown stretches much further north than the large projects you see along the West Girard Avenue commercial corridor. If you travel the streets above Girard Avenue in this section of the city, you’ll find a ton of infill boutique multi-family and single-family new construction projects. Block by block, Philadelphia continues to be rebuilt.

Although we love to report on sizable multi-family developments, it hurts our heart when we have to tell you about an architecturally or historically significant building that is facing the wrecking ball. Today, we bring you one of those stories.

The Columbia Theater was built in 1911 and operated at 2709 Cecil B. Moore Avenue (back then it was called Columbia Ave.) until 1954. The building later became a church and then a banquet hall.

Columbia Theater - Philadelphia
Columbia Theater – Philadelphia

In 2013, a zoning variance to turn the structure into a community center was denied. As the property is zoned for residential multi-family (RM-1), all non-residential uses need a variance. It would be no easy task to convert this structure into an apartment building due to the deep lot and lack of windows, especially given the 38 foot height limit in the RM-1 zoning classification.

It seems like these challenges have led to the building’s demise. Zoning permits were issued yesterday for the demolition of the theater and the construction of a 4-story building with 18 residential units, a roof deck, and 6 bicycle stalls. It looks like the development team will also be using a 7 foot height bonus.

Permit Language: “(1) Complete demolition of existing structure at this location. (2) New construction of 4-story, 18-unit multifamily dwelling with partial basement. Roof decks at 4th floor grade as shown. 6 bike stalls at first floor. Roof access structure but no deck above 4th floor. MODERATE INCOME AFFORDABLE HOUSING BONUS PART OF THIS APPLICATION. 7′ height bonus reflected in plans.”

We like to see new developments with affordable units move forward in this section of the neighborhood, but we definitely will mourn the loss of the Columbia Theater. There aren’t too many old theaters left in Philadelphia. We need to find a way to adaptively reuse these structures along with other architecturally significant buildings in the city.

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