Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tower to replace classic '60s motel?

It seems like every late-20th Century, low-rise building in the vicinity of Center City is fair game for replacement by a condo tower. Today, it's the Best Western Motel - originally, the Franklin Motor Court - at 22nd Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The site of the four-story, triune-shaped motel has received zoning approval for a 47-story condo tower. Our sources tell us the developers are the same ones who are building Waterfront Square on the Delaware River. Same architects, too - Wallace Roberts & Todd.

The first part of the 300-room Franklin Motor Court was designed in 1960 by Leonard Shaffer & Co. for developer Isaac D. Levy. The motel had all the hyphenated amenities so valued at that moment: Drive-in convenience, air-conditioned rooms, hi-fi radios and direct-dial phones. The original press release, still in the Inquirer's clip files, boasts that the decoration by Peggy O'Neill had "the sumptuous beauty generally associated with the finer hotels." Plus there was a swimming pool on the landscaped grounds. It was quite the thing for Main Line residents to spend a weekend "vacationing" at the motor inn. By the late '60s, however, the one-person reception desk became a regular stop for hold-up men, including one clever pair who tried to make their get-away on the Route 43 bus. I guess the buses stuck to the schedule in those days.

It's no surprise that a developer today would eye the generous site for a very tall condo tower. The motel is just a block from the Parkway, but far enough away so that it doesn't fall under the scrutiny of the Fairmount Park Commission. The big issues will be height and the tower's relationship to the street, especially Spring Garden. Although there are several tall buildings nearby, the tallest of them is only half as tall as the proposed tower. Unless there are some serious set-backs, a sensitivity to scale and a good, urban ground floor with retail space, the new condo tower will seriously mar the parkway environment.

We're told that the project got an over the counter building permit, thanks to the wiles of lawyer Michael Sklaroff, chairman of the Historical Commission AND a neighborhood resident. The site is zoned R15, which is usually a category for low-rise houses. But apparently there is a clause allowing a high-rise if you leave a large part of the site as open space. Even the Spring Garden civic association didn't know about Sklaroff's machinations until Monday.

As the TV guys say, more as the story develops.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, just what we need, another TALL tower, and so quickly too. Makes you scratch your head and say hmmmmmm, what is going on here, who left the fox in charge of the hen house. Will someone at the Planning Commission grow a pair and use them.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Wise Shiatsu said...

Hi - I enjoy your posts, but I can't understand the ire related to this project. Generally in an urban environment, it's a good thing to replace a 4 story building with a 47 story one, unless the building to be replaced is culturally enriching or architecturally significant; neither of which this building seems to be.

Could you expand on the "sensitivity to scale" point? Also, the Waterfront Square project seems pretty good.

You write that unless there is an "urban ground floor with retail space, the new condo tower will seriously mar the parkway environment." It seems that the site's current occupant comes up nil in this category; even if the new development did not offer this, the parkway's environment would not be marred, but maintained.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not ire over this project per se, rather it is over the speed with which it was pushed through, and with no notice to nearby residents. Moreover, while the building in existence is not an attractive one, replacing it with a 43 story tower is no better. Inga is correct when she discusses scale of footprint in that location. Besides, with so many high rise towers going in, and no logical plan in place, how long until Philadelphia suffers from a glut of living space?

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Wise Shiatsu... there is nothing special or charming or "classic" about that ugly Best Western, which, if anything, has been a deadening presence in the Parkway area. I'm all for replacing it with a high quality tower filled with high-income new residents who will help sustain more retail and restaurants in the area. Philadelphian's have a tendency to be nostalgic for the status quo... even if it is crappy... rather than embracing change that might actually improve things. And as far as worrying that we will soon have a "glut" of residential, I think we should leave that concern to the professional builders and developers and lenders who are building these projects and have a lot more experience in evaluating market demand for their product than do most bloggers....

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know what expertise bloggers have, perhaps far more than builders and developers. They are only turning over a project trying to make a buck, or several hundred thousand of them, they really don't care about adequate planning.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one is sentimental about an at best a questionable piece architecture. The questions only arise over the speed and stealth which with the changes were approved.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

The current building offers no street vitality or anything, I'd rather have a 47 story building that has the possiblity to.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For an Architect, this news marks progress. But for a resident of Phila, this will probably mark the demise of the affordable hotel downtown (or close to it) The Best Western was a place that you could send cost-concious friends and relatives who didn't necessarily need, or could afford, the Four Seasons. And didn't mind bunking accross the hall from college students. Looks like City Ave is the closest spot for the bargain hunters now.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, very good point about the affordability.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Why would a resident of Philly need to stay at a hotel?

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having recently moved into the city from NJ and having a professional planning background, I am appalled at the lack of "transparency" in this City in regard to changing zoning or giving approvals for large projects without "proper notice" to neighbors to give a real opportunity for those affected to express their concerns. Additionally, it appears that the Logan Square Civic Association and the Fairmmount Civic Associations have comppletely fallen off the planet when it comes to preparing a policy and more importantly, a neighborhood plan to put the City on notice NOT TO EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING THIS KIND OF STUFF in our neighborhood without consulting us first.
Where is our leadership and where are the people we elect to serve our neighborhoods when this kind of stuff happens ?

Public officials went to jail for this kind of nonesense in NJ in the 1970's and maybe it's time that folks here in the City stepped up and said ENOUGH, we are sick and tired of this and aren't going to take it anymore!
This should serve as a wake-up call to demand reform in the way Development is approved and regulated in Philadelphia. Otherwise, we will see more "Street Canyons" and see our houses disappear and lose what makes Philadelphia the special "walking City" that it is.
It's seems to me that it's time to make some noise and that both Civic Associations should take the lead in opposing this inappropriate incursion into our neighborhood !

2:45 PM  
Blogger syj said...

Why do some people think the sole purpose of civic groups is to block projects? I don't see the problem with this project if it means getting rid of this ugly hotel and adding some density to this neighborhood.

In terms of notice for projects, whenever a Zoning variance is required the developer or owner has to post a bright orange sign on the site for ANYONE to read. How is that not transperent? In addition there is a listing of future hearings to be held by the ZBA accessible through the city's website. People need to get over the fact that every project they dont like isnt illegal or happening due to some slight of hand by corrupt politicians. These are the types of projects that happen in a major city. People got so used to nothing being built here that they dont know how to act when the market improves and developers (gasp!) want to build new structures.

Philly will never lose it's identity as a walking, pedestrian scale city because 90% of the darn city is made up of rowhouses. There are neighborhoods outside of center city for those who didn't know and those neighborhoods arefull of low rise, attached dwellings. When you consider how small center city is compared the city as a whole you realize the notion that the City is about to be overrun by skyscrapers is ridiculous.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A classic 60's motel? are you kidding. this piece of crap was meant to be torn down. It's absolutely sick to be nostalgic over this one. The area around 22nd and Pa. could develop in the way that was intended when the parkway was envisioned--think Central Park West.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Ruby Legs said...

Are you kidding me? "Mar the Parkway environment"?

The Parkway is filled with ugly buildings that should be torn down. The Parktown apartments are a bunch of half-assed le Corbusier wannabes that have grown into an eyesore with age and do little to dissuade people from the automobile culture that has slowly killed Center City.

And then there is the real eyesore, the Youth Services Building.

Yeah, standing amongst this bunch of winners, the Best Western sure looks like a gem - not. The whole lot of buildings, including the Best Western should be torn down. It's as if city planners saddled the parkway with a bunch of cement edifices that look as if they belong more to suburban Moscow than Center City.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Bendiner said...

Planning means looking beyond the boundaries of your site in order to see connections with the extisting built environment- that make your design stronger and create a greater sense of place. Most recent designs in Center City seem created in a vacuum- and ignore, or negate potential opportunities. They fail to take full advantage of the layers of this City's history, as expressed in its buildings, to spark the eye with contrast and interpretation. To respond to the last comment- one of our greatest, unknown firms, Carroll, Grisdale and Van Alen, designed the (mis-named) Youth Study Center- and if you took the time to look at it- and overlook its shamefully decrepit condition- is a beautifully proportioned and detailed structure. It is a building that responds to its civic placement on the Parkway, and expresses its functional side in an Aalto-esque manner to the north. It would have made a fitting, and ironic re-hab for the Please Touch Children's Museum (another awful name), now moving into the Memorial Hall (which should have been the Civil War Museum, but that's another story). Look these guys up on the Athenaeum website- great regional modernism- something we lack today - and most likely what we'll not get in the new tower...

4:21 PM  
Blogger Arthur J. Petrella said...

proposed parkway 47 story tower
the fact that the existing buildings in the area are no more than 25 stories is a function of land use, economics and population density.

there is nothing inherently bad about a 47 story tower in that area if land use, economic and population density allow it.

i see others have said the same thing i just said, i think you are apply a set of principles almost mechanicly and approch every issue with a negative point of view.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK -- I'm a born and raised Philadelphian. And I'll tell you this: this city needs to STOP avoiding the unavoidable. With space in this city (and the suburbs) at a premium, we are going to have to build (gasp!) UP! Yes, the 47-story building will cast a shadow on your home or office or local Wawa. Yes, the 47-story building will cause more traffic than the Best Western did. But guess what -- that's the cost of growth. Unfortunately, those growing pains have affected the lives of Center City residents since the construction of City Hall. It seems after 130 years we still aren't used to the changes.

Let's spruce-up the parkway area. It's a mess. The Youth Services Building is an utter eyesore, yes. And the Best Western, in my opinion, is something I'd rather not look at either.

Let's go ahead with this 47-story building. Let's CHANGE, people! New Yorkers do it without problem. Chicagoans do it. Houstonians do it as well. Let's stop pretending that Philadelphia isn't the 5th largest city in this country and move forward.

7:54 AM  

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