Penn Mutual Tower Gets Condo Companion
The tenants in the Penn Mutual Tower won't be happy, but finally something may be built on the grassy lot next door. The Zoning Board has approved a 26-story condo tower designed by Cecil Baker & Associates for developer Gagan Lakhma of CREI.
The sensitively designed building starts on a low base faced in glass, then sets back after five stories to form a slim tower. Despite the modest size of the lot, the developer and architect worked hard to put all the parking underground and to include 24,000 sf of retail on the first and second floors. Both the tower and base have had their northeast corners shaved off to appease the National Park Service, which is obsessed with insuring that no modern buildings block out the sky when viewed from the Liberty Bell Center. The concession works to the tower's advantage, though. It enables the design to break from the standard slab shape and create an interesting corner entrance on the ground floor. Another nice thing is that the condo tower will be the same height as Penn Mutual, creating a sense of coherence on the block.
Penn Mutual's tenants were not as easily appeased as the park service, however, even though the tower design is fairly deferential to the Mitchell/Giurgola's 1970 office building, which is famous for giving us the world's first facadectomy. The tenants are upset because they will lose the views from their upper windows. (There are no windows below the sixth floor.) They're talking lawsuit, right now, which is a shame. While it's true that the views will disappear, the architect and developer were considerate enough to let them have light. So, while the bottom five floors fill the whole site and come to Penn Mutual's party wall, the tower does not. There will be a 25-foot gap between the condo tower and the Penn Mutual building, enough to bring some daylight into the offices.
Clearly, it's no fun to lose your views, especially if you signed a lease based on having them. But Philadelphians need to keep in mind that this is a big city and the skyline is always in flux. While there are zoning rules - and occasionally they get enforced - there is no law guaranteeing thats views remain unchanged forever. The only people who get to keep their views are the sorts who will be able to afford units in this new condo tower, which overlooks a boring grassy block owned by the park service and unavailable for development. The rest of us will have to be content a with a building that brings new residents (84 units) and new shops to this less-than-exciting stretch of Walnut Street. One possible retail tenant is the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which is considering moving its store and offices to the building. The date of ground-breaking hangs on whether the lawsuits go ahead.