Thursday, July 13, 2006

Another Wash West Fire. Another Wash West Demolition?

The huge crane that was parked on the 1200 block of Locust Street last week was there to pick over the wreckage of the latest Washington Square West building to be damaged by fire, the Lincoln Apartments - an 1892 a building designed by architect George H. Fettus in a style that clearly borrows from contemporary Frank Furness. So far, Philadelphia fire marshals and the owner haven't decided whether the five-story palazzo-shaped structure can be saved, although it looks like most of the interior and the west wall are lost. If the entire, 51-unit building goes, it will be second 19th Century apartment house in the neighborhood lost to fire since the one at 11th and Spruce burned in the summer of 2003. Washington Square West is hardly the sort of neighborhood you'd expect to see going up in flames. It's one of Center City's most desirable and historic places to live.

Wash West is so desirable, in fact, that the Lincoln's owner was in the process of converting the upper-floor apartments into condos when the four-alarm fire broke out June 30, just as the city was celebrating an early Fourth of July on Penn's Landing. Firefighters had to work all through the night and into the morning to put out the blaze. By the time they had the fire under control, flames had eaten through the upper story wood joists, and the damaged floors began crashing down on one another, pancake style. It's now just a big pile of charred timbers on the inside of the U-shaped building.

But even if it's impossible to expect the owner to salvage the interior of the Lincoln, let's hope he has the sense (and his insurance company's support) to save the surviving exterior walls. The word is that the front facade and the east wall are intact. The Lincoln may not be a designated historic structure, or a real Furness building, but they sure don't build them like more this any more. The Lincoln, which has had a varied history as a YMCA, hotel and apartment house, is one of those massive blocks that makes you think of a Roman palazzo - what with its regally arched entryway, flanked by Furness-style compressed columns, and scalloped window fans, striated water table, and understated latte-colored brick. The heavyhanded replacement that was built at 11th and Spruce (by BLT) should be a caution. Just compare the Lincoln's undulating bay windows with the massive, overscaled ones on the 11 the Street corner. No doubt, though, there is someone out there rubbing his hands over the possibility of building a much bigger building on the Lincoln's footprint.

9 Comments:

Blogger rasphila said...

One didn't really notice the Lincoln—at least I didn't—until the fire, but it is a major loss to Center City and the surrounding neighborhood. I hope they can save the exterior, too, but it's hard to be optimistic. You're quite right—there are lots of developers out there who crave the Lincoln's footprint for something taller and (presumably) less interesting.

3:42 PM  
Blogger amusing said...

Curious -- we don't know what the outcome will be yet, but would it be any different if this building were over on Rittenhouse Square? I just seem to notice a difference between how things are treated east v. west of Broad.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous SPC said...

As an owner of a building [one of 4 in Center City] & business in the 200 block of South Camac Street, I have been personally effected by the fire at the Lincoln.... I too want to see the building preserved! However, I take exception to the commments regarding the new building at 11th and Spruce Streets. I believe that what the developers built is a magnificent example of modern archetecture. A beautiful structure that will hold up to time. Yes, it is not the 19th century structure that was its predecessor, but it is a lovely example of early 21st century urban architecture!! Bravo!!

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga,

To be fair to those who lost their homes and dear pets in the fire, I think its hasty to jump to any conclusions (that the owner would be receiving payment from their insurance co.) until the cause of the fire has been determined.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the circumstances of this blaze.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do Philadelphians always assume that something new is necessarily going to be worse than something old? That the future is necessarily going to be less bright than the past? The Lincoln is a nice building but certainly not a landmark. Why would anyone already try to prejudge this and argue for saving a facade or two of this old building, simply because it is old, rather than considering what type of great architecture might be possible on this site, and lobbying for something truly magnificent?

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee, I dunno. The fact that new buildings tend to be CRAP might have something to do with it. Even the ones with nice design are built on the cheap.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The substitute building at 11th and Spruce is by no means magnificient. It is at best a banal example of developer driven urban infill.

The proportions are bad - and that ghastly column at the corner offends even the faint at heart.....

8:30 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

I had a look at both buildings (11th and Spruce and The Lincoln) while I was downtown yesterday. There's no doubt that demolition of the Lincoln would be a loss. And I agree with anonymous about 11th and Spruce. It's pretty much standard-issue fill-in that reminds me of a recently-constructed college dormitory. Still, it's better than a gaping hole.

After the fire at 11th and Spruce, I thought it would be a nice location for a pocket park, but I also knew that idea was a complete non-starter because of the value of the land. But I wish the replacement building had been more imaginative.

The Lincoln's footprint is bigger than the one at 11th and Spruce, which I find ominous. As Inga points out, it's just the sort of footprint that would tempt a high-rise developer, whatever the scale of the surrounding neighborhood.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a shame the feelings of my fellow Philadelphians and how we believe it's necessarily the fault of the developer that new construction is banal and boring. If any of you would like to know the real reason, please take the time to visit the Zoning Board of Adjusters and sit in on one or two Zoning Hearings. You will see the slanted view of the man in charge of making decisions for all of us and our city. Mr. A. I've seen projects he approves and projects he disapproves, and you would shed a tear to see what nice projects have been denyed in this city.

This is still a brick town, unfortunately.

9:23 AM  

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