Friday, September 01, 2006

RIP: Minar Palace on Sansom Street

There will be no more Chicken Zalfrazi or Lamb Biryani for Minar Palace's devoted denizens in Center City and beyond. Time, and a lease, finally ran out for the palace, the Indian take-out place on Sansom Street that stood up to real estate bully and preservationist-manque Wayne Spilove. You can see the results in the pic here, shot yesterday by my blogging assistant Sky Kalfus, editor and proprietor of the Fitler Square Fountain newsletter. (Sorry for the blurriness. That's what happens when you drop your digital camera in the sand.)

The building occupied by Minar Palace was the sole survivor of Spilove's assault in 2000 on the 1600 block of Sansom Street, a quirky street of late 19th- and early 20th Century commercial buildings. Spilove bulldozed the other buildings in group with the stated intention of constructing his dream project - an automated, 12-story parking garage. But the owners of Minar Palace reminded Spilove that they had several years left on their lease, and refused to be budged from their building. Spilove - who was then the chairman of the city Historical Commission, and is now head of the state equivalent - then used his many political connections to have the city's Redevelopment Authority begin eminent domain proceedings against his own building - a strong-arm tactic intended to force Minar Palace out of the ground floor. But Spilove never had the nerve to take the proceedings all the way to City Council, and Minar Palace continued to ladle out great quantities of curry and saag. Minar Palace may have been one of the filthiest restaurant establishments in Philadelphia, but somehow also one of the most toothsome.

After all these years and machinations, Spilove acknowledged two years ago that he was unable to pull off the garage project and asked the zoning board to let him use the site as a surface parking lot. Then, in February, he put the propertyt up for sale. The deal fell through. It's unclear at this moment what Spilove intends to do with the enlarged site. (If anyone knows - pass it on.) Maybe he'll keep pursuing his dream garage. Maybe, he'll sell it to someone who will build something meaningful and sympathetic to the Rittenhouse Row commercial district. Just let it not be a 12-story garage.


Blogger normajean said...

The destruction of the 1600 Block of Sansom Street is the epitome of a selfish developer who cared not a whit of the needs or desires of the neighborhood. A better, more attuned developer would have recognized the potential of that block and how it could be an incredible, pedestrian-friendly enclave that the flanking blocks have become. The now demolished block is nothing but a horrible break in the quirky, jumbled shopping district of Sansom Street. I miss those buildings terribly and shake my head at the indignity of it every time I pass by.

3:56 PM  
Anonymous HowardBHaas said...

I like that photo. It is surrealistic.

Liked the buildings, too. They fit it with the ornate historic nearby buildings. Let's hope we get a worthy replacement in residences and ground level retail/restaurant.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm tired of people complaining about new development and about changing skyline. Nothing is here on this planet forever...and accepting change and moving on is how the other big city on the East Coast has put Philly to shame over and over again and pretty much left Philly to play the role of the younger sibling. There is a place for historic preservation but dang it, Philly needs to grow up, not grow old and decay and rest on its old glory.

The buildings you cry about were also built by razing something else. Remember that. I, for one, think Philadelphia needs brash new deveolopers and go-getters that will make big projects happen.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure the demolished buildings replaced any prior buildings? That may not be true.

What development are you keen about? Spilove demolished these buildings merely for a parking garage! Does that excite you?

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey mr. complaining "tired of people complaining" put your foot in your own mouth!

there's nothing wrong with debatin ghte merits of this and that...good academic conversation and postulation is good for healthy discourse.

I ,for one, think brashness is bad. We don't need dirty developers trapsing across our cities to line their pockets. Plus...Philly isn't in any way a younger sibling. I like it here. I think its you who has the issues, dang it!

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sansom Street epitomizes Philadelphia's underachieving nature.

The only other cities in this country that have anything remotely close to the historic character and narrow ambience of Sansom Street are New York and Boston.

In those cities Sansom would be lined with restaurants,shops and small businesses. In Philadlephia except for modest stretches Sansom is a long derelict alley that is used by bats, pigeons, rats and toyotas, but not human beings.

You don't have to go too far to see the magnificience that Sansom could have. Just go to University City and see the 3400 block of Sansom.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that Minar Palace will be reopening by the end of the year in the vicinity of 17th and Chestnut.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous VINCE DEAN said...


8:19 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

There's a difference between development and destruction. Tearing down an interesting, walkable street of shops and restaurants (which is what the 1600 block of Sansom once was) to build a parking garage is destruction, pure and simple. It destroys one more block of a street that, as one poster says, has badly failed to realize its potential. And, if Spilove had realized his dream, it would have added more parking to a city already awash in it and choked with traffic. We can't solve Center City's parking problem by building more parking lots. The only solution lies in making Center City more accessible without cars so that more people will arrive there without the need to park. Spilove's dream would have been a step in the wrong direction. Now it's just a vacant lot. Very sad.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the 1600 block would be a great spot for BCJ to build a high design Apple Store in Philly. Nothing would be better than to finally see some great modern architecture fill the lame surface parking lot....or would the dirt lot at 19th and Walnut be a better location for Apple

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only did this "aggressive go-getter" tear down buildings for a surface parking lot in the downtown of one of the greatest cities in the country, he did so through his political influence in the city. Now he has the same position, only at the state level? Corruption in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania never ceases to amaze me.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Davis said...

This was one of my favorite blocks in the city - a wonderful mix of restaurants and retail stores - all gone because of the loathsome greed of the entrenched corruption for which the city has become famous.

My question is about this supposed need for more parking garages. Just who is going to park there - and pay the horrendous rates. We once had street parking, most of which has been removed in favor of "consul" parking, "loading zones" - which are free parking for restauranteurs, and "valet" parking zones.

Returning the 1600 block of Sansom to a hip mix of shops and restaurants as it was would be the best thing. But, I guess that would be standing in the way of development - like that marvellous surface lot.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm tired of the Philly negativity. I moved here 2 years ago and really liked this city...still do. There's no need to compare it to other east coast cities..its able to hold its own.

There's corruption in other cities...bad development too.

Positivism in this city is necessary. There's a green movement which this city is ripe for the taking. Empty city blocks just waiting for good development. If we are to think constructively toward a better Philly, it all starts in the attitude toward making a better urban environment. Its not New York or Boston....and that isn't a negative comparison by any means........

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a real need to preserve the beauty of Philadelphia's low and mid-rise buildings. Buildings that people can walk into and out of at street level. That is what makes the downtown so wonderful. A beautiful skyline can showoff a city's vibrancy to the world, and be a joyful and exhilarating experience for hometowner as well as tourist. But skylines are best seen from afar or at night, and should not replace street scapes and people. There are plenty of spaces in Philadelphia where a high-rise or tower could go without the need for the demolition of any historical or noteworthy building. What Spilove did to 1600 Sansom was wrong as well as unethical from a man who knew better. You are right to be critical of his actions.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous VINCE DEAN said...


9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that developer should be pulled from his house and flogged with a Kabob.
shouldn't someone be investigating someone who tears down historic buidlings to build a gargae, then NEVER builds them? THEN can't wait to tear down the last holdout?
is his EGO 12 stories?
and the fact taht he's on the board should force the mayor/governor to have him quit.
Unethical crap.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ditto vince dean's comment.

The only thing worse than somebody who can't get excited over a surface parking lot on the 1600 block of Sansom is an eternal optimist who thinks nothing's wrong with the way our city's run.

I agree that there's no need to compare ourselves to other cities, which is why I don't care if we get more tall buildings that make for imposing skyline pictures. I just want a livable, walkable city where there's something for everyone.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had the 'pleasure' of spending some time in Spilove's company and can honestly say that he is an egomaniac. He pretends to care about Philadelphia's history, but his actions speak much louder than his words.

One time I attended a soul-destroying meeting at his office high above Rittenhouse Square. As to be expected, his office was plastered with phony awards and photos of him attached to various VIPs. His young, attractive female assistant was the final accessory to let us know he'd 'made it' in life.

While he was holding court, I looked around the room and was transfixed by an object that, at first, was barely visible. In the back, under a table at foot level, hidden behind some other framed items, was an architect's rendering of the never-built Sansom Street garage. It seemed like he purposely hid it there -- as if the shame of looking at it every day would have been too much to bear - even for a jackass like Spilove.

12:01 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

I can't remember the Block That Was, because it all started getting emptied a long time ago. However, that block is bound to be somewhat problematic, in the sense of a continuous band of fun stuff, because at the far end is a church which creates a half block or so of blank front. I remember always having the feeling of a semi-abandoned block when walking that direction from Minar...

But it goes without saying that a big dirt lot in a prime downtown location is wrong, wrong, wrong. I just fear that the property will be so expensive that nobody with low-rise user-friendly plans will be able to afford it...

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could be wrong here, but I don't recall ever seeing a "NOTICE OF DEMOLITION" sticker on Minar Palace.

If true, wouldn't that be, er, illegal?

Not that that law seems to get enforced. When the beautiful and significant Shriner's Hospital for Children on the Roosevelt Boulvard was demolished with no notice whatsoever, L&I claimed that is was an oversight on their part, and of course the owner got a permit for demolition. That's what happens when elected officials are pro-demolition.

2:00 PM  

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