Monday, April 30, 2007

New Old Look for Rittenhouse Dowager

Few Philadelphia buildings have had as many lives as the old Penn Athletic Club on Rittenhouse Square, which is scheduled to reappear soon as a tony condo building called the Parc Rittenhouse. Unlike past make-overs, which tended to strip away pieces of the past, this one, by Hillier restoration architect James Garrision, brings back one of the building's original features: the shallow Juliette balconies that once provided a bit a texture to sheer cliff wall of the 18th Street facade.
When it opened in 1927, the stocky structure, designed by Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary, was the Sporting Club of its day, a place where the city's business and political elite went to sweat and deal. The 17-story building included a central atrium large enough for a baseball game. Unfortunately, the fun and games came to an abrupt stop with the Depression. When World War II ended, the club reopened as an office building. The balconies were stripped off, presumably to give its cafe-au-lait-colored facade a more sober mien.
The building went through several other phases: It was rental apartments ofr a long time, and then an eco-hotel. The old club housed a Sheraton when it was picked up by a trio of developers - Allan Domb, David Marshall and Lubert Adler - who realized it was better suited for condos.
The balconies have been reconstructed using 21st Century chemistry, which means they are made from polyurethane blocks, then mounted on an aluminum structure and bolted to the building. Since they will mainly be seen from a distance, they should upgrade its facade a notch in elegance.
Of course, noe new condo project in Philadelphia would be complete without a Stephen Starr restaurant. His new "Parc Bistro" will be located in the original corner retail space, wrapping around 18th Street to Locust. Hillier plans to restore some of the original terra cotta detailing on the ground floor. The architects are also adding thre more levels to the building, which are being sold as penthouse units. One recently went for around $2 million - and that's raw space But some of the smaller units elsewhere are being offered for under $300,000.

There's a nice symmetry to seeing the restoration of the former athletic club. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is just finishing up its new Perelman addition in the former Fidelity Mutual Life Building, also by Zantzinger, et al. It's good to see their opulently decorated buildings reincarnated into something worthy of the original design.


Blogger rasphila said...

I've always liked the simplicity of this building but didn't know its history. It's nice to see it restored.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those balconies should be constructed in original materials!! Looks like a plastic fake ('cos it is!).

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back!

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The building on Ritt Square is okay; However the old Reliance Insurance Building is a classical gem. I think many of the buildings in Philadelphia could use a facelift or facade improvement. Large well lit windows are in and old tired looking storefronts are now being replaced by curbside tables and fancy awnings. However, there is more work to do!! A second story Juice Bar and Fitness center opened in the Old White Building at 12th and Sansom St. It's windows are something that you would expect to see in Vancouver or NYC. Are we turning the page on a new Chapter to Center city's renaissance??

7:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you are back on line!

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga -- One thing I would curious about, and wondered if you had asked or could ask. The second floor of the building once housed the dining room of the sports club. On the south slide wall, the original arts-and-crafts tile decor, from floor to ceiling, was in place. It was produced locally and is a real treasure -- a museum quality example of how the architects brought in local artisans and artists for their projects. Although some sections were damaged, others were in good condition. I wondered if this was being preserved and, if not, if there was discussion of trying to remove representative sections for preservation. Thanks.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Davis said...

This is good news - the balconies at least will provide some articulation to the stripped down form as intended - and I don't think the fact that they're not terra cotta is that lamentable as they will be seen from a distance.

The museum is to be commended for the restoration of the Reliance Ins Bldg. Thank God for some things!

Welcome back

9:45 AM  

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