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.