Monday, November 23, 2009

Then and Now: West Lancaster Avenue viewed from Wyoming Avenue, Ardmore

early 1950s-2009Italic
The original photo shows the north side of Lancaster Avenue viewed from Ardmore's western border in its early days as a suburban strip, almost completely unrecognizable today.

Though not usually considered as such, early 20th century suburban developers were pioneers in adaptive reuse. With a few interior modifications, the the ample setbacks and lawns of former suburban residences were easily paved over to accomodate automobile-oriented commercial uses. Two such houses can be seen in the original view, converted into Tydol and Gulf Oil service stations.

Automobile-related businesses dominated western Lancaster Avenue from the very beginning of the 20th century. The Autocar Company set up shop in 1900 and remained Ardmore's largest employer through the early 1950s. Its factory buildings, destroyed by fire in 1956, are visible in the original photo. Though the Ardmore West strip mall replaced most of the Autocar site, the south side of the avenue remains crowded with car dealerships. Fascinatingly, the especially resilient Sunoco gas station at the corner of Lancaster and Woodside Avenues has been operating there since as early as 1926.

1. "The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion." 21 Nov. 2009.
2. Bromley, George W. and Walter S. Bromley. Atlas of Properties on Main Line Pennsylvania Railroad from Overbrook to Paoli. Atlas. Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley & Co, 1926.

Original image: "W Lancaster Avenue." 2008. Lower Merion/Narberth Buildings. Lower Merion Historical Society. 15 Nov. 2009.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Then and Now: Southwest corner of Lancaster and Cricket Avenues, Ardmore

c. 1920s - 2009

Built sometime between 1913 and 1920, the nameless 3-story building at the corner of Cricket and Lancaster Avenues has long been one of Ardmore's most distinct buildings. It's a wonderfully detailed specimen of Renaissance Revival design, and given the high quality of craftsmanship evident in its construction, was almost certainly built for relatively wealthy inhabitants. Though merely an apartment building in function, it easily found itself among the town's most postcard-worthy sites during the 1920s.

What's particularly striking about the building's design is how resolutely urban it is. Though most buildings on Lancaster Avenue were built with upper-story apartment space, none of them are nearly as eager in their outward expression of a specific vision of residential life. Here, the abundant bay windows and balconies are strongly suggestive of density and old-school urbanity, out of step with dominant ideals about peaceful, reserved suburban living. It seems to reveal an original developer who had grander ambitions for Ardmore's future, at a time when growth had no foreseeable end.

Today, the building is one of historic Ardmore's greatest assets. Thankfully, despite modifications to its Lancaster Avenue storefronts, the original detailing of its upper stories remains remarkably intact. Unfortunately, two of its ground-floor retail spaces continue to underperform at the hands of a nail salon and spacious ATM cubicle. Needless to say, it really deserves better.

Source: Atlas of Properties on Main Line Pennsylvania Railroad From Overbrook to Paoli. Atlas. Philadelphia: A.H. Mueller, 1920.
Original image: "7 E Lancaster Ave." 2008. Lower Merion/Narberth Buildings. Lower Merion Historical Society. 15 Nov. 2009.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Then and Now: 13th and Sansom Streets looking southwest, Philadelphia


Few visitors to Philadelphia today, standing at the corner of 13th and Sansom, would feel much indication of 13th Street's turbulent recent history beneath its glimmering boutiques and restaurants. Neither, ufortunately, is any of it easily apparent in the above montage.

At the time of the original photo, 13th Street between Chestnut and Locust Streets was a fur district dotted with bars and luncheonettes serving office workers from South Broad Street. By the early 90s, 13th Street had become downtown's skid row and red light district, blamed upon the continuous western movement of Philadelphia's office district. Then, it attracted substantial attention from the press for its new reputation as Center City's most blighted street, a haven for prostitution, and the new center of gay nightlife. Officials decried it as an enormous black hole between the new Convention Center and the Avenue of the Arts theater district.

Remarkably, the area's turnaround is largely attributed to one individual, shrewd New York developer Tony Goldman. In 1998, Goldman Properties began purchasing buildings in the 13th Street area, investing millions into their renovation, and aggressively marketing the district to new retailers. No doubt, that story is overly simplistic, but the changes that have occurred in the decade since then have been nothing less than momentous. Today's 13th Street is one of downtown Philadelphia's liveliest retail corridors, and the proud heart of the city's gay community.

Source: Stoiber, Julie. "'The whole street is popping' - On 13th south of Chestnut, two blocks in a red-light district are turning funky." Philadelphia Inquirer. 3 Apr. 2006. Newsbank Access World News. Haverford College Library, Haverford, PA. 12 Nov. 2009.

Original photo: Carollo, R., and John McWhorter. "Historic Commission-3299-18." 1965. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 12 Nov. 2009.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Then and Now: Southwest corner of 2nd and Laurel Streets, Philadelphia


After years of decay and abandonment, the southwest corner of 2nd and Laurel Streets, like many others in North Philadelphia, was reduced to a mere ghost of its former self. The corner building at 940 N. 2nd Street, once a produce market, now houses nothing more than a weed tree behind its sealed walls.

Thankfully, one has every reason to believe that better days are ahead. The 100 block of Laurel Street has been transformed thanks to phenomenal new developments by Onion Flats. Along 2nd Street, the corner is bookended by the Piazza at Schmidt's and Liberties Walk to the north and the thriving corner of 2nd and Poplar to the south.

Original photo: Mallis, Atheniasis T. "Public Works-41581-8." 1952. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 2 Nov. 2009.