A report from the Preservation Alliance‘s monthly e-newsletter:
The Sidney Hillman Medical Center at 2116-32 Chestnut Street, designed by the firm of Magaziner & Polss and built in 1950 to provide free medical care to members of the Male Apparel Industry Union, is the site of a proposed 32-story mixed use development. Under the current plan, the existing building would be demolished, along with a building at 2115-27 Sansom Street that also served union members.
The medical center building’s status as “contributing” within the local Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District prevents demolition unless the applicant can prove financial hardship or that demolition is necessary in the public interest. To prove hardship, city law requires the owner to “demonstrate that the sale of the property is impracticable, that commercial rental cannot provide a reasonable rate of return and that other potential uses of the property are foreclosed.”
The building owner and joint venture partner The John Buck Company, a Chicago developer, appeared before the Historical Commission’s Committee on Financial Hardship April 21 to make their case. John Gallery, executive director of the Preservation Alliance, questioned the efforts to consider alternative plans for the site and pointed to a lack of documentation regarding analysis and marketing of those alternatives. The committee requested additional information and analysis and recommended that the matter be tabled when the Historical Commission meets in May until such detail can be provided.
Following the Hardship meeting, the Architectural Committee received a presentation detailing the proposed development, which features retail space and a cafe along Chestnut Street, a parking garage and rental apartments, with dedicated office facilities for the Sidney Hillman Medical Center fronting on Sansom Street.
University of Pennsylvania architectural historian David Brownlee praised the existing building’s design, history and innovation, placing it on a short list of Philadelphia’s significant mid-century modern architecture between Howe & Lescaze’s PSFS Building (1932) on Market Street and Louis Kahn’s Richards Medical Research Labs (1957-60) at the University of Pennsylvania.
Representatives of two nearby historic churches – Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion and First Unitarian Church — said they would be adversely affected by the development.
The committee denied the application as presented, asking for evidence that full consideration was given to options that would allow the existing building to be reused or incorporated into the project.