Blatstein’s Arrow Swim Club arrives

Developer Bart Blatstein’s latest Northern Liberties project, the Arrow Swim Club, unveiled itself two weeks ago. An impressive reimagining of a deteriorating factory on Germantown Avenue across from the Piazza at Schmidt’s, the space is resolutely urban both in its materials and in the way it embraces its setting.

“When Bart showed me this 1920s building and said, ‘what do you think about ripping off the roof and putting a pool in here?’, I thought he was a bit crazy,” says Chris Sheffield, principal of the East Kensington-based design firm, SLDesign.

It proved a smart idea, allowing the bulk of the club to be exposed to the sky and surrounding buildings.

Confronted by a “mess,” Sheffield has made the best of what was left of the building — formerly occupied by the Arrow Screw Company — and enhanced it with pseudo-industrial touches, like an astroturf-clad sundeck that resembles a catwalk.

“There weren’t as many original features left as I might have hoped for,” he says. “Where we could, though, we took advantage of what’s there.”

That includes incorporating a yellow I-Beam, a hulking fire door, and some wood trusses. So little history of the building remained, Sheffield says, that there weren’t even any photos to go on. “We decided to look toward a completely different set of references,” he adds.

Urban funk —the bar is backed by a wall scrawled (neatly) with graffiti that reads “Magnificent” and “Awesome” — blends with luxe. The roughness of the brick exterior and the newly-poured concrete slabs are offset by a preponderance of solid Balinese teak and luxe touches in the cabanas like 32″ flat screen televisions and iPod docks.

Rather than go with turquoise and tiles for an expected Caribbean/Tiki motif, the designer has chosen a more earthy Southwestern look, complete with graphic Aztec patterns. “We wanted to signal a fantasy experience, while challenging people’s notions of ‘fun in the sun,'” Sheffield says.

Purporting to be the “first of its kind in the nation,” the club is open to members only, and they must be over 21-years-of-age. (And under 40, perhaps? as the crowd at a recent preview party suggested.)

The pool’s relatively small size (1,400 square feet, with depths no more than 4 1/2-feet, and no lap lanes) has some folks grumbling, but clearly this space is more about the scene than about the swim — to be expected since the pool is co-owned by Blatstein’s public relations consultant, Nicole Cashman.

For the hoi polloi, a restaurant and accompanying patio, are open to the public, although members have seating priority. Memberships are $1,000 for a season that runs through mid-October.

Contact the reporter at jgreco@planphilly.com

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