Girard Warehouses shored up

While area preservationists waged what were apparently last-ditch, losing efforts to save two architectural jewels on North Broad Street last week, a group of historic structures on the east side of town were faring much better.

The Girard Estate Warehouses in Old City, which were in danger of collapse a few months ago, have been secured and rebuilt, including the rear walls that had tumbled down last spring. Preservationists, neighbors and the city had feared that the owners of the properties at 20-30 Front Street were going to demolish the buildings, which were erected in the 1830s, in order to create new construction at lower cost.

In recent weeks, those worries seem to have been put to rest.

“There has been extensive building of the rear, four- to five-story walls,” said Rich Thom, an architect who chairs the development committee of the Old City Civic Association. “We are pleased with the progress. The project seems to be moving in the right direction.”

The rear walls remained under plastic for much of last week to maintain a temperature above freezing while the brickwork was being completed, said Michael Garofolo, superintendent of Clements Construction Company, the contractor hired by the owner to restore the site according to city specifications. “Ninety-nine percent” of the brickwork was expected to be completed as of last Friday,
Garofolo said.

Recent work on the Girard buildings included replacing joists, sealing all the windows and doors with plywood, installing safety rails, and putting in new foundation footings on two of the buildings. “A section of 26 [Front St.] was also discovered to be in decay, and that was also fixed,” Garofolo said. “We actually went above and beyond what the city required.”

Back in October, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge ordered the owners, 20-30 North Front Street LLC, to meet a Nov. 29 deadline to rebuild the rear walls, reconstruct collapsing floors, and stabilize and seal the structures, or pay a $750,000 fine. The order from Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan came in response to a civil suit filed by the
City Solicitor that cited building code violations and said the owners’ actions “directly contributed to the collapse of the rear walls” last May.

The owners were granted an indefinite extension on the deadline when inspectors found the original foundation needed to be reinforced before the rear walls could be rebuilt.

The partnership that owns the Girard properties includes the Brooklyn-based BRP Development Corp., which has planned to transform the 19th century buildings into luxury condos or apartments. BRP co-founder Geoff Flournoy did not return calls for comment this week.

The Girard Estate Warehouses are on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and were classified as “significant” resources by the city Historical Commission in 2003. They are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In its civil suit, the city described the buildings as “among the last remaining examples of commercial architecture from the Early Republic era [1800-1830].”

State inspectors from Harrisburg will be visiting the site this week, Garofolo said, as part of the historical review process.

“Our concerns were getting the job done safely and correctly. The buildings are now very secure. I will be walking people through that space in the next week or two,” he said.

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