Selective demolition at South Kensington’s Gretz Brewery

The historic but fragile Gretz Brewery complex has stood at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Oxford Street since the 1880s, but now its corner stands no more.

Gretz, a storied name in Philadelphia’s brewing history, thrived through the turn of the 20th century, survived prohibition, but closed this facility in 1961. Since then its 12 conjoined buildings have been vacant.

Earlier this year the Department of Licenses and Inspections deemed the Gretz complex to be “imminently dangerous” due to a partially collapsed roof, areas of bulging or collapsing walls, and other concerns. The corner building, originally a tavern, was found to be in the worst shape and was demolished this fall.

“It was made safe as of October 25, 2013. It is no longer imminently dangerous,” L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson confirmed. She added that L&I inspectors have been at the property frequently, including during this fall’s demolition process. “Our inspector was working to make sure they understood exactly what was unsafe.”

While the issues that made the property imminently dangerous have been cleared up, there are other outstanding violations on the property, most notably a violation for dozens of missing windows and doors on a block that’s more than 80% occupied. 

“We want to take care of the more dangerous violation first,” Swanson explained.

Owner/developer Tony Rufo has an appeal pending before the L&I Review Board for the doors and windows violationRufo has owned the former Gretz complex at 1524-38 Germantown Avenue for 10 years, currently holding it under the name TR Gretz LP. Rufo did not return our request for comment on any demolition, stabilization, or redevelopment work to come.

On Rufo’s watch the building has accrued several rounds of violations for property maintenance and vacancy without a license. The property was also tax-delinquent to the tune of nearly $21,000, which the Daily News reported was only paid up after the fatal Buck Hosiery fire in 2012. As of this week, the Philadelphia Revenue Department’s website shows that Rufo owes $10,505.78 in 2013 property taxes (including interest) on the Gretz property, which is being pursued by GRB Collection Agency.

In addition to the city’s code-enforcement action, Gretz Brewery has been the subject of renewed preservation attention. South Kensington Community Partners worked to nominate the complex to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia listed Gretz, along with the city’s few remaining breweries, on its 2012 Endangered Properties List.

As the pending nomination states: “The complex has an irregular plan, as these buildings were constructed, altered, and expanded over their long course of operation. Each of the [12] buildings in the complex reflects the historic narrative of the brewery and therefore each contributes to the site’s significance.” 

There’s been no movement on the nomination, but the Preservation Alliance’s Ben Leech still holds out hope for the building’s future reuse.

“I was somewhat relived that the condition of the adjacent bldgs seemed to be much better and that a lot of the violations were concentrated in that corner,” Leech said. “It still retains a lot of integrity I think.”

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