July 19, 2017

Fertile Ground for Adaptive Reuse In Philadelphia's Former Industrial Buildings

  • By: Katherine Flynn

In the Summer 2017 issue of Preservation magazine, we introduce readers to Philadelphia’s Oxford Mills. In the story, we take note of the fact that the neighborhoods surrounding the two-building complex are filled to the brim with impressive adaptive reuse and historic preservation projects. We wanted to showcase two more of them here.

photo by: D3 Developers

The La Peg restaurant in the FringeArts building.

FringeArts, Old City

This pumping station at Philadelphia’s Race Street and Columbus Boulevard was built in 1904 to channel water to the city’s fire hydrants from the Delaware River.

“The system was installed for the new and emerging mid-rise buildings, like the mills and factory buildings that were being built early in the 20th century,” says Gabe Canuso of D3 Developers, which owns Oxford Mills and also handled this structure’s transformation from a decommissioned city building to the new home of performing arts nonprofit FringeArts.

The masonry building was in use as a pump station until about 2005, at which point it was shuttered and sat vacant. In 2012, it was purchased by FringeArts, who saw its potential as a theater and headquarters. Canuso points out that the interior was free from columns—instead, the roof was supported by substantial trusses. This was an essential feature for a future performance space.

“It was relatively well-maintained; it wasn’t abandoned,” Canuso says of the state the building was in when FringeArts first acquired it. “But it definitely needed life breathed back into it.”

D3 was required to appear before Philadelphia’s Historical Commission to present the changes they were proposing to make to the exterior of the building. This included reinstalling windows that matched the initial design and fabric of the building in openings that had previously been covered over with a combination of red and clear glass brick. They were also able to convert part of the adjacent Race Street into real estate, striking it from the city map so that it could be incorporated into the final design for a restaurant and beer garden space, which Canuso calls “really critical” to connecting with the surrounding community.

Through a combination of fundraising and a Pennsylvania-specific Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, or RACP, grant, FringeArts completed the project in two phases. In 2015, D3 Developers successfully built out the second phase: space for La Peg Restaurant and an outdoor beer garden and patio.

photo by: Matt Wargo

Honeygrow Headquarters, Fishtown

This former auto body shop is located right across the street from Oxford Mills, and Greg Hill, also of D3 Developers, estimates that it dates from around 1930. He knew that he wanted to leverage D3’s work to “control, to some degree, the nature of development surrounding our work at Oxford Mills,” he says.

This building had been abandoned for an indeterminate amount of time, and Hill describes it as “cavernous” -- it was essentially a roofed empty space, a blank canvas. After an architect friend connected Hill with Justin Rosenberg, the founder of healthy fast-casual purveyors Honeygrow, they established an owner-tenant partnership that allowed Honeygrow to shape the buildout of the structure to their own specifications. Honeygrow’s employee population skews young, and the airy, open-concept office space fits the company ethos. The building also houses a commissary and test kitchen.

D3 teamed up with Philadelphia’s Stokes Architecture to create the ideal space for Honeygrow within the shell of the existing masonry building. The biggest challenge, Hill says, was executing Stokes’ vision within Honeygrow’s budget.

“We were able to capitalize on the openness of the space and the massive industrial windows facing east,” Hill says of the space.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

This May, our Preservation Month theme is “People Saving Places” to shine the spotlight on everyone doing the work of saving places—in big ways and small—and inspiring others to do the same!