Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yet Another Philadelphia Warehouse Fire Next to the El

Four-Alarm Fire at the old L. H. Parke Coffee and Tea Importer Warehouse,
Front Street below Girard, Philadelphia, 10 July 2012
(photo @http://6abc.com)

Pre-Fire view of Parke Warehouse's Hope Street Frontage
(photo @http://hiddencityphila.org)

Not surprisingly, it happened again.  As had happened three months earlier at the old Thomas Buck Hosiery Mill in Kensington, a fire this morning ripped through an abandoned property in the shadows of the Market-Frankford El, this time at the old Parke's Coffee and Tea Warehouse on Front Street just south of Girard, on the border between Northern Liberties and Fishtown (for a history of the property, see the article in today's Hidden City Daily; for photos of the fire, see here and here).

The property is owned, not surprisingly, by Liberty Homes Tower Investments, Inc., part of the empire of Philadelphia's leading developer, Bart Blatstein, who has recently been the prime mover in the transformation of Northern Liberties from a down-on-its-heels industrial neighborhood of old tanneries and breweries (both Schmidt's and Ortleib's) to the hipster locale it has become over the past decade.  Blatstein, of course, is the one responsible for the famous Piazza at Schmidt's which, despite its upscale aura and shockingly modernistic design, has had something of a chequered crime history over the past three years.

I have long admired the warehouse that met its fiery fate this morning.  One thing that has also struck me time and again is the failure of its owner to seal the building properly so as to preserve it for future restoration (the same is also true of Blatstein's old Ortleib's brewery a few blocks away).  As a result, one more old brick building, which can never be replaced, is lost to history, no doubt ultimately to be replaced by modernistic residences or offices that will ultimately fail to satisfy.  Philadelphia has been somewhat lucky as a result of its ancient history and, hence, building stock.  Ultra-modern buildings, such as the Piazza at Schmidt's, fail to offend because their contrast to the warm, red brick buildings for which the city is famous, lends a healthy aesthetic diversity.  In other words, such buildings have as yet failed to attain to the critical mass where their jarring angularity and inherent coldness offends.  How much longer will this situation obtain?

I leave you with a number of photographs I have taken of the warehouse complex in June of 2009, September of 2010, and April of 2012.

Top: Front Street frontage
Bottom: view up Hope Street from the south
(Photos by author, 27 June 2009)

View across El tracks from Girard Avenue McDonald's parking lot
(phot by author, 7 April 2012)

Photos by author, 7 April 2012. Note the 1843 date and "Hope Mills"
inscription on the part of the complex just north of
the 4-story warehouse

The author across from the rear of the warehouse on Hope Street, 24 September 2010

Hope Street across from the Parke warehouse, 24 September 2010.
This building subsequently burned and new construction is replacing it.



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