AKA Washington Square, the historic building on Chestnut Street that's become known for its role in Silver Linings Playbook, is currently in the middle of a multi-million dollar renovation. And even with the $20 million already put into the project, it'll be another $6 million and a few more years before the owners can say that building has been restored to its former glory.
Formerly known as the Ben Franklin Hotel or "The Ben," the building at 834 Chestnut Street was designed by Horace Traumbauer in 1925 and at one point served as the largest hotel in the city. In 1982 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, it served as a residential building and medical office space, with the grand lobby serving mostly as a bus terminal.
At least, that's how Brad Korman, co-CEO of Korman Associates, describes it. "When we bought this property in mid-2011, there hadn’t been any care as to who could use the space. There were residences, medical offices—this lobby felt like bus terminal with people coming and going."
"It was basically like 30th Street Station," added co-CEO Larry Korman.
Since the Kormans have had the keys, they've put $20 million into restoring the historic property to its original state. Working with a team of architects, designers, and historical preservationists, they got rid of the blue and yellow paint on the ceilings. They separated the commercial from residential and added a number of amenities to the AKA residences. And they replaced the lobby fountain and upgraded the aging elevators.
But they're still not finished. Another $6 to $8 million will be spent in the next two years on more renovations, including work on the grand ballroom that was featured in the Silver Linings Playbook.
In addition, a restaurant will be opening in mid-May and a terrace upstairs will serve as a tea room for residents. (Fun fact: Before the Ben was built, the Continental Hotel stood on this site. Abraham Lincoln gave his pre-inaugural address where the tea terrace is now located.)
"Our goal is to do whatever we feel we need to do to keep the property maintained, but enhanced," says Larry.
For now, both residents and the public can enjoy drinks in the lobby while listening to live music Tuesdays through Saturdays. Eddie Bruce has been tapped as the musical director of AKA Washington Square.
"It's taken years, and it's frustrating, but it's a historic landmark," says Brad. "We're willing to do this the right way."