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Photos: Inside Brewerytown’s Pyramid Electric building

The once abandoned warehouse is being converted into apartments

The graffiti-laden Pyramid Electric building in Brewerytown is being converted into 50 rental units and commercial space.
“Everything is going to be kept as it is, but just a little bit brought back to life.”
Photos by Melissa Romero

Every Philly neighborhood has had that one eyesore of a building. Along North Broad, it was the Divine Lorraine Hotel. In Kensington, it was the Orinoka Mills factory. And on the edge of Brewerytown, it’s the Pyramid Electric building.

The triangular-shaped behemoth on a hill has sat at 3101 W. Glenwood Avenue since 1922, when it was designed by architect Leroy B. Rothschild as a furniture warehouse for Harry C. Kahn & Sons. When that company closed up shop, Pyramid Electric Supply Company moved in during the 1960s.

But as the story goes for so many warehouses in the city, once that company packed its things, the Pyramid Electric building was abandoned and soon became a source of blight for Brewertyown. For the last 15 years, the six-story shell of a structure has stood tall as one of the first sights one sees when walking or driving into the neighborhood.

Fast forward to today: Construction crews are hard at work, on an aggressive timeline to make sure the building is ready for its future tenants to move into the 50 rental units and 5,000-square-feet of ground-floor commercial space by June.

MMPartners, fresh off its recently completed adaptive reuse project A.F. Bornot Dye Works, bought the Pyramid Electric building just last June for $1,382,500. The building had languished on the market for years, unable to find a buyer willing to take a chance on what was still considered an “up-and-coming” neighborhood.

“I think when they were marketing it, people just still weren’t drinking the so-called ‘Brewerytown Kool-aid,’” said MMPartners co-founder and managing partner David Waxman. “And I’ll be honest: We debated whether or not we wanted it. So I think the the calculus was like, ‘Okay, in five years, if someone else bought this and developed it, would we kick ourselves if we walked by it? And the answer was, ‘Yep.’”

The 71,000 square-foot is now the developer’s biggest undertaking yet. But Waxman and co-founder Aaron Smith say they were lucky that, despite sitting abandoned and vacant for nearly two decades, the building was in “pretty good shape” when they broke ground. That’s allowed for the quick construction timeline: About 12 to 14 months from acquisition to full completion, said Smith.

“At the end of the day, the windows and the columns really set the units,” said Waxman, who worked with architect Marshall Sabatini and interior designer Shophouse Design for the project. “Usually these old buildings tell you how they want you to lay it out.”

On a recent tour of the building, it was clear that the windows in the studio, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom units are the standouts. At the time that MMPartners bought the property, the windows were made of fiberglass. Given the historic nature of the property, about $1.3 million in federal and state tax credits went toward replacing every single window with the original glass fit-outs.

The adaptive reuse project is unique in that it will preserve some of the graffiti work that’s covered the columns and walls over the past six or so years. The developers walked through the building multiple times with local graffiti artists, who picked out which works were considered significant and worth keeping.

“We’re going to keep specific columns and [graffiti] tags so that you have that vibe that this wasn’t always apartments,” said Smith.

When the Pyramid Electric building re-opens this summer as Pyramid Lofts, the units will be priced between about $1,000 to $2,000. Smith says the hope is that their efforts to keep the property’s character will serve as a reminder of the building’s 95-year history to future tenants and the neighborhood.

“It’s as beautiful as it is rough,” said Smith. “So to keep the aesthetic is really important to us. [...] Everything is going to be kept as it is, but just a little bit brought back to life.”