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Exclusive: Inside The Yard’s first Philly coworking space in the Steele building

The Yard opens its doors in the historic building on May 9

A coworking space with exposed, white ductwork and pillars, and big industrial-sized windows.
The Brooklyn-based coworking firm the Yard opens its first Philly location in the historic Steele building.
Photos courtesy of the Yard

This week marks the grand opening of The Yard, the Brooklyn-based coworking company’s first Philly locale at 11th and Ludlow, plus the return of the historic Steele building to Market East.

The Yard has set up shop on the second through fifth floors at the Steele building, transforming what was once a dilapidated, abandoned warehouse into a bright and colorful coworking space, decked out in simple, clean-lined office furniture, and local artwork, and a roof deck.

“We started thinking about Philly about two years ago,” the Yard’s co-founder and CEO Morris Levy said. That’s about the time the Yard’s Herald Square location opened, and its proximity to Penn Station had Levy thinking about the growing Philly-New York connection.

“We thought it was natural to have a location in Philly, since some Yard members are commuters and they’d be able to utilize both spaces,” Levy said. “We did a lot of walks through the city, and this area just felt like it had all the makings of the neighborhood that we were looking for. It felt homey to us.”

The deteriorated state of the building at 21 S. 11th Street didn’t deter Levy from leasing the space. In fact, the CEO said that’s exactly what attracted him to the property. “When we were there, we couldn’t even get into the building,” he said. “It was in a really bad state, but it was beautiful. We were just excited to see what it could be and what its full potential was.”

The Steele building in 1965.
The Steele building in 2016.
via Flickr/tehshadowbat

The five-story building dates back to 1912, when it served as headquarters for food service company Horn & Hardart. Designed by William Steele and Sons Co., the building was considered groundbreaking at the time for its use of three materials: Brick, reinforced concrete, and, for the first time ever in the city, polychromatic terra cotta.

Those materials, plus other Art Deco and neo-classical architectural details, remain on display in the new Yard offices as accents to the modern offices. As with all of its locations, The Yard worked with in-house architect David Bers for the building’s interior fit-out.

“The feeling of the building and its bones play a big part into what the outcome is and what the layout is,” Levy said. “We try to leave that open space feel so you can really feel the architecture. The building is really a driver.”

The first floor of the Steele building will be home to local health food chain Honeygrow, while The Yard will take up the remaining levels. On each floor, the elevator opens up to a lounge area, with a kitchenette to the right. Accent walls painted in bright colors like pink and yellow are scattered throughout, where there’s a mix of open desks and private offices with sliding glass doors.

Members also have the ability to work from the new, 2,000-square-foot roof deck, which offers rarely-seen views of Market East’s ongoing transformation (The $600 million East Market redevelopment, which will bring its own set of office space to the neighborhood, is the Steele building’s next-door neighbor).

The plan is for this space to play host to both public and private events that both members and non-members will be able to rent out.

Top left: Private conference rooms are available on each floor. Top right: The large industrial-sized windows look out to the new high-rises under construction at East Market. Bottom: The roof deck is lined with built-in planters.

The Yard opening comes in the middle of coworking boom occurring in Philly, with increasingly more national operators like The Yard eyeing the city. In Center City alone, national operators lease 64 percent of the 370,589 square feet of downtown coworking space, and another 80,000 square feet is in the pipeline, according to Center City District’s last count.

Levy says the increase of coworking spaces speaks to Philly’s entrepreneurial history; The Yard is another space in the city—and one of the first for the neighborhood—for community collaboration to take place. “Certainly, there’s a tremendous and growing entrepreneurial community here—Philly has always has been an entrepreneur’s city.”

“I think that Philly is going to a great city for us. And we’re not just another offering—we always try to be an outlier.”