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First Look: Inside the new West Lofts at the old West Philadelphia High School

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Coworking space, a restored gym, and a coffee shop are also on the way

The former West Philadelphia High School has been converted into an apartment building with loft units.
Photos by Melissa Romero

In less than 10 days, the Gothic Revival behemoth known as the original West Philadelphia High School will reopen its doors as West Lofts.

Forget that the marble floors and walls are still covered in dust, or that the lobby and common spaces are still a work in progress. The tenants of the first 35 units are more than ready to be a part of the grand building’s return to West Philly.

“It’s been overwhelming, to say the least,” said project coordinator Mariah Frazier. “We were expecting the first people to trickle in for tours. But we had 180 tours scheduled in first week. It was like a competition of people trying to get in.”

The first 35 available units have been leased for July 1 move-ins. As of June 20, only six units were still available in the second August move-in phase. And 60 percent of the units available for September move-ins have been leased.

In total, there will be 268 market-rate apartments at West Lofts, ranging from $995 for studios to up to $2,430 for 3-bedroom units. The 1-, 2-, and 3-bedrooms are bi-level and all of the building’s hardwood floors have been refinished.

A model one-bedroom unit in West Lofts reveals soaring ceilings, tall windows, and refinished hardwood floors.

Frazier also revealed that the school’s grand auditorium will be converted in coworking space and a coffee shop will both open up in the fall. The building’s own management, the Galman Group, will run the coworking space, which will help keep the leasing costs low for future tenants.

It’s been a long road to get to this point. The late Gothic revival high school was built in 1912, and, along with dozens of other city public schools, was shuttered in 2011. Students moved to another, newer building a few blocks away, while the former school, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sat abandoned.

Developer and owner Andrew Bank of Strong Place Partners bought the massive property in 2016. Like most residents of the Walnut Hill and surrounding West Philly neighborhoods, Bank had strong ties to the school: His grandmother attended West Philadelphia High School.

But within days of purchasing the school, the property was vandalized inside and tagged with graffiti. Much of the restoration work in the beginning involved making repairs following the break-in, according to Frazier.

Otherwise, the school was in relatively good shape since closing in 2011. Given the building’s historical significance and his own personal ties to the school, it was important for Bank to restore as many original details of the school as possible.

A rendering reveals the school’s original gym that will be restored and used as the fitness facility.
Courtesy of West Lofts
The school’s old heating room will be turned into communal space. The original holes in the ceiling, used to heat the auditorium above, will be used for recessed lighting.

The original gym and its indoor track will be restored and open to residents by late July. Meanwhile, the building’s original heating room on the first floor will be converted into the communal space.

Frazier says it’s been a labor of love for the past year at the new West Lofts. In fact, some of its future residents are alumni of West Philadelphia High School. “I just can’t imagine what it’d be like going to school here and then living here,” said Frazier. “But everybody is so into the vibes of the building.”