Amid talks of its redevelopment, the hulking Frankford Chocolate Factory on Washington Avenue has now earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building at 2101 Washington Avenue, which does not have local historic designation, was placed on the register on December 22, 2017. While the designation means the old factory can now take advantage of the federal Historic Tax Credit, it does not place any restrictions on the property “up to destruction”—i.e. it is not protected from demolition.
Demolition isn’t in the future of the factory at the moment, anyway. The nomination and subsequent historic designation comes at a time when the Graduate Hospital neighborhood and the factory’s owners are considering the next phase of the Frankford Chocolate Factory’s life. A couple of public meetings have been held, with the last one offering up suggestions to bring apartments, townhouses, and retail to the property.
But while most people know the building’s history as home to the Frankford Chocolate Factory, once the largest producer of chocolate bunnies, the nomination by Kevin McMahon of Powers & Company revealed that the factory was first one of the largest wallpaper factories in the country.
Today, the painted sign on the front of the property reads “Frankford Chocolate & Candy Company.” But when the first portion of the factory was built in 1865, it served as home of the Howell & Brothers Paper Hangings Manufactory.
Its history as this wallpaper company’s home is what makes the building historically significant, McMahon wrote:
By virtue of the company’s immense output, its early adoption of steam-powered machinery, and its regular participation in both national and international expositions, Howell & Brothers became one of the best-known names in wallpaper during this period. Produced in vast quantities of fifty million yards or more annually, Howell wallpaper could be found in countless homes and many landmarks throughout the United States. As a result, the thousands of wallpaper patterns the company produced between 1865 and 1900, designed largely in-house, helped set the tone for interior design in the United States during the Victorian period.
After Howell & Brothers dissolved, the factory served as home to the American Can Company, the John Wanamaker Department Store’s furniture warehouse, and ultimately, the Frankford Chocolate & Candy Company.
The historic designation means that whatever future development happens at the factory will qualify for a 20 percent tax credit. The credit would be stretched over five years instead of all at once, however, as a result of the new tax bill.