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What’s the history of that steel furnace lot?

The subject of a very strange Philly letter

Via Google Street View

Most vacant lots in Philly go through some sort of development lifespan. They’re the site of former grocery stores, parking lots or long-gone factories that have since been torn down, awaiting a new life.

And, in the case of one Brewerytown lot, that life may include a giant steel furnace, according to a very weird letter Fairmount and Brewerytown residents received back in February.

The letter, which was slipped under residents’ doorsteps, calls for people to join at a vacant lot on 27th and Girard on April 27 and discuss the building of a steel furnace, made of out questionable materials.

In any other city at any other time of year, the letter may have gone virtually unnoticed, but this was Philly in the doldrums of February, and it became a huge meme. That meme spurred a party at the vacant lot at noon tomorrow, which over 4,000 people have planned to attend, according to a Facebook group for the event.

And while we have no idea what is actually going to happen tomorrow, the letter got us thinking: what is the history of that 8,000-square-foot loft? And what developments—if any—does its future hold (since it likely wont become the site of a steel furnace made from human bodies)?

From the mid-1900s to at least 2016, the lot was owned by American Development Company (Adco), which owns several plazas including the Quakertown Plaza in Bucks County and the Trevose Shopping Center in Southampton Township. It’s unclear if Adco still owns the space.

The lot used to be the site of a bus depot, and then a supermarket, which was torn down prior to 2003, according to Naked City. Since then—for nearly 20 years—the lot has sat vacant, although it’s been the focus of at least one interesting proposal.

In 2013, Adco partnered with MMPartners, who are responsible for multiple developments in and around Brewerytown. They’re currently working on adapting the Red Bell Brewing Company into apartments, and they’ve just finished turning the former St. Joseph’s Hospital building into a mixed-use space with apartments and ground-floor retail. Together, they proposed a new, two-building development at the Brewerytown site, with 78 residential units, roof decks, parking and 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail

The proposal for the lot went as far as the Civic Design Review (CDR), who suggested clarifying issues like the 50 surface parking spaces, and the project’s connection to Chang Street, which dead-ends at the southern side of the property, according to zoning records. They also took issue with the height of the retail portion.

Naked City said the development would help to revitalize that corner of Brewerytown. However, the project was abandoned in 2016, after Adco and MMPartners couldn’t “come to a meeting of the minds,” according to David Waxman, cofounder of MMPartners. He said the two went their separate ways amicably.

Since early 2016, there have been no new major proposed uses for the site, and city records only cover zoning permits in 2015. A representative for Adco didn’t immediately respond to a call and an email from Curbed Philly about further projects.

For now, all we know about the lot’s future is a big party on Saturday (probably).


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