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Footsteps to Follow: Ten Examples of Effective Adaptive Reuse

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Philadelphia is a city rife with reminders of what used to be. Take a drive through North Philly and you will be greeted by countless factories that once boomed with industrial promise, churches that once bellowed with harmonious melodies, and theaters that roared with frenzied howls of the world's most enigmatic musicians and artists, all in a state of decay.

The bad news? Philadelphia has a lot of these buildings. The good news? Several have avoided the wrecking ball and been granted a second lease on life. Below is a map of 10 architectural relics that have been saved and repurposed via adaptive reuse.

Adaptive reuse is a pretty simple concept. Think of it as the midpoint between historic preservation and total demolition. Not every building needs to be preserved, but not every building truly needs to be knocked down either. Oftentimes, it's cheaper to rehab an existing building rather than starting from the ground up.

Take Roberts Vaux High School in Brewerytown for example. A victim of this summer's rash of school closings, let's say that a local brewing company decides to take advantage of the neighborhood's recent upswing and purchases the building from the district. The brewery gains approval for a rezoning classification, renovates it as necessary, and later reopens the building as its main bottling headquarters, complete with brewery tours and a restaurant adorned with historic photos of the neighborhood back when it was loaded with taverns. Suddenly, an abandoned school is transformed into a citywide attraction. And they're hiring.

The best instances of adaptive reuse support the redevelopment of a building that no longer serves its original purpose while giving back to the community. While America is no longer the manufacturing powerhouse it once was, there is something poetic about looking past the joists and trusses that supported yesterday's industry, in buildings now abuzz with educated young creatives thirsty for opportunity and growth.


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1. Amber Carpet Mills

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3245 Amber Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134

Today: The Loom at Richmond Mills

A quarter million square feet of space is leased up at The Loom, which prides itself on being "the largest collection of artisans in the city," many of whom moved in when Masland Carpet Company moved out in the 1980s.

Perhaps Philadelphia's original creative community amassed under a single roof, The Loom is a living, breathing workshop of small businesses churning out analog products and digital services inside private workspaces. A cold factory has once again been transformed into a hotbed of genius.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

2. Richmond Theatre

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3037 Richmond Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134

Today: Port Richmond Books

The Richmond Theatre was a second home to cinema fanatics between 1913-1953 before home television sets became the rage. It sat dormant for decades until Greg Gillespie came along and converted it into a bookstore in 2005.

Known today as Port Richmond Books, the building offers a homely atmosphere that invites visitors to lose themselves in a valley of hardcovers and paperbacks.

(Photo courtesy Theresa Stigale for Hidden City Philadelphia)

3. Crane Plumbing Company

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1400 North American Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Today: Crane Arts Building

Opened in 1905 as a plumbing warehouse and later as a seafood freezing plant, this Kensington building was reborn in 2004 as a major element in Philadelphia's creative scene.

The Crane Arts Building is now devoid of drainpipes and frozen shrimp (thankfully), and has been rehabbed as individual offices for creative professionals and gallery space abuzz with art exhibits and events. It's proven to be a great example of adaptive reuse for one of Philadelphia's countless hulking industrial buildings.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

4. St. Luke's Lutheran Church

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1227 North 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Today: 3rd Ward

It took a while, but Brooklyn-based purveyor of coworking and crowdsourced education 3rd Ward finally opened up shop in Olde Kensington to the delight of many.

After brilliantly renovating this former church and highlighting many of its unique architectural attributes, 3rd Ward is very close to running on all cylinders, offering classes on everything from blacksmithing and urban beekeeping to digital design and animation. Definitely a big plus for the community and anyone who likes to keep busy hands.

(Photo courtesy Nathaniel Hamilton for NewsWorks)

5. Wissahickon Methodist Episcopal Church

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3849 Terrace Street
Philadelphia, PA 19128

Today: Terrace Street Condominiums

It took two developers, four investors, and roughly $1 million to convert the Wissahickon Methodist Episcopal Church into eight separate residential units back in 2003.

Built in 1901, this Manayunk church has character that just can't be matched by a downtown luxury high rise. Hopefully we'll begin to see more vacant Philadelphia churches being reused like this one.

(Photo courtesy TREND)

6. D.B. Martin Slaughterhouse

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3000 Market Street, Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA 19139

Today: Kaplan Career Institute

It's a bit weird to think that classrooms now occupy a space once synonymous with cow nightmares, but it's true. The D.B. Martin company fizzled out over a few decades before dissolving completely, allowing the building to be refitted as office space around the time of the Great Depression.

During its time as a slaughterhouse in the early 1900s, word has it that pedestrians could look up at the building and see hundreds of cows held in pens up on the roof. A billboard facing Market Street has since taken the place of the cattle, but you can pretend that it's a nice little memorial if you'd like.

(Photo courtesy Nathaniel Popkin for Hidden City Philadelphia)

7. Globe Dye Works

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4500 Worth Street
Philadelphia, PA 19124

Today: Creative workspace

The original Globe Dye Works had a good life as a textile plant from 1865-2005. Globe Development Group purchased the building in 2007 with the goal of creating a common space for Philadelphia's creative community. It is now the production hub for florists, bakers, sculptors, photographers, and even Philly's own Rival Bros Coffee.

(Photo courtesy Ed Hille for Philly.com)

8. Jacob C. Holtz Manufacturing Company

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2424 East York Street
Philadelphia, PA 19125

Today: 2424 Studios

When Jacob Holtz Manufacturing moved out of its factory in 2007, 2424 Studios swooped in and altered the imaginative landscape of Fishtown. What was once a metalworking plant is now the epicenter of a massive community of recording artists, event planners, designers, and even a few attorneys sprinkled in here and there.

A major player in Philadelphia's collaborative workspace revolution, 2424 Studios offers dozens of individual offices along with lofty event space, complete with exposed beams and preserved pulley systems from its industrial past.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

9. Mechanics National Bank

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22 South 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Today: National Mechanics Bar & Restaurant

The Mechanics National Bank was constructed in 1837 and its four column facade certainly evokes significance on South 3rd St.

This building was once home to burglaries, robberies, and counterfeit schemes before shutting down in 1903. It then served a revolving door of churches, nightclubs, and failed businesses until it was purchased by tech firm WebLinc, who promptly set up shop in the upstairs offices while opening the ground floor as the bar/restaurant we know today as National Mechanics.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

10. Church of the New Jerusalem

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2109 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Today: Offices / retail space

Rather than tearing down an aging Center City church, developers chose instead to rehab the building as office/retail space in 1989.

Nestled between Market Street's glass towers to the north and quaint brownstones to the south, this is a fantastic example of well-executed adaptive reuse that effectively preserved a nineteenth-century relic for the Rittenhouse neighborhood.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

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1. Amber Carpet Mills

3245 Amber Street, Philadelphia, PA 19134

Today: The Loom at Richmond Mills

A quarter million square feet of space is leased up at The Loom, which prides itself on being "the largest collection of artisans in the city," many of whom moved in when Masland Carpet Company moved out in the 1980s.

Perhaps Philadelphia's original creative community amassed under a single roof, The Loom is a living, breathing workshop of small businesses churning out analog products and digital services inside private workspaces. A cold factory has once again been transformed into a hotbed of genius.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

3245 Amber Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134

2. Richmond Theatre

3037 Richmond Street, Philadelphia, PA 19134

Today: Port Richmond Books

The Richmond Theatre was a second home to cinema fanatics between 1913-1953 before home television sets became the rage. It sat dormant for decades until Greg Gillespie came along and converted it into a bookstore in 2005.

Known today as Port Richmond Books, the building offers a homely atmosphere that invites visitors to lose themselves in a valley of hardcovers and paperbacks.

(Photo courtesy Theresa Stigale for Hidden City Philadelphia)

3037 Richmond Street
Philadelphia, PA 19134

3. Crane Plumbing Company

1400 North American Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122

Today: Crane Arts Building

Opened in 1905 as a plumbing warehouse and later as a seafood freezing plant, this Kensington building was reborn in 2004 as a major element in Philadelphia's creative scene.

The Crane Arts Building is now devoid of drainpipes and frozen shrimp (thankfully), and has been rehabbed as individual offices for creative professionals and gallery space abuzz with art exhibits and events. It's proven to be a great example of adaptive reuse for one of Philadelphia's countless hulking industrial buildings.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

1400 North American Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122

4. St. Luke's Lutheran Church

1227 North 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122

Today: 3rd Ward

It took a while, but Brooklyn-based purveyor of coworking and crowdsourced education 3rd Ward finally opened up shop in Olde Kensington to the delight of many.

After brilliantly renovating this former church and highlighting many of its unique architectural attributes, 3rd Ward is very close to running on all cylinders, offering classes on everything from blacksmithing and urban beekeeping to digital design and animation. Definitely a big plus for the community and anyone who likes to keep busy hands.

(Photo courtesy Nathaniel Hamilton for NewsWorks)

1227 North 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122

5. Wissahickon Methodist Episcopal Church

3849 Terrace Street, Philadelphia, PA 19128

Today: Terrace Street Condominiums

It took two developers, four investors, and roughly $1 million to convert the Wissahickon Methodist Episcopal Church into eight separate residential units back in 2003.

Built in 1901, this Manayunk church has character that just can't be matched by a downtown luxury high rise. Hopefully we'll begin to see more vacant Philadelphia churches being reused like this one.

(Photo courtesy TREND)

3849 Terrace Street
Philadelphia, PA 19128

6. D.B. Martin Slaughterhouse

3000 Market Street, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA 19139

Today: Kaplan Career Institute

It's a bit weird to think that classrooms now occupy a space once synonymous with cow nightmares, but it's true. The D.B. Martin company fizzled out over a few decades before dissolving completely, allowing the building to be refitted as office space around the time of the Great Depression.

During its time as a slaughterhouse in the early 1900s, word has it that pedestrians could look up at the building and see hundreds of cows held in pens up on the roof. A billboard facing Market Street has since taken the place of the cattle, but you can pretend that it's a nice little memorial if you'd like.

(Photo courtesy Nathaniel Popkin for Hidden City Philadelphia)

3000 Market Street, Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA 19139

7. Globe Dye Works

4500 Worth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19124

Today: Creative workspace

The original Globe Dye Works had a good life as a textile plant from 1865-2005. Globe Development Group purchased the building in 2007 with the goal of creating a common space for Philadelphia's creative community. It is now the production hub for florists, bakers, sculptors, photographers, and even Philly's own Rival Bros Coffee.

(Photo courtesy Ed Hille for Philly.com)

4500 Worth Street
Philadelphia, PA 19124

8. Jacob C. Holtz Manufacturing Company

2424 East York Street, Philadelphia, PA 19125

Today: 2424 Studios

When Jacob Holtz Manufacturing moved out of its factory in 2007, 2424 Studios swooped in and altered the imaginative landscape of Fishtown. What was once a metalworking plant is now the epicenter of a massive community of recording artists, event planners, designers, and even a few attorneys sprinkled in here and there.

A major player in Philadelphia's collaborative workspace revolution, 2424 Studios offers dozens of individual offices along with lofty event space, complete with exposed beams and preserved pulley systems from its industrial past.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

2424 East York Street
Philadelphia, PA 19125

9. Mechanics National Bank

22 South 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Today: National Mechanics Bar & Restaurant

The Mechanics National Bank was constructed in 1837 and its four column facade certainly evokes significance on South 3rd St.

This building was once home to burglaries, robberies, and counterfeit schemes before shutting down in 1903. It then served a revolving door of churches, nightclubs, and failed businesses until it was purchased by tech firm WebLinc, who promptly set up shop in the upstairs offices while opening the ground floor as the bar/restaurant we know today as National Mechanics.

(Photo courtesy Google Maps)

22 South 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

10. Church of the New Jerusalem

2109 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Today: Offices / retail space

Rather than tearing down an aging Center City church, developers chose instead to rehab the building as office/retail space in 1989.

Nestled between Market Street's glass towers to the north and quaint brownstones to the south, this is a fantastic example of well-executed adaptive reuse that effectively preserved a nineteenth-century relic for the Rittenhouse neighborhood.

(Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

2109 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103