Pilot loan program funds historic revitalization initiative on Germantown Avenue.
A recent ribbon cutting on Germantown Avenue may have far-reaching implications for the historic character of storefronts all along one of the country’s oldest roads. Developers Dan Gordon and Tom Peters recently revitalized two historic storefront properties (and the apartments above them) at 5026-28 Germantown Ave. with the help of new loan program that allowed the builders to maintain the unique architectural elements of the building’s facade.
The building once housed the Manheim Furniture Company and the Mar-Bli Shoppe (a hairdresser) during the 1920s when Germantown Avenue was the other center city and rivalled the swanky shopping districts on Chestnut and Market streets.
Although the storefronts had changed significantly over the decades, plenty of their historic character remained, just waiting for the right developer to bring them back to life. The problem? Historic revitalization can be costly. Much easier these days to simply cover over historic accents with modern materials and call it progress.
But that’s an unacceptable tradeoff for the Germantown United CDC (GUCDC) and the Free Loan Association of Germantown (FLAG), both of which consider the historic integrity of Germantown Avenue a primary focus of their mission. “We wanted to encourage developers to keep the character of our buildings by offering financial assistance,” said GUCDC Director Andy Trackman, “so we developed a zero-interest, no-fees revolving loan program (funded through the 1772 Foundation and FLAG) that would help with the costs to repair, restore, and maintain the details and features that make their buildings historically significant.”
Thanks to the loan, several architectural elements were preserved, including the pressed metal bay windows on the second floor and the clay tile roofing, as well as complex roof-line brickwork which coordinates thematically with the bay windows. In the first-floor retail space, the original pressed metal cornice above the original store fronts was also preserved.
“While this building is not as old as other historic sites on the Avenue,” said Trackman, “it is a contributing member to the Germantown Avenue commercial corridor. There are records of structures on this site dating back to 1871. The current building was erected between 1895 and 1911.”
Trackman believes Gordon and Peters were ideal developers because of their understanding of historic preservation principles but also for their building philosophy – “We believe in small-scale projects,” said Gordon. “We want to pay attention to detail and always be an improvement to the block. We don’t want to dominate an area, we want to fit in.”
To commemorate the 1772 Foundation partnership with Germantown, the GUCDC commissioned a plaque by local tile artist Karen Singer that will be affixed to the building’s façade. The tile, which is frost and freeze resistant, is “very durable and will last a long, long time,” said Singer. “We chose the color green because it’s the color of Germantown and the Foundation.”
What’s next for the loan program? “We’ll review the process for this project and decide how we can improve it,” said Trackman. “We’ll look at all aspects, from the funding to how we work with the Philadelphia Historic Commission and other organizations to ensure we’re as accurate as we can be in restoring historical facades. The history here is too important to the community and the economy not to get it right.”
For information about the rental units, contact Peters Gordon Realty.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass serves residents of Philadelphia’s 8th District, which includes Germantown, Nicetown, Chestnut Hill, Mt Airy and other parts of North Philly. To contact her local office, call 215-685-9182.