The former Poor Clares Monastery at 2012-30 West Girard Avenue is slated for demolition. The site, part of the Girard Avenue National Register Historic District, has been vacant and neglected for years by absentee owners who are now proposing two new apartment buildings on the site. Their plan for 42 new 800-square-foot units and a 16-space parking lot requires a number of zoning variances and has been met with significant opposition from neighbors in Francisville and Fairmount. However, the buildings are not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, meaning the buildings can be demolished without the approval of the Philadelphia Historical Commission or any assurances that new development would follow.
Owners have cited L&I building violations as justification for the demolition– violations caused by their own negligence in securing and maintaining the buildings. And now they seek to profit from this neglect by speculating on out-of-character new construction, despite the fact that the site is a prime candidate for adaptive reuse and eligible for federal preservation tax credits.
The site sits directly across from Girard College and is an important gateway into Francisville. It includes two c.1890s brownstone townhouses linked by c.1918 Romanesque stone chapel. From 1918 to 1977, the site was home to a contemplative order of Franciscan nuns known as the Poor Clares. Never has a building’s name so sadly matched its fate.
If anyone has photos of the interior, we would love to hear from you.
Written and drawn by Ben Leech
Unlisted is a series of portraits highlighting Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. To learn how to protect a building by nominating it to the Register, click here.
Address: 1501 Fairmount Avenue
Built: Unknown (c.1930s)
What ancient art deco civilization left this Babylonian-looking castle-cum-garage on the corner of 15th and Fairmount? Carlos, who has operated the Overseas Motor Works in the building for the last thirty years, has no idea. “It was vacant when we moved in,” he remembers. “An old man used to pass by here when we first started, said he remembered the place divided up into little stalls, like a market. Places selling parts, appliances, that kind of thing. But I have no idea who built it or why. Not much history here that I know of, Ben Franklin was never here, you know? I did have a guy looked just like him as a customer for many years, though.”
It is an enigmatic building, to say the least. Adorned with ram’s heads, maidens’ faces, doves in a dovecote, flower-filled urns, and palm fronds aplenty, the walls are made from pink-hued concrete blocks. The same material was used in another art-deco building a few doors down Fairmount, built in 1932 as a showroom and warehouse for the National Casket Company. With the vaguely funerary aura of its urn-topped tower, its tempting to guess a connection to the casket building, but I couldn’t prove it. Can anyone help solve this riddle?