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Creative Reuse in Philadelphia: Repurposed Buildings

Would you live in a stable, factory, or women’s shelter? Recent trends show that thousands of Philadelphians are eager to call repurposed historic buildings home, making our City a national leader in adaptive reuse. From former factories to carriage houses, and more, Philly’s building conversions are as varied as the original buildings they inhabit. 

Factories

A former hub of manufacturing, Philly’s factories went silent when production moved off-shore, leaving ghostly industrial buildings and unemployment in their wake. Repurposing factories as residential space is reinvigorating neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.

One of the first repurposed factories was The Chocolate Works at Third and New Streets in Old City.  Formerly home to the world-famous Wilbur Chocolate Company, constructed in 1902, the chocolate business outgrew the facility by 1933, after which the building changed ownership and remained underutilized.

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In 1986, Historic Landmark for Living adapted the factory into one and two-bedroom apartments. Renters were drawn by huge windows, high ceilings, and industrial design, along with a resident library, work station, lounge, and an on-site fitness center and parking. 

Brush Factory Lofts

When Brush Factory Lofts at 12th and Jackson opened in 2019, residents of LoMo (Lower Moyamensing) were thrilled. For decades, the former paintbrush manufacturing facility, built in 1926, had been deteriorating. Located in the heart of East Passyunk, it offered studio, one and two-bedroom apartments with rustic charm, and upscale amenities, including a media room, fitness center, roof deck, a green roof, and parking.

Stables

When horsepower was measured, not by what was under the hood, but by how many pulled your carriage, the largest and most attractive stables were located on small streets surrounding Rittenhouse Square. This is where owners of nearby opulent mansions kept their horses and carriages. In the early 1900s, when horses were replaced by cars, carriage houses morphed into garages.

Today, the former stables of Rittenhouse Square comprise a discrete Millionaires Row. To see the best of them, take a walk along the tree-lined block of 200 South Van Pelt Street, an alley between Spruce and Locust, 21st and 22nd Streets.  

Here, in former carriage houses, you will find the Orpheus Club of Philadelphia, 254 S. Van Pelt, the nations’ oldest male singing society, founded in 1872.  Originally, members were strictly from the Philadelphia aristocracy. Today, its 80 members are a conglomerate of singers drawn from local college glee clubs.

271 S. Van Pelt

Be sure to check out the 5,040 sq ft. converted carriage house at 258 S. Van Pelt, built in 1800. It is available for a cool $4 million. Nearby, at 271 S. Van Pelt, a 2,440 square-foot carriage house is on the market at $1,370,000 featuring four bedrooms, three baths, and a garage.

Also, venture along the 2000 block of Chancellor where multiple carriage houses and stables were converted to the “millionaire row section.” Take note of 2017 Chancellor, another former carriage house that we believe became a four-story factory in the 1930s before being repurposed into our office of Solo Real Estate.  

Rittenhouse is just one of many Philly neighborhoods where carriage houses have been turned into beautiful residences. Solo Real Estate will soon be showing 1912-14 Brandywine in the Fairmount section, one of three double carriage houses on a tree-lined block. This 4,480 square feet, double-wide property features a spacious artist’s studio on the first floor and a loft-style living room with a dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms.  A dramatic circular staircase leads to a roof deck with panoramic views of the city. Once this special property hits the market, it won’t last long!

For an imaginative repurposing of a stable, consider Stable Lofts at 630 N. Broad. This is where horse dealer Edwin Hart built a three-story, Italianate red brick stable in 1866. In the early 1900s, when North Broad Street, from Cherry Street to Lehigh Avenue, became known as Automobile Row, Hart’s stable was transformed into an auto showroom. Later it served as storage and office space for a number of businesses. 

Stable Lofts, built in 1867 as the Edwin Hart Stables.

In 2015, North Broad Living Management converted the former stable into 41 luxury apartments with the addition of a seven-story extension on the back. By then, the 600 block of N. Broad was synonymous with fine dining and music. (Osteria, South Kitchen & Jazz Parlor, and Cicala at the Divine Lorraine.)  

Stable Lofts now houses 41 luxury apartments.

This former stable offers bi-level units and second-floor lofts, hardwood floors, arched industrial windows and private terraces. To attract young professionals, there is a roof deck, Peloton room, and an on-site restaurant. 

Stable Lofts

Give Me Shelter

Originally a shelter for Jewish women in need, unwed mothers, and orphans, the Rebecca Gratz Club at 532-536 Spruce Street was recently converted into The Gratz luxury apartments that reflect the property’s architectural integrity. 

The Gratz

In the 1920s, the Gratz Club served as a residence for single Jewish women going to school or working in the city. By the 1950s, the Rebecca Gratz Club transitioned into a mental health facility, a nonsectarian halfway house for girls and women. Later, it offered residential care for girls who suffered domestic abuse or who came from troubled homes. In 1978, the club returned to its original function as a foster care home for pregnant teenage girls.

Rebecca Gratz Club. Image courtesy of The City of Philadelphia Public Records.

The historic building in the heart of Society Hill was vacant for many years until it was purchased by PMC Property Group, a Philadelphia-based development company that specializes in underutilized and overlooked urban properties along the East Coast. The apartments offer the usual perks: granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, and that most treasured extra parking. They are also pet-friendly. 

If you are interested in any of the repurposed residences mentioned in this post or want to find a unique property to call home, our experienced Solo agents can assist you. Whether you’re looking for a recently renovated space or a hidden gem to convert to your liking, we can guide you through the process every step of the way.

Recycling Plastics

When it comes to recycling, Philly has options but determining what can and can’t be recycled (especially when it comes to plastics) can be difficult to decipher. We’ve put together a guide on plastic recycling to provide tips and introduce you to two innovative startups dedicated to keeping plastic out of landfills and waterways.

Philadelphia offers free recycling bins to residents at six pick-up locations throughout the city. They recommend contacting the location first to ensure supply, as they may run out. If you’re not near a sanitation convenience center or they’re in short supply, Solo provides free recycling bins too! Just send us a note to schedule a time to pick up at our office in Center City. 

Hard vs Soft Plastics

Philadelphia has a single stream recycling system, meaning you can put all of your recyclables together in one bin — cans, glass, mixed paper, cardboard and most plastic containers — no need to sort or separate them. It will be collected the same day as trash day.

Hard plastics, such as bottles, milk and juice jugs, jars, soup cartons, boxed wine cartons, detergent and shampoo bottles, pump and spray bottles can all be recycled, as long as lids and containers are completely emptied and thoroughly rinsed. 

Soft plastic cannot be recycled. This includes disposable plates, cups, and takeout containers, bubble wrap, plastic packing peanuts, foam rubber and Styrofoam.  Ditto for plastic syringes. These materials have little or no value as raw materials, damage recycling equipment, and can even injure workers so you’ll need to dispose of them in your regular trash bin. 

The Numbers

When you look at labels for plastics, you’ll often see a number in the middle of a recycling symbol. These numbers are called resin identification codes. They’re an industry standard used to communicate the type of plastic that item is made from.

Typically, 1 (Polyethylene terephthalate), 2 (high-density polyethylene – HDPE) and 5 (polypropylene) are all recyclable through the city’s recycling system.

Plastic Bags

The city’s recycling program does not accept plastic bags. If you have them, safely recycle plastic bags by returning them to drop off locations at specially-marked recycling bins located at the front of supermarkets. Even better, just say “No” to plastic bags and bring your own reusable tote bag when you shop. 

Starting on July 1, 2021 the city of Philadelphia will begin implementing their much awaited ordinance on single-use plastic bags. While it won’t fully go into effect immediately (the website says prohibition will begin on October 1, 2021) the city is making steps towards a more sustainable future. They plan to fully enforce the ban on plastic bags by April 1, 2022. 

Rabbit Recycling

In 2018, brothers Brian and Matt Siegfried launched Rabbit Recycling in the Spring Garden neighborhood. They saw an opportunity to improve on municipal recycling. Their motto is “Empowering people to be better stewards of the earth.”

Image: Rabbit Recycling 

“The City only takes certain items and our list is much more extensive,” said Matt Seigfried. “Over 97% of household and business items that end up in landfills are made from a combination or single source sub-material(s): rubbers, plastics, metals, and fabrics. Through decomposition and separation, our team is able to increase the number of items recycled and reduce the number of items going to landfills.” 

Rabbit’s extensive list of acceptable items includes everything from shower curtains to sewing machines. “We take almost anything,” said Seigfried. They will haul away bedding, luggage, clothing, microwaves, foam pillows, etc. Note: all items must be clean. Collected materials are recycled, donated or reused. 

Customers may request a five or eighteen gallon container to be delivered to their residence or place of business. Pickup is arranged when the container is filled. They offer three different pricing options. On-demand service, a monthly subscription service and a special plan for businesses.

United By Blue

If you care about the environmental hazards of plastics entering our waterways, thank Philly entrepreneur Brian Linton’s for founding United by Blue. His philosophy? Change comes in waves. 

United By Blue was created in 2010 on the notion that a successful outdoor brand can do serious conservation work.  Today, they have two retail shops in Philadelphia and one in New York City, selling outdoor gear made of sustainably materials that are ethically manufactured. How does selling backpacks and outdoor clothing rid oceans and rivers of trash? “For every purchase, one pound of trash is removed from our waterways,” said Linton.

Image: United by Blue

To date, United by Blue has removed over three million pounds of trash from the ocean.  They started by hauling old tires, gathering plastic bottles, and picking up the bits of styrofoam that litter the shoreline. “We build community through our waterway cleanups, determined to spread the idea that if one business can make a difference, so can one person,” said Linton.  

“Ocean pollution is undeniably one of the most pressing issues of our time. The overwhelming amount of plastic in our waterways is polluting our beaches, choking our wildlife, and contaminating our drinking water,” he said. “We are committed to making a tangible impact, so we confront ocean trash in the most direct way we know how: by getting our hands dirty and removing it from the waterways. By mobilizing the community to join us, we aim to not only rid our shorelines of litter but also to inspire individuals to live less wasteful lives.”

For more information about recycling in Philly, read our article on Single-Stream Recycling In Philly. One of the best ways to help the environment is to build eco-friendly habits and find ways to minimize your waste footprint

Remark Glass: Raise Your Glass to Zero Waste

If you rinse every glass jar and bottle before placing it in your recycling bin, we have some bad news. Only 33% of that glass is actually recycled. The rest ends up in landfills. Now for the good news. Sister companies, Remark Glass and Bottle Underground, are determined to close the loop and make Philly a national leader in recycled glass.

Repurposing


Founded in 2016 by three talented glass artists, Remark Glass doesn’t just recycle glass, they repurpose it. In their studio in the Bok Building in South Philly, co-founders Danielle Ruttenberg, Rebecca Davies, and Mark Ellis, turn used bottles into stunning light fixtures, barware, dinnerware, and decorative bowls. “One of our top selling items is Keepsake Glass, commemorative bottles from a graduation, wedding, or anniversary that we turn into a serving bowl or a light fixture,” said Danielle who graduated from Tyler School of Art and previously operated a glass art business in Port Richmond. “We also work in our showroom with designers on light fixtures for homes and restaurants. Forin Café which is scheduled to open in June in Fishtown is buying recycled glassware from us,” she said. Their one-of-a-kind housewares also make a great housewarming gift for a new homeowner. Shop the available selection on their online shop or consider a custom project.

Recycling


As the first business in Philadelphia to be certified zero waste, Remark came up with a unique concept to bypass the shortcomings of the City’s glass recycling system. They created Bottle Underground, the non-profit arm of Remark, which offers an environmentally sustainable alternative to dumping used glass in landfills. “Bottle Underground offers pick-up service,” said Danielle. “We supply you with a bin to collect your glass. We just ask that you make sure all your glass is rinsed and there is no residue. You can leave the labels on. We take care of that. Once a month we will pick up your glass and return your empty bin.” There is a charge for the monthly pick-up service. “We are trying to make this as affordable as possible on a sliding scale for restaurants and corporations,” said Danielle. “We also welcome one-time drop-offs of clean, used, unbroken glass
bottles at our headquarters in the Bok Building. Just call in advance to schedule your delivery,” said Danielle.
“We accept any clean glass container and anything that has a reusable lid. We love Champagne bottles because the glass is thicker. We also look for blue glass and specialty colors,” she said.

A piece of glass being shaped into a new item. Image courtesy of Remark Glass.

Turning bottles into art


“Prepared pieces are placed in our kiln and heated to 1050 degrees Fahrenheit – this is considered warm in glass – the temperature is stable and the glass is still in its solid state. From there, our team picks up the pieces, one at a time, on the end of a steel rod. The glass is rotated and heated in a 2000-degree reheating chamber, then tools are used at the bench to transform the material to its new shape,” explained Danielle. “Once the final shape is achieved, our team knocks the piece off the rod, stamps it with our logo, and carefully places it back into the kiln.” Co-founder Mark Ellis studied glass at the Tyler School of Art and worked in high-end glass and metal fabrication for over a decade. At Remark, he specializes in glass blowing and metal fabrication. Rebecca Davies, Mark’s wife, received an MFA at the University of the Arts, then worked at a blown glass lighting company. “We all pitch in,” said Danielle. “We have eight employees and everyone does their part to achieve our mutual goal. To build a better future and support the overall well-being of their community”. Remark Glass also strives to support the local economy by working with local businesses that share the same values.


Danielle Ruttenberg, Mark Ellis, and Rebecca Davies pose for a picture with glass bottles. Image courtesy of Remark Glass.

So, as Summer officially opens with coolers filled with beer and wine, think twice before tossing those bottles and consider dropping them off to Bottle Underground for reuse by Remark Glass instead. Reducing waste by composting food scraps, recycling what you can, and repurposing glass containers can help Philly achieve its zero-waste goal.

Interested. in learning other ways you can help reduce your environmental footprint? Check out our article on Four Ways to Minimize your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia or our list on 5 Things Philly Renters can do for the Environment.