A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
211-213 North Broad
What a pisser. This perfectly usable space on the 200 block of North Broad Street between Race and Vine has been mucking up this block for the last 86 fucking years. This location has a history of being part of the early-20th-century auto-showroom megacenter called Automobile Row. Despite seeing many occupants over a century of constant development, this piece of shit continues to be a crappy surface parking lot. There's two of them right next to each other, in fact. The story of this lot is told by how it splits into two properties: 211-213 North Broad and 215-217 North Broad.
215-217 North Broad, the northern of the two lots, started its development life as the property of one Phillip Buschong, a Reading-based gazillionaire who used this property to produce alcohol and other fluids in the 1860s. After his death, the property sat empty while Buschong's greedy descendants fought over his estate for over a decade, finally settling it in Orphan's Court in 1881. The distillery was then taken over by Charles S. Hahs and Sons, who continued operating it until the start of the 20th century.
It was around that time that the southernmost portion of North Broad Street became known as Automobile Row, and car manufacturing, distribution, and dealing began dominating the strip. The old Buschong Property then became a home to car dealerships: The Marion Car Company in 1904, Martin & Hart in 1907 and the Krause Company in 1909.
At the end of 1909, the old Buschong distillery building, by this point known as the Broad Street Garage, was demolished to make space for James L. Gibney Rubber Company's new three-story tire distribution center. They would stick around for the next couple of decades until being taken over by the Gaul, Derr and Shearer auto accessory company.
In 1927, while operating as a dealership for the Tremblay Auto Company, the building burned down and all property was lost. This created the first incarnation of the empty lot that is there today. The fire led to a landmark case in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: Girard Trust Company v. Tremblay Motor Company. This case is cited in landlord-tenant disputes to this day.
The lot at age 31 in 1959. Image from PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Department of Records.
The southern portion of the lot, 211-213 North Broad, was also first owned by Philip Buschong until the dispute over his estate. After that, it became home to a series of flour distributors, then a cigar factory, then a wagon wheel maker, then a soap company. One of the flour distributors, Frederick H. Hahn, purchased the property around 1890 and leased it out to all the following companies. His descendants would manage the property well after his death.
When the Automobile Row era started, James L. Gibney's auto parts company (not to be confused with his tire distribution company he later had on the northern part of the lot) was the first to contribute to the row at this location. The Haynes Auto Company of Pennsylvania then moved in around 1909 and stuck around until 1920, when Automobile Row had a sequel further north on North Broad. For the 1920s and 30s, United Engineers and Contractors occupied the space until Frederick H. Hahn the Third, grandson of the 19th Century flour distributor of the same name, ran his real estate office out of his family's old property.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the electrical engineers and contractors known as the Barney Roth Company were the final tenants of the building.
In this crappy picture from 1958, you can make out the 215-217 North Broad lot along with the 211-213 North Broad property being used by the Barney Roth Company, which emblazoned their name on the movie theater-style marquee. Image from PhillyHistory.org
The Barney Roth Company moved out to Kensington in the late 1970s and still exists today. Some time after they moved out, the shitty surface parking lot came along. In the summer of 2011, a mural was painted on the side of 207-209 North Broad called How To Turn Anything Into Something Else. It was created by the Miss Rockaway Armada art collective and uses imagery created from the imaginations of local elementary school kids from the Southwark School and Wissahickon Charter School. Though the mural makes the lots look less like dogshit, the existence of the mural, like many others, may serve to cause these lots to stay empty forever.
The northern lot is owned by some shitbird blightlords from Newark while the southern lot is held by Hahnemann but managed by some infamous local shitbag parking operators. Basically this means that these two lots will probably never be built on within our lifetimes. Before the Convention Center Expansion was built, the humongous surface lot that was once in its place was so big that this and other lots around here were unnoticeable. Now, however, this little pair of empty lots stands out like the sore thumbs that they are.
The only silver lining to this dark-ass cloud is that the both lots' licenses as parking lots are going to expire at the end of this year. Hopefully, someone at their blightlord parking management agencies will forget to file some paperwork and they'll get shut down, forcing a sale to someone who'll build something here for the first time in 86 years. Doubt it.
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