How Revamped Historical Properties Become Residential Homes

By Jessica Green | September 1, 2014 | Main Line

The Main Line acquires luxury residential homes as the city expands and welcomes revamped historical properties.

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The revamped Divine Lorraine Hotel, expected to be completed by the fall of 2015.

EB Realty Management, a community real estate development firm, has sweeping plans to restore the area of North Broad Street, the centerpiece of which is the revitalization of the iconic Divine Lorraine Hotel (699 N. Broad St.). Built in 1894, the hotel was once home to many of Philadelphia’s wealthiest residents. Now, Eric Blumenfeld, founder and principal of EBRM, has invested $31 million in the property and is confident updates will make it a standout. “The Divine Lorraine will change North Broad as well as the city of Philadelphia,” he says.

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The hotel’s top-floor grand banquet hall, housed major events and had extensive amenities.

Blumenfield and EBRM have an expected projected completion date of Fall 2015. The site is currently underwritten for a 121-unit apartment complex complete with shops, upscale restaurants, and an event venue on the 10th floor. The ground floor and lower level will hold retail space and restaurants, and according to Christopher Cordaro, executive director of EBRM: “The Divine Lorraine Hotel is an iconic building that is steeped in history. Its redevelopment can and will strengthen the community of North Broad. This project will change Philadelphia.”

Unused since 1999, the Divine Lorraine will get a full makeover, with the grand exterior the first in a series of restoration projects for the building. Walls will be repaired inside and out, and the frontage of the building will be restored to its original elegance.

In the meantime, the neon light atop the once-great hotel has been turned on, becoming a beacon highlighting the Divine Lorraine’s new beginnings. “This is very exciting given that the sign is viewed by a large population in Philadelphia,” says Cordaro. “It signifies to the public that the redevelopment of the Divine Lorraine Hotel is more than a pipe dream. This is a reality.”

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Narbeth Place will take three historic sites, including a former church, and create a community of luxury units with contemporary touches that enhance the historic atmosphere.

MainLine reBuild, a residential conversion company, is the creative force behind Narberth Place (200 Price Ave., Narberth), a new three-building unit along the Line. The company is known for transforming historic buildings into modern complexes without sacrificing the integrity of the structures. “Adaptive reuse is the cornerstone of our business plan,” says Principal Scott Brehman. “We love to restore older buildings.” This project will restore two buildings with new construction slated for a third property to create the 12-unit complex.

The first unit, Barrie House, was a single-family home from the 1890s that will be converted into three condo units. The old Narberth Methodist Church will be the site of the second unit, Elm Hall. “The Hall is a 27,000-square-foot stone structure built in 1929,” adds Brehman. “It will become six units with lower-level parking and more.” Rounding out Narberth Place is the new building, Vauclain Manor, which will house three condos with a design resembling a large, turn-of-the-century, single family home. Prices begin at $495,000 at Barrie House, with one unit per floor; Elm Hall’s six condominiums range from $700,000 to $1.1 million; and the newly built Vauclain Manor’s three townhomes average $600,000.

The new community will gain modern amenities inside, but outside, the structures will remain the same. “With all of our projects involving the renovation of existing older structures, we place protective covenants on the exteriors of the structures, so the way one sees them today will be the way they will look in the future,” says Brehman.

Rebuilding this area of the Main Line has been a competitive endeavor, with many interested developers looking to tear down the historical buildings. “There were six bidders for the Narberth project, most wanting to remove the existing structures and build new on the site,” explains Behman, acknowledging that MainLine reBuild’s mission is more in line with preserving neighborhoods’ histories. “We saw an opportunity to save the structures and adapt them for today’s residential real estate market.”

Creating a modern living space in centuries-old buildings isn’t an easy task, but a collective determination between parties made it possible. “The really special thing about this project was the collaborative effort between the borough and our group,” says Brehman. “Many aspects, such as the design of Vauclain Manor, the parking in Elm Hall, and the treatment of the stained glass windows in the church were challenging processes to come to grips with, but they were handled with constructive discussions, which ultimately resulted in what we hope to be a real asset to the community.”

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The Palmer in Wynnewood, another Main Line historic conversion, is a former seminary becoming a 112-unit building.

An empty church is poised to become Wynnewood’s most unexpectedly dynamic new property with The Palmer (6 E. Lancaster Ave., Wynnewood), a former seminary that is now being converted to a 112-unit apartment building by Cross Properties. The structure was originally constructed in 1919 as a hotel called Green Hill Farms, but in 1939, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary purchased the property and turned suites into classrooms and dorms, completing construction on a chapel in 1951. “We’re remaking history,” says Cross Properties principal Kevin Michals, who is leading the project with president David Blumenfeld. “We want to convert this historic building into modern living, while retaining the spirit of what this building once was: a place of luxury and respite.”

Already, 40 of the original fireplaces have been retained, and the 23 balconies have been restored to their original condition. Along with the historic details, residents will enjoy an array of new features, including updated kitchens, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, hardwood floors, and unique amenities. “Residents will have access to a saltwater pool, community garden, and a fitness room,” says Michals. One-, two-, and three-bedroom units are available.

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A view of the Commerce Center, the latest project at the Navy Yard.

The Navy Yard continues to expand with the addition of the Commerce Center (4000 S. 26th St.). Liberty Property Trust and Synterra Partners joined forces to create the 75,000-squarefoot space; groundbreaking occurred in April with 100 percent of the building pre-leased beforehand to a trio of international companies.

Liberty Property Trust is excited to be attracting foreign companies to the area. “The appeal for high-quality flex space centrally located in the region continues to attract new companies to the Navy Yard, in this case from as far as China, Australia, and the United Kingdom,” says Vice President and City Manager Brian Cohen. “With all five of our buildings in the Navy Yard at capacity, we will continue to meet this growing demand with plans already under way for our sixth building.” As this building broke ground, it joined the full-scale Commerce Center located on the western side of the Navy Yard to complete a 525,000-square-foot space, already home to nine tenants.

The three new tenants rounding out the new space include EcoSave, an Australian company that works to reduce energy and water consumption through building upgrades and energy management services; Clinigen, a global pharmaceutical company located in the United Kingdom that will use the space as its US headquarters; and WuXi AppTec, a long-term Liberty and Synterra tenant headquartered in China, which expanded its current space into 45,000 square feet of the new building.

“A dynamic, vibrant, and growing campus, The Navy Yard continues to attract global companies to Philadelphia,” says John Grady, president of PIDC, the management company behind the Navy Yard. “This new building will add to the variety of unique and flexible spaces that can accommodate growth and expansion.” The structure will be finished this December, completing the full 40-acre Commerce Center development.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WALLACE ROBERT TODD (LORRAINE); COURTESY OF THE PALACE MISSION INC. AT MOTHER DIVINE'S ESTATE IN GLADWYNE (HISTORIC PHOTOS); JTA ASSOCIATES, INC.; DANIELLE WILMER; JEFFREY TOTARO

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