Franklin Town 2.0

Portion of brochure sent to neighborhood residents in 1971

The proposal for Franklin Town (see April history page first) announced in 1971 promised the following:

  • more than 4,000 residential units, priced for a wide range of incomes

  • 4 million square feet of office and shopping facilities where more than 20,000 would work

  • 1700 hotel rooms with convention facilities

  • a new two-acre Town Square in the heart of the residential area

  • a tree-lined boulevard, with theaters, shops, and restaurants

  • fountains, plazas, green spaces, and playgrounds

 

Franklin Town never materialized as a unified project and was not completed as promised in one decade. The empty lots bought up by the Franklin Town Corporation and the Redevelopment Authority were either built on, given to the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), or sold off over the ensuing five decades. Despite this organic growth, the planned city-within-a-city is almost completely built out and fairly cohesive as a whole. Let's do a rough tally of output today versus the 1971 proposal.

A 2019 bullet by bullet comparison with above shows:

  • 3049 residential units, from 300 sf to 6000 sf, from subsidized senior apartments to $3.6 million town homes.

  • Difficult to quantify office space due to the unforeseen growth of CCP. Even the largest planned office complex at One Franklin Place is being converted into mostly residential today.

  • 757 hotel rooms with meeting rooms available

  • Matthias Baldwin Park is that two acre park in the heart of the residential area

  • Franklin Town Boulevard north of the Mormon complex has few trees, no theaters, few shops, and no restaurants. It is not a true boulevard, either.

  • There is one artistic fountain at The Alexander on the west side; there are a few private fountains within some condo complexes; there are small areas of public green (for now) at CCP; and no public playgrounds, although the neighborhood is surrounded by playgrounds

  • Bonus: off street parking for 3516 cars

What follows is a timeline of the events and building projects within the borders of the original Franklin Town proposal.

1969 --  Jason Nathan hired as president and CEO of the Franklin Town Corporation (FTC). Over the next 18 months  more properties are accumulated and plans finalized

1971

     June 3 --  Franklin Town project unveiled to the public, including the residents of that area

     June 8 --  Parkway North Residents Association formed to oppose the project

    August 19 --  Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority approves the project after exclusions of Albanian Church, ten homes on 400 block of North 19th and Hamilton Streets, and ten homes wrapping around southwest corner of 18th and Callowhill Streets

    September --  project approved by Planning Commission

    December 8 --  City Council gives final OK once concessions are promised

1971 --  The Community College of Philadelphia, founded in 1964, acquires the Mint building on Spring Garden Street from the federal government, and classes there begin in 1973. Although the Mint was not within the borders of the Franklin Town project, the Mint acquisition shapes a substantial part of the future development of CCP in the project area.

April 1973 -- Condemnation notices sent to 82 home and business owners

1974 --  Ten new replacement homes on the 500 block of North 20th Street completed with parking for each. Five homes on 20th Street and five on 19th Street between Buttonwood and Nectarine remodeled for use as replacement housing

1975 --  Korman Suites at former Preston Retreat site between 20th and 21st and Hamilton and Nectarine completed. This is now the north tower of City View Condominiums

1976 to 1978 -- Hamilton Circle Townhomes built in two phases, totaling 117 units with parking at each, one block east of Korman Suites

1979 --  Spring Garden Towers at 1818 Spring Garden Street built with 208 subsidized senior living units

1980 --  One Franklin Plaza completed, originally office space for Smith Kline French. Conversion is ongoing to 350 luxury apartments on floors 10-24, 200,000 square feet of office space on floors 2-9, and first floor retail.  Two Franklin Plaza (former Sheraton Hotel now the Philadelphia 201 Hotel with 757 rooms) is completed. One and Two Franklin Plaza towers share a parking garage with 450 spaces.

1983 -- West and Bonnell buildings at CCP completed

1984 --  2 Franklin Town Boulevard built, originally called The Fountains at Logan Square East life-care center, and now The Watermark with 464 senior living units. The mural from 2003 on the north side of the building references "The Residents' Association of the Fountains at Logan Square East." This building was last sold in 2015 for $65 million. The fountains at Logan Square are visible from the west side of the building on the upper floors.

1987 -- One Franklin Town Boulevard apartments built with 335 units and a parking garage across the street with 374 spaces. The owner since 1987 has been Forest City Franklin Town Corp.

1987 --  Museum Towers 1 completed at the southwest corner of 18th and Spring Garden Streets with 307 apartments and first floor retail

1987 --  Student and faculty garage at CCP on the west side of 17th Street with 631 spaces

1989 -- Second tower at the City View Condominiums completed. The twin tower complex now has 532 units and a parking garage with 410 spaces

1991 --  Winnet Student Life Building and Gymnasium open at CCP

1992 -- The town square envisioned by architect Philip Johnson is dedicated with the official name Franklin Town Park, but called Connections by the environmental artist Athena Tacha who had been commissioned in 1981 to submit the designs. In 1992 it wasn't really a central town square, as it was surrounded on all sides by parking lots. The name of this two acre park was officially changed to Baldwin Park in 2011.

1998 --  3 Franklin Plaza (1600 Vine Street) is built, an eight story office building now containing the String Theory Charter School

2003 --  Center for Business and Industry at CCP completed, corner of Callowhill and Franklin Town Boulevard, with faculty parking garage with about 100 spaces

2006 --  The Tivoli Condominiums at the southwest corner of 19th and Hamilton courtyard units completed, with the ten story tower completed two years later, with a total of 114 units, with indoor and outdoor parking spaces totaling 206.

2009 -- Franklin Town Park is rededicated as Matthias Baldwin Park. The historical marker at the northwest corner of the park is unveiled on September 26, 2009. The mayor signs the official name change legislation on January 5, 2011.

2011 --  Pavilion Building at CCP opens

2016 -- Additional tower and sixteen town homes built as part of the Museum Towers complex, with a name change to North x Northwest. 279 apartments and 16 town homes make up this second phase, with a parking garage with 400 spaces

2016 --  The meeting house and temple for the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) completed on Vine Street between 18th and 16th Streets; underground parking garage with 155 spaces

 

2018 --  The Alexander Apartments completed by the Mormons with 264 apartments, garage parking with 300 spaces, and 13 town homes. 

2019 -- NOVO project at 17th and Wood to be completed, with ten high end town homes and 3 car garage parking for each. The corner unit at Wood and 17th Street was listed at $3.65 million and is under contract. This project is partially within the perimeter of the original Franklin Town.

Inquirer photo from June 11, 1971, of Paschal Libonati in front of his home on the 1700 block of Carlton Street. He and his family moved to the new replacement houses on the 500 block of North 20th Street in 1974. A retired taxi driver, he and his wife raised eight children and sent two of them through medical school.
1975 photo of gathering at a new replacement home on North 20th Street. From left to right: Thomas Kearney, homeowner; Frank Rizzo, Mayor; Jason Nathan, CEO of FTC; Monsignor Dolan, pastor of the Cathedral; Paul D'Ortona, City Council President.

The following pictures show some buildings that were destined to be torn down in the original Franklin Town proposal.

Some, like the 300 block of North 18th Street on the west side wrapping around west on Callowhill to include the future Sabrina's, were given a reprieve at the August 18, 1971 meeting of the Redevelopment Authority as a concession to the Parkway North Residents Association (PNRA). Likewise, the corner of 20th and Hamilton running down the east side of 20th, were excluded from eminent domain at that meeting.

Some lucky buildings, like McCrossen's Tavern, were officially condemned in April of 1973 but escaped. When the FTC found out that building new replacement houses was more expensive than they thought, it purchased and remodeled the condemned buildings between Buttonwood and Nectarine on 20th and 19th Streets for use as replacement housing. The condemnation for the McCrossen property included the two buildings on the corner.

West side of 300 block of North 18th Street, spared after August 18, 1971 PRA meeting.
But for the concessions to PNRA made at the August 18 meeting, there would be no weekend brunch lines in the Baldwin Park neighborhood.
Likewise spared were the three houses on the south side of Hamilton Street and the seven on the east side of North 20th.
The neighborhood landmark of today was spared despite official condemnation in April 1973.
The McCrossen property in 1971. Condemnation due to "blight" seems a bit of a stretch.

The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states "...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The question posed by the inhabitants of the proposed Franklin Town was whether economic development, especially by for-profit corporations, qualified as a "public use." Can the government take land from an individual to give to another individual or corporation, because this transfer would generate higher tax revenue? This very question went to the US Supreme Court in a case where Pfizer encouraged the city of New London, Connecticut, to acquire land, including the home of Susette Kelo, by eminent domain for a Pfizer facility. In its 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that the government could do just that. This decision has made many lists of the worst US Supreme Court decisions of all time. Houses in New London within the development area were condemned and cleared after much emotional turmoil, but just as with FTC, the economy deteriorated and the redevelopment project was abandoned.

The 1800 block of Carlton Street still exists because it was outside the perimeter of the proposed Franklin Town. In 1973 the 1700 block of Carlton was condemned because of "blight," although I suspect the 1700 block would have looked very similar to this charming block if it had been left alone.
This March 2019 photo shows the "Gateway to Franklin Town." In the back left is the top of One Franklin Plaza, originally the headquarters for Smith Kline & French, now Franklin Tower apartments. The sheer concrete wall in back right is Two Franklin Plaza, originally and still a hotel. The new hotel address is its name: Hotel 201 (for 201 North 17th Street). The building front left still has two addresses at its entrance: Three Franklin Plaza and 1600 Vine Street. The sculpture at street level on the bridge on 17th Street over the Vine Street Expressway is seen at lower left below the street lights. The plaque (below) at the base of the sculpture bears the only other mention of the Franklin Town Corporation in "Franklin Town" besides the two pink granite plaques in Baldwin Park.
authored by Joe Walsh, May 2019

Matthias Baldwin Park 

423 N 19th St 

Philadelphia, PA 19130

Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the Matthias Baldwin Park

© 2018 Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park