Once Threatened with Demolition, a Beaux-Arts Building Is Restored to Maintain the Historic Integrity of a Mixed-use Development

2nd Place, Exterior

The Stephen Girard Building is an iconic 13-story, high-rise building located at the corner of 12th and Ludlow Streets in the Midtown Village section of Philadelphia. After the threat of demolition by a previous developer, the current developer chose to incorporate the building, which was designed by James H. Windrim and completed in 1896, into the fabric of the neighborhood and reveal its beautiful design elements with a modern interpretation and usage.

The building now stands as an integral part of the most recent phase of East Market, a 1 million-square-foot, mixed-use development project along Market Street in Philadelphia. Renovated, restored and redeveloped, the former office building now operates as a 236-key franchised hotel under the Canopy by Hilton flag, a hospitality brand that taps into the growing experiential travel market by designing its guestrooms, amenities, services, and menus to resonate with local styles and flavors. The combination of the building’s prime location, historical origins, and tailored branding drives the hotel performance and ongoing significance of this iconic building while contributing to the revitalization of East Market.

PHOTOS: JEFFREY TOTARO AND JULIE SOEFER; BEFORE PHOTOS: BLT Architects

The exterior façade of the Stephen Girard Building had been greatly altered over the years. Nearly all Windrim’s original windows at grade were completely removed and replaced with high-sill projecting bays, and the original storefront openings were closed. Fortunately, two original window bays with egg and dart in cast bronze remained intact. These openings were preserved and then replicated by taking an exact cast of the original frame. While the new windows are very similar in form to the historic fabric, frameless glass storefronts and doors were included to create a more modern approach within each framed opening. In addition, existing transom windows were once again infilled with clear glass, and the interior decorative window trim was recreated to match the original millwork drawings found in the building.

The original 12th Street entry, Windrim’s intended main entry to the building, was also greatly altered from its original state. However, the newly reconstructed entry is a near-replica of Windrim’s original design. Using granite to match the original stone, frameless doors and rebuilding a long-demolished tympanum window create a discernible, simplified modern version of the original entry. By working closely with the Philadelphia Historic Commission, Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, and the National Park Service, all new work on the exterior followed the appropriate preservation guidelines to transform and restore the Stephen Girard Building’s exterior to its original glory.

The Stephen Girard Building promotes green design in Philadelphia. The building was LEED certified for its reuse of a historic structure, walkable location, efficiency in building systems, safe material selection and construction waste diversion. The pursuit of LEED certification promoted safer building practices and the reuse of existing fabric wherever possible.

Furthermore, modern materials were used sensibly, and resources were reused when possible. For example, the cornice was restored with glass-fiber-reinforced concrete where needed, providing a lightweight and more cost-effective solution than using the original materials. A repurposed decorative iron guardrail is relocated to guard an exterior stair to the lower level. The exterior canopy, signage and lighting emulate the façade motifs while minimizing the impact to the existing masonry and historic fabric. The exterior entry canopy design repeats Windrim’s Greek key detailing in a modern approach with backlit laser-cut aluminum. The canopy is structured so no new penetrations were required in the masonry; they are all contained within the proportions of existing window bays.

The Canopy by Hilton hotel, the center of the overall East Market development, provides an essential hospitality component to the existing multifamily, retail and office functions. By polishing Windrim’s Beaux-Arts jewel, the Stephen Girard Building is once again positioned as an urbane, sophisticated, signature building within Philadelphia’s long, rich architectural history.

“This exterior restoration is nice—and nicely lit.”

Josiah Stevenson, FAIA, LEED AP, principal, Leers Weinzapfel Associates, Metamorphosis Awards Judge

Retrofit Team

OPERATOR: Davidson Hospitality Group

METAMORPHOSIS AWARD WINNER and ARCHITECT: BLT Architects

INTERIOR DESIGN: AvroKO

MEP ENGINEER: Concord Engineering

CIVIL ENGINEER: Pennoni Associates Inc.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: The Harman Group Inc.

CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT: Hunter Roberts Construction Group

LIGHTING DESIGN: The Lighting Practice

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Margie Ruddick Landscape

ACOUSTICS: Metropolitan Acoustics

Materials

EXTERIOR LED LIGHTING: Optic Arts by Luminii

EXTERIOR SIGNAGE: Chandler Signs

EXTERIOR DOORS & HARDWARE: Glazing Concepts LLC

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