What happens when a Realtor-developer with a penchant for Getting Things Done Now tackles a project in a neighborhood whose residents are concerned that everyone Play By The Rules?
You get something like the Dec. 13 meeting of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, whose members told Ori Feibush the windows on his new Fairmount coffee house had to go.
The windows in question were aluminum roll-up garage-door windows installed to allow the outside into his newest OCF Coffee House location at 21st Street and Fairmount Avenue, in the site formerly occupied by Mugshots.
The building is part of a historic district, which places limits on the kinds of renovations property owners can undertake. Thus the coffee house makeover fell under the Historical Commission’s purview. Complicating things, however, is the fact that the street floor of the building in question has been altered on several occasions over the decades, including by Mugshots’ former owners.
Much of the early testimony at the meeting concerned those alterations. A representative of the commission’s Architectural Committee took all in attendance on a tour of a mystery that stretched back to 1942 – the earliest a photo of the building could be found. In that photo, windows extending almost all the way to the ground, echoing the window patterns on the upper floors, were visible.
By the 1970s, those windows were gone, replaced by much smaller ones – or none at all.
This might suggest room for interpretation as to the appropriateness of garage doors as a solution for opening up the coffee shop, a function all agreed was valid. The Historical Commission, on the recommendation of the Architectural Committee, voted to disagree with Feibush’s interpretation.
A number of nearby residents also disagreed – but their disagreement focused more on Feibush’s move to seek forgiveness afterward rather than permission first. Some even accused him of acting in bad faith. But both Feibush, via his representative, attorney Carl Primavera, and the critics agreed that the coffee shop would be a net asset for the community and that a design solution could be found. “I think we can come up with a design everyone can live with,” said John Gallery of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. “We want to work with the neighbors to come up with a solution that all in the community can accept,” Primavera said.
The commission instructed Feibush to come up with an alternative openable window design that better reflected the building’s character, which the commission will review in one month.
In the meantime, work continues to finish the coffee house in time for a planned opening in late December.
Photo by Brooke Hoffman