Restoring the past, rebuilding the future in Old City

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January 13, 2010 4:09:05 PM PST
In the Old City section of Philadelphia today, they brought history back to life.

The public opening of a mid-sized apartment house usually doesn't bring out the governor and mayor, but the opening of Old City Mercantile did just that.

"The big deal here is these were old warehouses, literally, from the 19th century," Mayor Michael Nutter said.

The historic Girard Estate warehouses on North Front Street date to 1834, but photos taken in 2007 show the last remaining examples of early commercial architecture were neglected.

The place was falling apart; there was a real concern it would all come down. After a court date, there was a meeting of the minds. Engineers were able to save the building and stabilize the 19th century exterior.

Using tax credits for historic buildings, a New York developer set about to work inside and out.

"We maintained the exterior façade and restored it to where it was 150 years prior," Meredith Marshall of BRP Development said.

Preservationists, who had feared the worse, now praise the developer and city agencies.

"The condition of the buildings was horrendous; they were near falling down. A number of city agencies all came together to help our group to make sure these buildings got restored," Richard Thom of the Old City Civic Association said.

On the outside, it's history preserved in Old City. On the inside, it's 35 high-end energy efficient apartments renting for $1,400 to almost $4,000 a month.