Alarmed by a demolition notice posted on a distinctive 19th- century firehouse in South Philadelphia, City Councilman Mark Squilla and Pennsport Civic Association representatives have arranged to meet with the owner in the hope of saving the building.
Very little is known about the company's plans for the quirky, gabled Engine 46 building on Reed Street, wedged between I-95 and the Riverview Plaza movie theater complex. Cedar Realty Trust, the developer that owns both the firehouse and theater complex, has refused to respond to inquiries from city officials or reporters.
But after extensive media coverage and additional phone calls from Squilla, Cedar Realty president Bruce Schanzer agreed to sit down with the councilman and neighborhood association president James E. Moylan.
Squilla said Monday that Schanzer had "given his word" not to raze Engine 46 before the meeting, which is expected to take place by Aug. 1.
During a brief talk with Schanzer, Squilla said he was disturbed to learn that Cedar Realty was planning to demolish the building although it has no plans for the site.
"To knock it down and not have a use - that would be like a kick in the stomach," he said.
Squilla and Moylan said they hope to persuade Cedar to reconsider its demolition. At the very least, they want the company to delay action until there is a development for the theater complex, which occupies a full block.
"If you have some other commercial use for the site, that's one thing," Moylan said. "But if they say that they're knocking it down for a parking lot, that makes my head explode."
Rumors of the impending demolition began spreading through the neighborhood in early June. Although the Flemish Revival-style firehouse is one of the most intriguing Pennsport structures, it never received landmark protection.
The redbrick structure is easily the most recognizable building in the area. Along with its Flemish gables and elaborate chimneys, Engine 46 has an octagonal tower that was used for drying cotton fire hoses. The firehouse was built in 1894, at a time when Philadelphia's informal firefighting brigades were beginning to assemble into professional companies. The city closed the firehouse in 1957.
In the mid-1980s, Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein bought the firehouse and surrounding frontage on Columbus Boulevard to build Riverview Plaza. He operated a steak house in Engine 46 for many years.
In 2003, Blatstein sold the entire property to Cedar Realty, which runs shopping centers around the United States, for $75 million. At that time, the state was debating the legalization of gambling; many expected a casino to be developed across Columbus Boulevard from the theater.
The steak house was shuttered in 2006 - the same year that Foxwoods Casino received a license to operate on the site across from Cedar's property. Beset by financial problems, Foxwoods gave up on the location two years later.