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Historic 26th Dist. headquarters to get new life

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Where Dauphin Street meets the cobblestone of Trenton Avenue, the former home of the 26th Police District sits unused, long vacant and showing decades of neglect.

Covered in overgrown weeds and worn graffiti, the building has been unused for more than 30 years.

But soon, that will change.

At a meeting last week, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved a project that will see the structure, built in 1896, renovated into nine apartments and a ground level bank.

It’s a project Victor Barr Jr., of VLBJR Architects, Inc. believes will bring new life to the East Kensington landmark.

“I think it’s going to generate a lot of excitement,” he said on Friday, Aug. 12, after the Historic Commission approved his proposal to renovate the building.

The former police district building, vacant since the 1970s, comes from something of an architectural pedigree. It was designed by John T. Windrim, who went on to design both the Franklin Institute and the Family Court Municipal Building in Logan Square.

Over the years, the 14,250-square-foot structure was used as a police district headquarters — it was built on the footprint of the city’s original 18th Police District — and then served as a center for the Police Athletic League.

In 1969, PAL stopped utilizing the building, and the windows were bricked over when the space became a storage freezer.

During a hearing on the project last week, Rebecca Sell, a preservation planner for the Historic Commission, discussed the current condition of the former police precinct and what it will take to restore the building.

She said the “masonry has deteriorated in several spots” and wood doors and windows would need to be installed to keep it historically accurate; the building has been on the National Historical Register since 1984.

During the meeting, Barr said his company would abide by any conditions the Historic Commission would impose.

His plan would turn the three-story structure into an apartment building with about eight 800-square-foot apartments. On the first floor, the space will be fashioned into a space for an as yet unnamed bank.

Barr said the renovation, which could cost more than $1 million, will attempt to return the building to its former glory.

“It’s going to look just like it did back in 1900,” he said enthusiastically.

He said that aside from an area where a few holding cells stood, “there wasn’t a lot” inside the building that points to its past as a police district headquarters.

Still, the building itself is in good condition, said the developer.

Barr said he believes the building will look nearly historically accurate when renovations are complete. His company isn’t new to restoring historic properties.

In his 20 years experience, Barr said his company also restored the Drake Tower at 1512 Spruce St., which was once the tallest building in Philadelphia, as well as 1835 Lofts, at 1835 Arch St., which was originally the Bell Telephone Building.

“I think it’s going to be exciting to some people who want to live in the old police district building,” he said.

Barr is still waiting on the necessary permits, but he believes that work on the building could begin before the end of the summer and be completed in as little as nine months.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com

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