Demolition Permits Issued for Revolution-era Stortz Buildings in Old City in Philadelphia

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As George Washington and Benjamin Franklin walked the streets of what is now Old City Philadelphia in the 1780s, they presumably could have found a reason to travel north from Market Street along 2nd or 3rd Streets. After about a 10-minute stroll, had they turned onto Vine Street, they would have encountered a pair of three-story workshops. Within, tradesmen toiled away in what was then the largest city in a fledgling United States of America.

If the founding fathers were to walk the same block today they’d find a transformed world, save for the workshops, which miraculously still stand. But likely not for much longer.

In late March, a demolition permit was issued for 208-212 Vine Street, a three-structure parcel steeped in history. In addition to the Revolution-era workshops, which flank the frontage of the address, a center bay contains a four-story structure built around 1870. At the uppermost reaches of its facade, a vintage sign bears the name of the family business that has called the address home ever since: “J. Stortz & Son – Cutlers.”

Those close to the situation say that while they know the pending demolition of buildings as old as the nation itself will come as a sudden surprise to many Philadelphians, their demise has actually been at least a decade in the making. The Stortz family, which has owned and operated the building over five generations, has been weighing its options for at least 10 years, trying unsuccessfully to court developers to adaptively reuse the buildings as their own business model changed.

Over the past year the situation became dire. In spring 2023, Stortz & Son filed a financial hardship application with the Philadelphia Historical Commission and met with its Financial Hardship and Architectural committees, claiming they had exhausted options to restore the buildings and wanted to tear them down. Protests from the Preservation Alliance to freshly consider other options bought five months of time. Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, and allies believed there was a viable plan to create 50+ rental units via new construction on the rear of the property, subsidizing costs to repair and maintain the historic buildings. But in a subsequent October 2023 meeting, representatives from Stortz & Son said they believed the proposal was a money loser, and the Historical Commission voted 8-0 to approve demolition.

Sam Stortz, son of current owner John Stortz, declined a full interview, saying that the family believed the public had already made up its mind that the family and its company were acting out of “greed.” It was offered that Stortz could tell the story from his family’s perspective, but he further declined.

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