Conversion lets a grand building shine again Focus on Rental Housing The Lofts at 1835 Arch, Center City, Philadelphia

Posted: March 14, 2003

Built in 1925, the original Bell Telephone building at 19th and Arch Streets was sold to a private-storage company in the mid-1990s. With that, the 17-story art deco structure - whose facade boasts sculptured brass scrollwork, soaring brick pilasters, and whitecap-like terra-cotta ornamentation at its tiered top- became floor upon floor of storage rooms.

"This was simply not the highest and best use for such a grand building," said David Levey, executive vice president of Forest City Enterprises, which purchased the building in 2001.

Forest City spent $22 million converting the interior into 191 one- and two-story apartments, at the same time preserving the exterior and the two-story lobby, complete with floor-to-ceiling marble, huge marble pillars, and elaborate ceiling moldings.

Creg Williams, a resident since October, said he likes "the way they took a historic building and added contemporary features."

"I like the high ceilings, contemporary lighting, the decor of the kitchens and bathrooms . . . and the amenities - the gym and nice conference room," said Williams, 42, who relocated from Chicago to become deputy chief academic officer for the Philadelphia School District. "I like how [the developer] maintained the original details."

Along with the striking exterior and front lobby, the building retains its original brass elevator doors and the marble elevator lobby on the 15th floor, which used to house executive offices. But there is also bright, contemporary decor, including original artwork, to create a fresh, energized ambience.

"It wasn't like any other building I'd seen," said Laurel Fairworth, 44, a former television reporter and the owner of Cachet Communications. "As soon as I entered the door, I loved it.

"I love all the special touches - the unfinished high ceilings and columns, wallpaper in the bathroom, track lighting, high-tech kitchen lighting. . . . Plus, I have a powder room, and a den that I use as an office." The bathroom is "huge," she said.

Some units have partially open loft bedrooms (up a few steps); others are one- and two-bedroom flats, some with dens. Loft units and flats range in size from 570 to 1,410 square feet and rent for $1,100 to $2,530.

The building also offers two-story penthouses with one or two bedrooms. These units, renting for $2,415 to $4,074, feature upgraded appointments - including upper and lower balconies, marble baths, and granite countertops - and have as much as 1,940 square feet.

Some pets are allowed, for a fee.

Every unit has a washer and dryer. Twelve- to 15-foot ceilings and large windows, which offer unobstructed views of the city, add to the feeling of spaciousness. Among the common amenities are an equipped fitness room, a conference room, a community room (whose original vault serves as a refreshment area during parties), and the staffed front desk.

"Management's been great," Williams said. "And I'm picky."

Fairworth agreed: "When you need something, there's someone here to help you . . . immediately."

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