Engine 46 firehouse may be spared

Engine 46's owner agreed not to raze the 19th century Flemish revival firehouse in Pennsport if a tenant can be found.
Engine 46's owner agreed not to raze the 19th century Flemish revival firehouse in Pennsport if a tenant can be found. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 02, 2013

The New York-based owner of the Engine 46 firehouse in South Philadelphia said Wednesday that he would consider sparing the 19th-century landmark from demolition if a tenant can be found, according to City Councilman Mark Squilla.

The offer came from Bruce Schanzer of Cedar Realty Trust during a meeting with Squilla and James E. Moylan, president of the Pennsport Civic Association. Along with city preservationists, the men have been working since June to save the gabled redbrick structure next to I-95 on Reed Street.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Squilla said after the meeting. "We have something to work on now."

While Schanzer made the offer without providing any time frame, Squilla noted that Cedar has no current plans for the site, which includes a large cinderblock building facing Columbus Boulevard. Schanzer's company builds and manages shopping centers and was hoping that a cleared site would be more attractive to potential tenants, Squilla recounted.

But the prospect of losing the old firehouse set off alarm bells in Pennsport, a rowhouse neighborhood that has been seeing its distinctive architecture sacrificed to make way for new housing. With its octagonal tower and ziggurat-shaped roof line, Engine 46 is the most recognizable building in that area.

Constructed in 1894 in the Flemish-revival style, Engine 46 also is among just a handful of 19th century firehouses left in Philadelphia. For reasons that are unclear, it was never protected by the Historical Commission. Cedar was easily able to obtain a demolition permit.

Despite Schanzer's concession, Moylan said it was not clear the firehouse could be saved. Schanzer insisted that his company had been unable to rent the structure since its previous tenant, a steak house, moved out in 2006.

But Moylan said Schanzer softened his position and said, "If someone shows serious interest" in renting the firehouse, he "would be willing to listen." Schanzer did not return phone calls Wednesday.

After hearing an account of the meeting, Ben Leech, advocacy director at the Preservation Alliance, said he would immediately reach out to help identify a tenant. "I have a hard time believing they can't find anyone," he said.

Contact Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213 or ingasaffron@gmail.com, or follow on Twitter @ingasaffron.

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