PlanPhilly

Look Up! The Victory Building proves the power of patience

After decades of deterioration, the historic Second Empire office building was restored and reborn for residential and commercial use.
 
“Look Up” is a PlanPhilly feature that encourages appreciation of our architectural and historical environment. Each week, the photo essay will focus on a different Philadelphia area neighborhood and its distinctive building styles and details, all of which make up the physical fabric of the city and region.
 
The Victory Building, 1001 Chestnut St., is the poster child for long-neglected buildings that can eventually be reborn.
 
Built in 1873 by Henry Fernbach, a New York architect known for his synagogues, the Victory was Philadelphia’s first commercial structure designed in the Second Empire style, and served as the local office of the New York Life Insurance Company.
 
The original building was three stories high. In 1890, the insurance company decided to expand by raising its mansard roof and adding another three floors. The lower floors are the more decorative, with classical pilasters and columns. The building was designed to be fireproof; the exterior is granite and the interior has iron posts and girders. The windows originally had iron shutters as well.
 
The Victory’s decline began in the 1970s, under the ownership Sam Rappaport, who allowed it to deteriorate and turned down offers to sell or renovate for decades. He planned to demolish the building in the early 1990s, but an outcry from the preservation community saved the Victory. Rappaport’s estate sold the building in 1996, and it was renovated by J.K. Roller Architects in 2003.
 
The restoredVictory is now a luxury condominium building and houses a Starbucks on the street level. And it’s as stately and polished as when it first opened in the late 19th century.
 
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About the author

Alan Jaffe, Historic preservation reporter

ajaffe@planphilly.com

B.A., Temple University

Alan Jaffe writes about historic preservation issues for PlanPhilly and focuses on often overlooked built landscapes in his column, “Look Up!” He
was a writer and editor in the newspaper industry for nearly 30 years, including eight at the Philadelphia Inquirer and nine at the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is currently the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He is also an antiques writer and collector and the author of “J. Chein & Co.: A Collector’s Guide to an American Toymaker.”


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