February 9, 1999
Volume 45
Number 20


 Apartments and amenities are slated for Walnut Street by 2001.

Sketches from Bower Lewis Thrower Architects show a new facade, above, and a courtyard view (left).

Converting the Former G.E. Building

The University has entered into an agreement with Dranoff Properties to convert the former General Electric Building at 31st and Chestnut streets into a 285-unit apartment house with retail and office space, indoor parking and a rooftop fitness center, President Judith Rodin announced last week.

The $54 million project will receive no University or public subsidy and Penn will maintain ownership of the property--bought in 1996--while entering into a long-term lease with Dranoff Properties.

Renovations are scheduled to begin this summer and be completed in early 2001. The complex is to be called Westside Commons.

"The transformation of this vacant warehouse into University City's first new large-scale rental housing in decades is truly significant," Dr. Rodin said. "It demonstrates once again that University City is on the move. Expanding the range of quality housing choices in University City is an integral part of our broader efforts to enhance the quality of life in our community. We expect this new complex to be attractive to Penn students, faculty and staff , as well as the many people who are drawn to the vitality of an urban university community."

Carl Dranoff, president of Dranoff Properties, noted "a void in the luxury housing market in University City" where Westside Commons will now provide "valuable living space to professionals and others associated with the academic and medical institutions just blocks away who want to live close to work." He also cited its proximity to 30th Street Station, I-76 and I-95.

Penn Executive Vice President John Fry said that under the terms of the agreement the University would retain control of site planning for the project to ensure compatibility with the campus environment.

"We selected Carl Dranoff as our partner in this exciting venture for the strength of his proposal, his wealth of experience with this type of project and his clear vision for the building and its role in our campus community," Mr. Fry said. "University City will benefit from his expertise for many years to come."

Mr. Fry said the complex will have unobstructed views from all outside apartments "with vistas that stretch east across the Schuylkill River to the Center City skyline and west overlooking Penn's campus." Mr. Dranoff added that plans include a "dramatic new entrance at the intersection of 32nd and Walnut streets at the gateway to Penn's campus," with a secondary entrance at Chestnut Street.

Both lobbies would be connected by an open arcade along the west side, he said, providing access to public transportation at each street. Parking for more than 235 cars (mostly indoors) will be at the first- and second-floor levels, and will be available to residents. The building will have 24-hour security, he said.

Dranoff Properties is noted for its history of historic restoration and development in the city. As president and CEO of Historic Landmarks for Living in the 1980s, Carl Dranoff pioneered the conversion of vacant and abandoned warehouses into apartments. He spearheaded the conversion of the former PSFS Building at 12th and Market streets into a 36-story, 590-room Loews Hotel, currently being rehabilitated. His most recent project was conversion of the former National Publishing Building at 2400 Locust Street into the $24-million complex of 152 luxury apartments called Locust on the Park.

Humanities Forum: February 18

The Penn Humanities Forum will be officially launched at a public ceremony February 18 in Room 200 College Hall from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. President Judith Rodin will introduce Dr. Ferris, while SAS Dean Samuel Preston and former Penn President and former NEH Chairman Sheldon Hackney will also speak.

Leading the ceremonies will be Dr. Wendy Steiner, founding director of the Penn Humanities Forum and Fisher Professor and Chair of English. Background in humanities topics will be provided by Dr. Joseph Farrell, Kahn Professor of Classical Studies, and Dr. Gary Tomlinson, Annenberg Professor and Chair of Music. Penn undergraduate Sara Nasuti will speak for Perspectives in Humanities, a group of students with humanities interests who are based in Penn's residential system.

Speakers include Dr. Nancy Vickers, president of Bryn Mawr College, representing area colleges collaborating with the Forum, and Elliot L. Shelkrot, director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, speaking for collaborating cultural institutions. For Penn Humanities Forum grants, please click here; for background, see Almanac September 29, 1998.

Visualizing Wharton 2002... [more]

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 20, February 9, 1999