Schuylkill’s Left Bank — c’est magnifique

The “April in Paris” gala at the new Left Bank Apartments was aglitter with well-heeled and well-coiffed building preservationists. They munched on mini-quiches, sausage en croûte, salmon on toast and asparagus spears wrapped in buttery phyllo cummerbunds.

But the real gem of the event was the building itself, which only 12 months ago was a post-industrial eyesore.

To celebrate the building’s resurrection, members of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Phila-delphia (PAGP) turned out for the April 4 event, a benefit for PAGP.

As the crowd balanced their drinks and hors d’oeuvres, building developer Carl Dranoff announced that the Left Bank would be completed in just 45 days.

Then, like most of the speakers, he made Left Bank quips. “Paris has the Seine; we have the Schuylkill,” he said. The crowd laughed. “Paris has the Sorbonne; we have Penn.” No laugh then.

Several city and state groups, including the Mayor’s Business Action Team and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, delivered citations to Dranoff and Penn President Judith Rodin for the preservation project.

Dranoff praised Penn Executive Vice President John Fry and Rodin. “It was the vision of John and Judy Rodin to save this building,” he said.

Fry demurred. He said he and Rodin didn’t know much about real estate when they came to campus, but they did believe the future of the campus was to expand eastward. The building now called the Left Bank was their first purchase at Penn. When consultants told them to tear it down — well, it was their first purchase, so they hesitated. Today the building signals Penn’s move eastward to Center City, Fry said.

After the speeches, tours of the apartments emptied the marble lobby of most of its 250 guests. They looked down from the sixth-floor to an atrium as long as a football field.

And then the apartments set them buzzing. “Ooooh.” “It’s beautiful.” “Fabulous.” “I tell you, it’s pretty darn nice.” And we tell you, we didn’t make up these quotes.

They admired exposed columns and beams, the high ceilings, the big closets.

Then they nibbled chocolate-covered strawberries and such in the cabaret set up in one of the building’s storefronts while chanteuse Claudia Beechman sang her heart out with chansons francaises.


Originally published on April 19, 2001