VISITORS STROLLING THE SERPENTINE walkways, abrupt angles, and intimate alleys of Philadelphia's Society Hill might think that the town-houses at Liberty Court are just another example of the area's meticulously restored homes. With their mansard roofs, cast stone façades, and patinaed copper bays, the Second-Empire–style townhouses fit right into the eclectic mix of architectural styles that have grown up together since the 1600s. However, Liberty Court is simply the latest in a string of neighborhood redevelopment projects that began in the 1960s, when architect and city planner Edmund Bacon, who is also the father of actor Kevin Bacon, launched a movement to revitalize Society Hill.
Barton & Associates, which designed Liberty Court, slipped 34 townhouses onto the 1.4-acre site, a former parking lot. The three buildings—one with 12 units, one with 16 units, and a six-unit rehab that the developer inherited from an earlier, failed venture—were eased into the street grid by way of a new L-shaped street through the site. Most neighborhood groups prefer a pristine streetscape to a parking lot, so there were no NIMBY battles. But the residents of Queen Village, the neighborhood bordering the project, kept the architects on their toes. “They wanted to see something going up that was in keeping with Society Hill's uniqueness,” says project architect Jeff DiRomaldo.
Much of the money and energy went into creating an elegant street scene. Site constraints required front-loaded garages, but the deft use of massing and materials alleviate the march of doors down the street. Mahogany front doors are tucked into 5-foot-deep alcoves. Painted and stain-grade garage doors mix square and arched window patterns. And the façades jog back and forth. They're clad in robust limestone and cast stone at the ground level and different colors of molded brick above. All of those elements, plus ornamental street lights, wide sidewalks, and cobblestone curbs, put the neighbors' concerns to rest.
“Putting a townhome in Philly is quite an experience,” DiRomaldo says, “making sure you don't exceed the ratio of 80 percent building to 20 percent open space on the lot.”
The five floor plans range from 17 feet wide to a commodious 28 feet across. They all include second-story rear terraces, which eventually were allowed to be counted as open space. The copper-clad bays on the exterior caught the city's attention too. They project 3 feet from the building and over the property line. That meant they had to be at least 10 feet above the sidewalk and required some creative framing to raise the floor of the bays a few more inches.
Inside, luxury touches such as Viking ranges, maple floors, 10-foot ceilings, and generous casework are designed to attract an upscale crowd. The architects will occasionally customize a floor plan for a buyer. And each unit is designed to accommodate an optional elevator, making it easier for achy empty-nesters to reach those fourth-floor roof decks.
As in many large cities these days, housing demand—even in the upper price tiers—keeps outpacing supply. Roughly half of the units have sold, though only a quarter are finished (final completion is scheduled for mid-2006). Homes that started at $900,000 last February are now going for $1.4 million, and the price of the largest end units has increased from $1.2 to $2 million.
Project: Liberty Court at Society Hill, Philadelphia; Size: 2,750 to 4,150 square feet; Total units: 34; Price: $900,000 to $2 million; Developers: AFC Realty Capital, New York; The Altman Group, Glenside, Pa.; Builder: Allied Construction, Glenside; Architect/Landscape architect: Barton & Associates, Norristown, Pa.; Interior designer: Philadelphia Design, Philadelphia
Cantilevered bays, some as wide as 25 feet, create an elegant, undulating façade at Liberty Court. In some units, a two-story staircase winds into the bays. Recessed entryways and a combination of square and arched garage doors adds to the eye-pleasing variety of elevations.
Ten-foot ceilings in the maple-floored dining and living areas (above) keep the public rooms open and airy. Even an office nook (right) has a high ceiling. (Floor plan for interior shots not shown.) Outside, copper bays (lower right) pop against the stone and molded-brick exterior.
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