Built in 1924, this newly renovated apartment building which is now moving its first residents into their new apartments has an interesting history. The building began as the 7-story Apex Hosiery Factory, which became the largest non-union pantyhose factory in the city of Philadelphia. At that time, being non-union in the hosiery trade was very contentious and the company was part of one of the most famous strikes in United States history. The protest lasted for more than seven weeks, and in the end, the workers prevailed, and the shop became unionized. According to management at the time, high labor and shipping costs eventually resulted in the business being unsustainable, and in 1954, it closed its doors for good.
The School District of Philadelphia purchased the factory in 1967 and renovated the factory floors into classrooms for The Pennsylvania Advancement Middle School. In 1984, the school was renamed Roberto Clemente Middle School and it operated under that name until it closed. Throughout much of its existence, the school was in need of upgrades and renovations that were never done, and the reputation of the school worsened along with the conditions inside. There were protests and even near-riots due to the terrible condition the school was in, and in 2007 it closed for good. Once the school shut down, the abandoned building fell victim to vandals and crime, and became a serious blight on the neighborhood and a safety risk for anyone inside or near it. For many years, the site and the surrounding area were devoid of energy and activity, as the entire block was overrun by crime and drugs.
Transforming this crumbling, dangerous, oversized, abandoned factory-turned middle school into a housing complex more in scale with the surrounding neighborhood was a challenge. The new design took the original seven-story building down to three stories, which involved removing the top four floors of the existing building in a carefully executed demolition process that was planned and carried out without causing structural damage to the three remaining floors underneath. In addition, an extension off the back of the building which formed the original structure into an L shape was also removed to achieve the desired square footage and to provide a playground and parking lot on site.
The remarkable transformation to the building, the site, and this whole neighborhood is now complete. The colorful and thoughtful design of the three-story mixed-use building that now occupies this site makes it a true landmark in this neighborhood. With 38 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom units and 5,000 sf of commercial space on the ground floor, this building is already functioning as a catalyst for change and progress in a once-declining neighborhood. There is activity on the street from the influx of new tenants, and the building is contemporary, clean, and more in scale with the rest of the structures that surround it. Once a dilapidated and dangerous eyesore, this building now serves as a successful example of an ambitious vision becoming a reality through hard work and cooperation.