Architectural contrast: Robert Morris Building, across from Comcast Center, is being renovated into apartments

Looking up at the Robert Morris Building and Comcast Center from 17th Street

Those who have visited the Comcast Center since it opened (and who hasn’t, really) know that it is in the middle of a very modern architectural realm.  The large Market Street/JFK Boulevard business district was once the site of the largest rail yard in the world, the rail yard for Broad Street Station (later Suburban Station) that occupied the north side of Market Street West up to Arch Street.  This rail yard was demolished in the 1950’s (unfortunately with the fire-damaged Suburban Station) and slowly replaced with the progressively taller, modern office buildings that you see today.  There were a few older buildings along Arch Street that had survived the rail yard’s expansion and the area’s 1950’s era demolition spree.  One of those buildings was the beautiful Robert Morris Building, named after the founding father and early American businessman, Robert Morris.

The Robert Morris Building is an incredible and detailed example of early 20th century Gothic architecture.  It was built as a hotel in 1914, by a hotelier named Rutherford Jennings, and was later used as a dormitory and academic building by the Philadelphia College of the Bible.  It, eventually, was used as an office building until 2007, when 806 Capital bought it and emptied it out to be converted into a hotel again.  That plan fell through in the recession, so 806 Capital, with financing from PNC Bank and Federal Capital Partners, of Washington, D.C., decided to convert it into upscale apartments instead.

The building, which is fourteen storeys, will be converted into 111 luxury apartments, which have had strong demand in Center City.  The building will, also, have a gym and media center.  There will be retail on the first floor, but it hasn’t been determined what will go there.  I think at least one restaurant is very likely; the Comcast Center has the five-star Table 31 across the street.  This building is one of about half a dozen projects on that stretch of Arch Street that will add new retail, likely making Arch Street another restaurant row and, perhaps, one of the major shopping streets of the city.

The renovation is well underway and will likely be finished sometime next year.  As I’ve mentioned, the sheer number of development projects on Arch Street, and the new developments and public space improvements up and down the Ben Franklin Parkway, will continue to create demand and healthy property value increases in this part of Center City.  If you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in this area, the you can contact me at or check out my Facebook realtor page at Gabriel G. Philly Realtor.  You can, also, check out The Condo Shop website here or at, or come to my office nearby at the Riverwest Condos, at 21st & Chestnut Streets, or our Condo Shop office at CityView Condominiums, on Hamilton Street, just off of 20th Street.

Looking up at the Robert Morris Building and Comcast Center from 17th Street

Robert Morris Building being renovated

The ground level will have retail and restaurants

Looking up at the building from Arch Street

Archway over the doors on the 17th Street side

Stained glass windows can be seen, through the trees, over the first floor windows

The decorative facade over the front door of the building

A long archway, over the entrance to the Wawa, on Arch Street

Reflection of Robert Morris Building, in the Comcast Center windows, shows the extreme architectural contrast over the last 100 years

Looking at the Robert Morris Building, down 17th Street, with the Comcast Center in front

A closer look at the Robert Morris Building and Comcast Center next door

Looking up at the Comcast Center, towering over the neighborhood

The view of Comcast Center from in front of the Robert Morris Building

Three Logan Square, formerly Bell Atlantic Tower, next to the Robert Morris Building

This building, built by AT&T and currently used by Verizon, is across 17th Street from the building and could be renovated into apartments someday

Looking north up 17th Street towards the Ben Franklin Parkway, showing the Sheraton on the other side of the Parkway

Looking down 17th Street from the Parkway shows the Robert Morris Building and Comcast Center on the right and One Liberty Place on the left

Robert Morris Building and Comcast Center with reflection of Liberty One on the side


About gabrielcgottlieb

I am a real estate agent at Long & Foster Real Estate Center City and someone who likes to write about development and urban planning in the City of Philadelphia. Contact me at if you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in Philadelphia.
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3 Responses to Architectural contrast: Robert Morris Building, across from Comcast Center, is being renovated into apartments

  1. Steve says:

    Gabriel, not to nitpick, but:

    1. I don’t think Broad Street Station’s coach yard was ever the world’s largest rail yard. Even the PRR’s freight classification yard across the river was much larger.
    2. Suburban Station never suffered a fire. In fact, what happened was that Broad Street Station’s train shed (one of the grandest in the country) burned down ca. 1920, which spurred the Pennsylvania Railroad to think about redevelopment of all that prime Center City real estate their (rather marginal) rail use was just sitting on. Suburban Station’s underground concourse and platforms are the end result of this redevelopment. The soot you still see on the Suburban Station building is a relic of just how filthy city air was in the first half of the 20th century (think about that the next time you see a smoggy picture of Beijing or Lanzhou). Limestone, as a façade material, seems to have held the soot exceptionally well; you can still see it on plenty of limestone façades from the era. (It may also interest you to know that One Penn Center, aka the Suburban Station building, was built to be the railroad’s world headquarters.)
    3. It may interest you to know that the reason for the preponderance of telecom buildings along this stretch of Arch (1515 Arch, the building shown, the ex-Bell Atlantic Tower, and the building at 19th and Arch) is because the main phone line runs under it. I think the fiber mains run there too, which means that one of the perks at the Bob Morris Building would be one of the fastest Internet connections in the city!

    • I’ve read that the Broad Street Station’s rail yard was the largest in the world at one time, and it’s on the historical marker there at 15th & Market. I’ve, also, read that the fire did damage the huge station that was there, and the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to close down the station shortly after the fire and left it that way until the 1950s. The rest I didn’t know, so thanks for that info.

      • mark says:

        The fire at Broad Street Station was in 1922, it was considered the worst fire in the city’s history till both the Move fire (1985), and the Meridian tower fire (1991) surpassed it. The train shed cought fire largely due to the build up of grease, suit and creosote! It was an accident waiting to happen! In fact the flames were so fierce that it theatened the girders of the Fox Theater at 16 th and Matket. Broad Street Station cought fire. once again in 1945. Suburban station as well as 30th Street Station were b uil to .

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