Tucked away in quiet North Philadelphia neighborhood is the former Peter Woll & Sons factory, now the Paper Lofts. Historic tax credits – both federal and state – gave the property it’s third lease on life.
A bit of history
The Peter Woll & Sons factory was built in 1885 and looked similar to many of the other textile-industry factories that populated the city’s Kensington neighborhood: a multi-story brick building with large multi-lite windows, large entrances, and simple detailing. In the city once known as the Workshop of the World, Kensington was the center of the textile industry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its factories and businesses produced not only standard textile products but also all of the satellite industries related to textile production and distribution from dye works to box manufacturers.
Peter Woll started manufacturing bristles for brushes in 1858 and after his death in 1902, his original company was officially incorporated as the Peter Woll and Sons Manufacturing Company. The Woll & Sons factory serveda niche industry that specialized in “steam curled hair and bristles, moss, fibre, hair cloth, goat hair, hog hair [and] brush supplies…” and later expanded to feathers. Curled hair is the process by which horse and cattle hair is treated and prepared for upholstery and cushioning purposes. The most frequent use was for upholstery material, as well as stuffing for mattresses, pillows and cushions for furniture, automobiles and railway cars.
In 1939, the company sold its Kensington property to the Matthias Paper Corporation. Matthias used the building through the 1950s, when it was then occupied by the Globe Paper Company for over 50 years.
On October 16, 2019, the Zoning Board of Adjustments ruled on whether to allow the historic building to be converted to residential units and on September 22, 2020, Urban Conversions announced the acquisition and rehabilitation of a once thriving manufacturing building.
The property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 31, 2020 under Criteria A in the area of Industry. This historical status made the rehab and reuse project a great candidate for the federal and state historic tax credit programs as a vital component in the overall financing package.
Between 2020-2021, NL Holdings, LP got underway with a $9.5 million rehabilitation project of the Peter Woll and Sons Factory. Work included:
- the retention of exterior masonry features such as historic painted signage,
- restoration/reopening of existing infilled window and door openings with new compatible units,
- replacement of doors and windows,
- retain and repair of metal fire escape balconies, and
- installation of new mechanical equipment on rooftop to allow the building to function in the modern age.
On the interior, the work focused around retain of the historic industrial character such as the exposed brick walls and wood/metal structural components with installation of new/compatible finishes and construction of new code compliant stairs and elevator.
The retention of historic exposed interior features in rehabbing industrial buildings can be challenging due to today’s temperature and sound compliance measures, but there was a great compromise between the project team’s design and meeting the Secretary of Interior’s Standards. The compromise was to leave large percentage of public spaces (like the corridors and lobbies) throughout the building and a large percentage of primary living spaces (like the living room and bedroom) within the unit exposed while using new lower ceilings were installed in secondary spaces like kitchens and bathrooms.
The project received Part 3 certification from NPS on the March 8, 2023, as the completed work met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The project was also a recipient of a $200,000 PA Historic Preservation Tax Credit allocation from DCED for FY 2020-2021.
The historic Peter Woll and Sons Manufacturing building now has a new identity as a residential building, footsteps away from the very energetic revitalized Fishtown area.
Now called the Paper Factory Lofts, the once gritty bustling manufacturing building is providing homes for Philadelphians with modern comforts and historic character such as historic wood beam ceilings, exposed brick walls, and oversized windows.
The federal and state historic tax credit programs are great redevelopment tools for reviving historic buildings into a new use that will have long and very beneficial effects on the surrounding communities.