Robinson Store

1020 Market Street, Philadelphia
Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, 1946

Significance: Victor Gruen was one of the most influential commercial architects of the twentieth century, credited with the invention of the modern shopping mall.  Early in his career, he and partner Elsie Krummeck designed eleven ultra-modern storefronts across the country for the California-based Grayson-Robinson chain of budget womenswear. One of the first major postwar buildings in Center City, their Philadelphia branch is the last surviving example of a building campaign that epitomized the use of architecture as advertisement and helped inspire a radical reshaping of the American commercial corridor.

Threat: Another important modern storefront in Center City, the former Coward Shoes designed in 1949 by Louis I. Kahn and Oskar Stonorov at 1118 Chestnut Street, is slated for demolition in early 2014.  Both buildings suffer from character-obscuring alterations and deferred maintenance, leading to a general lack of appreciation of their significance. With development pressure rising around Market East, the Robinson Store’s relative obscurity is a serious threat to its survival.

Recommendation: A full restoration of the building’s façade would be a major preservation victory and could anchor any number of redevelopment plans for the rest of the block. The building is located within the new Market East digital signage district, which incentivizes major façade improvements. The building should also be evaluated for tax credit eligibility and local historic designation.

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