Cities are always in flux and so are their buildings. The Lincoln Apartments, at the corner of Locust and Camac, has reinvented itself multiple times in its 124-year history. Its ups and downs neatly track the changing fortunes of Locust Street.
Looking at the Lincoln now, with its gleaming, golden-hued brick and taut terra-cotta trim, it's hard to believe the building spent more than a decade as a notorious, burned-out hulk. In 2006, a devastating fire swept through the five-story building, which was undergoing renovations, causing a side wall to collapse. After years of bickering over how to proceed, the owners sold the Lincoln in 2013 to PRDC Properties. The company is finishing up a historic restoration (aided by preservation consultant Powers & Co.) that will turn it into a luxury rental building.
The Lincoln started out much more modestly. Built in 1892 as the Hotel Lincoln, it was later converted to a YWCA serving the so-called shirtwaist brigades, the young women who were pouring into the city to work as secretaries and clerks. The original building by George H. Fettus was much smaller than today's Lincoln and featured an asymmetrical, three-part facade with a pyramidal cap crowning a tower at the Camac Street corner. A Romanesque-style arched entrance stood at the midpoint of the building.
Locust Street had been the center of an upscale neighborhood populated by the city's business titans, but by the first years of the 20th century, it was growing more commercial. About 1903, the Lincoln expanded westward by adding a full architectural bay. It appears the facade was also de-Victorianized, in keeping with the new fashion for symmetrical, classically inspired buildings.
Though there is no visible seam between the original and the addition, close examination makes it easy to spot the differences. The window panels and brackets are brownstone on the addition, terra cotta and brick on the original building. The most revealing sign of a change in taste is that the renovation flattened out the quirky roof line, eliminating the tower and turrets. Because of the new proportions, the entrance was shifted off-center.
By the 1930s, the YWCA had been turned into a hotel. As the neighborhood declined, a bar called the Taboo Room took over the ground floor. The Lincoln devolved into a hotel for sailors, and, by the 1980s, was operating as a flophouse called the Midston. Locust Street was already the established heart of the Gayborhood, and in 1985, as Center City was modernizing with new skyscrapers, a developer converted the Lincoln to high-end apartments.
The 2006 fire occurred just as the real estate bubble was bursting and the country was settling into a recession. Now, with Center City shined up, the Lincoln is rising again, right on cue.
Corrected: The original developer of the building was the Hotel Lincoln, not the YWCA.