2136 E. Dauphin St. in 2014. Photo by the author.

By Matty Stringer

In the last half of this decade, Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood has witnessed a dramatic turnaround much like its neighbor to the southwest, Northern Liberties, experienced in the previous decade. Perhaps no building symbolizes it more than the previously vacant (and squalid) 26th District Police and Patrol Station at 2136 E. Dauphin St. The three-story structure on this 12,000-square-foot site now houses a credit union and 10 apartments known as the Residences at 2136.

The building's history dates back to the tumultuous 1890s, the decade in which the "Gilded Age" came to a halt in an economic depression known as the Panic of 1893. In Philadelphia, however, the building was more in form with the earlier era. It was designed by famed local architect John T. Windrim, whose father was the Director of Public Works in the city. The appointment of a young Windrim points to a shadowy nepotism, though of the good kind, given the architect's monumental works for the city.

The area, then as now, was a row house neighborhood, mostly inhabited by middle-class families who worked close to the industrial heart of Kensington. The 26th District, moreover, was a new district carved out from the 18th District. Windrim, known more for later buildings like the PNB Building and the Franklin Institute, did some of his more creative work with this Renaissance Revival-style civic work that echoes some of his more private work for family estates throughout the Philadelphia area.

The 26th District police station in 1900. Photo from PhillyHistory.org.

The three-story, L-shaped brownstone and brick building provides a glimpse into Philadelphia's only remaining example of a police and patrol building. The concept was the result of the city's measures to create mounted units, a force which transported sick and injured citizens, moved prisoners and assisted as a general protection force. Kensington at the time was still an outlying area of the city and wouldn't be served by the Market-Frankford Elevated, or El, for another two decades.

The open yard created by Windrim's L-shape design for the building housed the mounted unit's horses. The monumental arch on the site's Trenton Avenue side was where many a sorry citizen was transported into the building—in handcuffs. Now, it sits next to the entrance to the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union, where many a happy citizen withdraws her money.

Up until a few years ago, the building and lot had been vacant for over a decade. It was last home to a food preparation and storage center for Burke's foods. Wlliam F. Burke bought the building in 1969 after it was closed as a police station. In 1984, Burke applied for a historic designation, which was promptly granted. It's listed on both the Philadelphia and National Registers of Historic Places. In 2005, it was bought for $275,000. That's a good investment for a building that had to pay $1.2 million in property taxes last year. In 2013, before it was in use as a credit union and apartment complex, the developers paid a meager $90,880.

The renovation work on the building came under some criticism: In 2012, contractors for the developers, HOW Properties, were criticized on YouTube by BAC Local Union #1 for sloppy masonry work. A story in Hidden City also cited sources from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia who stated that “irreversible damage” was done to the building by the contractors.

The shoddy work on the building notwithstanding, most people would say that building looks much better now than before the repairs in 2012. Its former state mirrored the area's reputation as a haven, or heaven, for heroin addicts and dealers; now, like its neighborhood, it's all spruced up to serve as a destination for young professionals to start their lives and families.