The buzz of commerce filled the streets of many cities in the early 1900s, especially in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia was known as a bustling center of urban industrialism, a place where manufacturing plants, shipping, and commerce thrived. North Third Street was no exception. This sweet stretch through Philly's original Old City district was dubbed “Confectioner's Row” as candy, cocoa, and malt makers opened factories and shops along the road.
One of the row's well-known confectioners was the Wilbur Chocolate Co., a candy maker dating back to the 1850s. According to Historic Landmarks for Living, which is a local developer and restorer of historic landmarks, the Wilbur factory stood out from other manufacturers along Confectioners Row because its facility encompassed five industrial buildings. Each also had its own distinct, architectural flair.
The first structure was built in 1902, and the other buildings were added through 1919. All of the factory's industrial buildings featured solid brick and timber construction, while some included arched and circular porthole windows. The complex's other buildings featured Doric columns and cornices.
For the next 40 years, the Wilbur factory continued churning out chocolate candies. But by the mid-20th century, most of Philadelphia's urban industrial sector had relocated to the suburbs. The Wilbur company soon did the same, and the chocolate maker's complex was used for various commercial purposes during the next 30 years.
In 1983, Historic Landmarks for Living acquired the Wilbur complex and converted it into an apartment project called The Chocolate Works. The cost to transform the confectionary factory into a 135-unit residential gem: $12 million.
The developer preserved much of the structure's original architectural details, such as its brick exteriors and steel and timber frames. Other new features were added, including a Victorian-style trellis in the forecourt and a glass-walled lobby. The units, which span from 550 square feet to 685 square feet, offer built-in shelves, breakfast bars, and one-bedroom loft or bi-level floorplans.
Abby Garcia Telleria is a freelance writer in Costa Mesa, Calif.