Light Fixture - Sonder - The Queen

When Rowhouses Evolve into Hotels

Segments of this article were printed in my local neighborhood association’s quarterly magazine. 

The first time I went into the building at the corner of Bainbridge and 5th Streets, it was to buy cleaning supplies. I had just moved to Queen Village and was happy to patronize a local business.

The second time I went into the building, twelve years later, it was to interview Richard Veitch, the lead developer and craftsman who has been working on breathing new life into the buildings, preparing them for their next chapter as Sonder guest accommodations. Richard collaborated with owners Adam and Ido Zaken and Sonder to create a unique guest experience that promises to blend the local intimacy and logistics of a bed and breakfast with the amenities that people expect from a traditional hotel.

Sonder - The Queen - Lobby
Looking out to the street from the lobby of the new Sonder in Queen Village, formerly rowhouses.

Eric Kravitz, location manager for Sonder and local Hawthorne resident, said that Sonder picked the location because they wanted to offer their guests an opportunity to experience an amazing neighborhood that lies just outside of the historic area but is still highly walkable to many attractions and features some of the best restaurants in the city. Kravitz says this accessibility is important to Sonder guests who typically use car-share and explore neighborhoods on foot. Being connected to the neighborhood is also an integral part of Sonder’s operations model with 95% of the team for this location being from the area.

Owner, Adam Zaken is also no stranger to the neighborhood. His father owned Dr. Demin on South Street and Adam spent many days in his youth hanging out on South Street and eating cheese fries at Iskabibbles. Now a property owner, he says “Queen Village is an incredible neighborhood. Our goal was to make something special for the area.” Zaken’s motivation for the project is to demonstrate to other commercial landlords the possibilities for cohesive and sensitive development and business opportunities in Queen Village and Philadelphia. A variety of high-quality street-level local businesses is essential for a vibrant city neighborhood. Boutiques, personal services, restaurants, and artisans not only enrich the lives of residents, they attract visitors and potential new residents as well.

Veitch took Zaken’s vision from idea to reality by maintaining the look of the buildings which were historic Philly row houses and re-purposing as much of the original building materials – wood, brick, and iron, as possible. Zaken says that, “more importantly [Richard] was the brain behind so much of the design. The hotel is a piece of art – we commissioned it and Richard is the artist.” Fleshing out this concept was only possible with collaboration. Without Richard’s leadership and guidance, they wouldn’t have been able to include so many unique features such as re-purposed elements from the original structures. Wood once used as floor joists is now used throughout the property as vertical elements. Steel from the original structure was re-used to provide support for the new layout. Brick, once hidden behind plaster, has now been exposed, telling the story of changes made over the years.

Sonder - The Queen - Lobby
Wood for the benches in the lobby comes from old-growth, reclaimed wood that’s estimated to be at least 300 years old.
Sonder - The Queen - Re-purposed Beams
Where ever possible, the development team reused materials. These are iron beams from the original row houses.

Although it would have been much easier and faster to demolish and build anew, building upon the original structure was of the utmost importance to Zaken and the team. As a local resident who passes by the corner every day, I am especially thankful for the work they did to ensure the renovation fits with the architectural characteristic of the neighborhood.

Guests can expect beautifully laid-out rooms: some with kitchenettes and some with a more traditional hotel room layout. All guests have access to full hotel concierge services via an app, allowing the guests to have as much, or as little, interference in their stay. There will be a full-service restaurant located in the ground floor, offering room service for the guests as well as a new dining option for the neighborhood. On the roof, a deck provides panoramic views and a full-service bar. And, for hungry guests, food can be delivered by dumbwaiter from the restaurant below.

Sonder - The Queen - Room
Each room is decorated beautifully. Exposed brick walls are typical of row houses in the neighborhood.
Sonder - The Queen
For the full row house living experience, one of the rooms overlooks a neighbor’s deck, which does tend to happen.
Sonder - The Queen - Roof Deck
The roof deck provides panoramic views of the city.

Kravitz doesn’t have final figures for the opening date or for the room rates, but he says that once the Sonder opens, guests can register on the Sonder website or any travel website such as Expedia or Travelocity.

2 comments

  1. Hi!!! Love your blog and articles. Just curious, what are your thoughts on the 139 Elfreth’s Alley house that’s listed for sale right now? It’s built in 1703 and it says it’s the first one on the block. Do you know if there’s an older surviving rowhouse in usa? I hope this house won’t get damaged by being used for Air BNB.

    1. Hi Klee! Thanks for writing. About 139 Elfreth’s, there is some debate as to how old it really is. Sometimes there is a deed that shows the sale of land that predates the house being built that owners will refer to even if the actual house was built later. That said, it has the characteristics of an early colonial house so it could very well be that old. Olde Swede’s church, a contemporary, was completed in 1701 and it’s very similar in materials and style. And, if it’s been nationally designated, usually that’s OK to go on. As for the oldest row house, that’s still a house, that would probably be the Pink House in Charleston, which might have been built just before 1700 and certainly shows 17th century character. Not to say that row houses weren’t common before 1700. Most cities, had row houses since attached houses were commonplace in Europe and development in the new world followed. However, many cities experienced catastrophic fires which wiped out early examples. And, time and progress aren’t kind to every house so some just haven’t made it.

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