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The Ayer Condominiums, Philadelphia

SYKSCRAPERSUNSET.COM, March 13, 2008

When I was offered a tour of The Ayer on Washington Square, it felt like a dilemma. Curiosity alone was enough for me to want to do it, and the added photo opportunity was another incentive. But, after viewing The Ayer website and knowing that the condos would be extremely luxurious, I battled with the question of whether my tour would seem too favorable. Above all, I wanted it to be honest.

So, to be completely truthful: most of us would love to live in the Ayer, we just can’t afford it. The exterior is impressive, the lobby is beautiful, and the residences are awesome. The location is almost unbeatable, with Washington Square as the building’s front yard.

It’s hard to find much to criticize. The most notable negative is actually outside of The Ayer. The 499 ft. tall St. James Condominiums, only about 75 feet to the northwest, certainly harms some of the views from northern and western units. But if you’re in the market for a 1.5-5.0 million dollar Center City condo, the Ayer is definitely somewhere I’d expect you to look.

Here’s what sets it apart from other luxury condominiums, and in all likelihood makes it a hell of a lot cooler than your place.

The Ayer building was completed in 1929 to serve as the headquarters of N.W. Ayer and Son, which was the nation’s first advertising agency when formed in 1869. The firm is responsible some iconic campaigns: AT&T’s “Reach out and touch someone” and the Army’s “Be all that you can be.” Constructed in the classic architectural style of Art Deco, popular at the time, the tower’s facade rises simply from the street level before reaching strong stone sculptures and intricate details near the roof.

After serving as an office building for over 70 years, The Ayer’s fate changed in 2006, when The Goldenberg Group and Brown Hill Development partnership announced its plans to convert the Ayer into 56 luxury condominiums. They employed Philadelphia architect Wesley Wei to combine modern styling with the existing decor.

In most places, Mr. Wei had an enviable starting point: solid bronze front doors, limestone and marble in the lobby, and 11-foot (standard) and 21-foot (penthouse) ceilings. Rather than try to mimic the original art deco style for the interior, the architect aimed for modernity, simplicity, light, and openness. In each residence, the kitchen, dining area, and living area all share the same four walls in a large great room. With finishing touches from the Bridgette Mayer Gallery, this common room was consistently my favorite place in each of the three units that I toured.