United States Department of Veterans Affairs

The Buildings at 5000 Wissahickon


The Philadelphia Regional Office occupied the North Plant of the former Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company before the building was demolished to make way for the new facility.

The North Plant housed the second major factory of the Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company. Atwater Kent was an important twentieth-century inventor and manufacturer of radios and electrical components for automobiles. The company was the largest producer of radios in the world in the late 1920s. The plant is roofed with 470,000 square feet of "Super-Span Saw-Tooth" roof trusses patented by Walter Ballinger. Ballinger and his firm contributed significantly to the architecture and engineering fields. Today, the Ballinger firm claims to be the oldest continuously practicing architectural and engineering firm in the United States.

The Atwater Kent Manufacturing Company factory on Wissahickon Avenue in northwest Philadelphia was built by Arthur Atwater Kent between 1923 and 1929 for the purpose of manufacturing radios and associated components. The factory consisted of two main facilities known as the South and North plants, which together covered more than 34 acres. The South Plant was completed in 1923, and was expanded in 1925. The South Plant was later connected by an enclosed pedestrian bridge to the North Plant during construction of the latter in 1928 and 1929.  With the completion of the North Plant, production rose to over 6,000 radios per day, totaling nearly 2.2 million units per year and employing approximately 12,000 workers.

Kent sold the North Plant on August 1, 1941, to the U.S. Signal Corps for $2 million, after the government had filed condemnation proceedings in Federal District Court one week earlier. According to a government press release, the 740,000-square-foot building and the land represented an investment of $3.5 million. The Signal Corps Depot officially celebrated its opening on November 15, 1941, with ceremonies attended by Philadelphia Mayor Bernard Samuels and U.S. Senator Hugh Scott. In 1949, ownership of the building was transferred to the newly formed General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA completed the conversion of the building from manufacturing space to office space and records storage, a use which continues today. The building's first tenant under the GSA was the Veterans Administration in 1949.

The Philadelphia Regional Office and several other VA organizations continue to occupy the space.

REF:  Historic American Engineering Record PA-306-A, and PA 51-PHILA 703-A, National Park Service, Northeast Region