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For three decades, the Bagel Hut on Temple University’s main campus was a beloved landmark. Lines regularly stretched from the standalone shop’s cherry-and-white siding as students ordered at windows beneath boardwalk-style awnings.
But this month, the unmistakable shack was replaced by a building with little character, a squared-off structure made of flat slabs of dark grey.
The renovation of the hut on Montgomery Avenue near Broad Street upset many of the thousands of students and alumni who’ve stopped by for breakfast sandwiches and coffees since it opened. Some of them feel the redesign echoes a broader trend in Philadelphia — as unique older buildings disappear to make way for more generic structures.
“I feel like the motivation for doing these redesigns is they have an idea what the neighborhood is going to look like in the future, and they’re trying to update their own looks to fit into a new sort of tapestry,” said Eliana Letzter, a first-year film student at Temple. She asserted: “The reason for the new look is gentrification.”
Construction on the bagel stand started over the summer, according to the university, shutting down business for a few months. Remote learning had already slimmed down the ordering queue that used to snake along Liacouras Walk before classes.
“I used to plan my mornings around, ‘OK, I have to wait in the Bagel Hut line before I get to class,'” said Dominique Nziffa, a 2017 Fox School of Business alum. “It was recognizable. Like, I know I’m at this part of campus because I’m passing Bagel Hut.”
The university’s original plan wasn’t necessarily to replace the shop’s structure. Construction work was begun to fix broken pavement and complete repairs in nearby academic buildings. But officials saw an opportunity.
“The new design was a collaboration between the tenant and Temple University, and it came about after we started to replace the sidewalk on that side of Liacouras Walk,” said Temple spokesperson Stephen Orbanek.
There is good news: At the new structure, the bagels will be the same. The people running the operation, who rent the space from Temple, are the same, and confirmed they’ll bring in the same fresh bagels every day from a bakery outside Philly. They received the keys to the new building last week, per Orbanek.
“The building belongs to Temple University and this renovation was part of their campus renovations,” said a man who runs Bagel Hut’s Instagram and would identify himself only as Mike. “We will be open as soon as we are done with last touch ups.”
Two similar structures on Temple’s campus — a blue bagel shop on Montgomery near 13th and a red pretzel shop on 13th near Berks — are still intact, Orbanek said, with no plans to change them any time soon.
But the changes to Bagel Hut are enough to disappoint students and alumni.
“It’s ugly,” said Bill Motsch, a third-year grad student getting his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. “But who would ever be surprised? Not just with Temple specifically, but like any university.”
Construction has been a constant at Temple’s North Philadelphia campus for the better part of a decade. The university has torn down older buildings in recent years to construct a new sports complex, a new science building, and a new library.
Same goes in the city of Philadelphia as a whole. Though more than two-thirds of Philly’s building stock is over 50 years old, less than 3% is designated historic, making preservation an uphill battle. Historic structures are often left in severe states of disrepair, and slated for demolition, from old theaters to railroad stations to funeral homes. The phenomenon is so pervasive it has inspired Instagram accounts and art exhibits.
Letzter, the first-year student, said she hopes the Bagel Hut revamp draws attention to the lack of preservation in Philadelphia.
“We can use it as something symbolic,” Letzter said. “This is a symbol of a greater and broader process that’s going on in the whole area that impacts communities.”