You know how the story goes: Seven strangers move into a house, they stop being polite, and start getting real. Over a decade has passed since MTV’s “Real World” brought a bit of reality TV-fueled dysfunction to the City of Brotherly Love, but a part of the show’s legacy and saga continues even now.
The 15,000-square-foot, three-story space at Third and Arch streets in Old City that housed the “Real World” roommates in 2004 has been purchased by South Jersey-based cloud hosting company Linode for $5 million. The tech firm plans to use the former bank as their Philadelphia office, to go along with their New Jersey headquarters and support center, Linode spokesman Keith Craig says. It’ll be about a 12-month renovation and restoration process until the company moves in.
Linode founder Christopher Aker was into the idea of acquiring a building with history, Craig says — a history that extends beyond the pop culture lifespan of “Real World.”
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“You’re looking at a 112-year-old building, designed by a famed architect,” he says. “The fact that it was originally the Union Bank and then became the Corn Exchange Bank, and then obviously it was the MTV ‘Real World’ setting 10 years ago — Chris is more enthused about returning it to that original Union Bank, Corn Exchange Bank.”
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the structure did serve a purpose other than housing camera-ready strangers.
There’s a reason it’s called Old City
The neoclassical building went up in 1902 as the Union Bank of Philadelphia and was designed by local architect John T. Brugger. Shortly after, the Union Bank became Girard Corn Exchange National Bank, until 1970, and the facade still bears the name. Seven years later, the Philadelphia Historical Commission listed the building on the Register of Historic Places.
Come 1974, the bank became the home for the Greater Philadelphia chapter of Seamen’s Church Institute, a non-profit agency dedicated to the faith and wellbeing of shipmen passing through the area.
Yaron Properties got a hold of the building in 2003 for $2.2 million and transformed it into the colorful, hip living oasis ready for its 15 minutes of fame. Filming only lasted from April through August 2004. After that, the space was primarily used for weddings and other events under the name TRUST.
Last summer, the property went back on the market, and after about a year of negotiations, Aker and Linode were able to secure the Union Bank/Corn Exchange National Bank/Seamen’s Church Institute/”Real World” house.
That’s why Aker is focused on preserving the history of the space. Not so much because of Real World, but because of real life.
“It’s kind of neat that MTV’s ‘Real World’ was there,”Craig says, noting the enthusiasm of the company’s millennial employees. “But Chrisis interested in returning it to its historic splendor. His excitement is being in an old building, being in a historic building, being in Old City and contributing to North Third Street.”