Used to be the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia released an annual list of 12 “endangered properties” — bricks-and-mortar equivalents of trembling polar bears clinging to melting blocks of ice. Today the Alliance announces a change: it’ll release the same kind of list three times a year, with four properties each time, and call it “Places to Save,” which rolls off the tongue and rids the whole endeavor of its woolly mammoth feel.
The four picks for this cycle include the William Penn Inn, the Mt. Moriah Cemetery Gatehouse, the Blue Horizon boxing venue, and the flying saucer in LOVE Park, aka, the Fairmount Park Welcome Center. Now, the first three picks have rather obvious merit, but there are many people who look at that round, midcentury yo-yo building and don’t quite get it. What the heck is it? Why is it?
Designed by architect Roy Larsen of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larsen, it was built in 1960 as the Philadelphia Hospitality Center. This was well before the city’s visitors center was even a glimmer in Philadelphia’s eye, and the architecture and concept were both cutting-edge at the time. “There was a huge amount of civic pride at building this architectural wonder at the base of Penn Center,” says Ben Leech, the Alliance’s director of advocacy. “Architecturally, it’s the last best example of postwar Penn Center optimism.”