Can Center City’s Flying Saucer Be Saved?

A Google Street View photo taken in June of this year shows the building in context.

A Google Street View photo taken in June of this year shows the building in context.

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.”

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Preservation Alliance Awards Wrap-Up: Bowties and Bonhomie

2012homepic

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia has been handing out its Preservation Achievement Awards for 21 years. Last night’s honorees were a disparate group, from the looming behemoth Municipal Services Building to a one-man guard station in Fairmount Park. Unlike many other awards ceremonies (Oscars, Keystone Press Awards), this one was brisk, informative and flawlessly executed. Emcee Tracy Davidson, of NBC-10, was superb, and I say that without any hint of local-news-directed snark, I promise.

Here are my own superlatives for the evening.

Most Ridiculously Deserved Award
Boyd Single Screen Movie Theater Philadelphia
The Henry J. Magaziner EFAIA Award to Friends of the Boyd’s Howard Haas for his preservation efforts on behalf of the Boyd Theatre (above, in a photo from the Irvin R. Glazer Theater Collection, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia).

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Philadelphia’s Most Endangered Properties 2013

The big news that was embargoed until this morning yet released yesterday anyway is the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s 11th Annual Endangered Properties List. It should come as no surprise that the list includes all of the city’s closed schools. But let’s start with Market East.

Robinson_webRobinson Store
Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, 1946 1020 Market Street, Philadelphia

As interest and activity increases around development of East Market Street, older buildings — some of them historic — may be threatened. That’s certainly the case with the Robinson Store, built by Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, who partnered to design 11 stores for the Grayson-Robinson chain (which sold ladies’ underwear at low prices. Oh, Robinson, where are you now?). Gruen is an especially important figure in commercial architecture, whether you love him or hate him, as he’s known as the inventor of the shopping mall.

The Robinson Store in Center City is easy to pass by without a glance, but as the Alliance points out, it is “the last surviving example of a building campaign that epitomized the use of architecture as advertisement.” It’s a Don Draper dream.

And that’s not all that’s threatened by East Center City development. The former Coward Shoes at 1118 Chestnut is scheduled to be demolished in early 2014 — and that circa-1949 building was designed by Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much impossible to tell that either of the buildings were ever especially impressive, so the facades would need to be restored.

As that’s not going to happen with 1118, the Alliance is calling for the restoration of the Robinson façade, which actually would benefit the developer who did it because the store is within a district that incentivizes facade improvements. “It would be a major preservation victory and could anchor any number of redevelopment plans for the rest of the block.”

Now for the other sites…

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