Ridiculous Fantasies (and Some Practical Ideas) for Philly’s Abandoned Buildings

Laser tag at the Divine Lorraine, anyone? How about a Poseidon Adventure on the Delaware River?

With news that the North Broad jewel known as the Divine Lorraine is possibly being sold again, I thought I’d ask a couple of local architecture nerds what they thought should be done with it, and also what should be done with a few other beautiful abandoned buildings in our city. One of the nerds in question is GroJLart, whose smartass belittling of hideous buildings, NIMBYs and city government officials with zero foresight have made his Philaphilia blog a must-read. The other one is Peter Woodall, outreach manager at Hidden City Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to showing off Philly’s rich architectural past with shows, concerts and events at many of Philly’s underutilized old spaces. Finally, I threw in my own two cents since, well, this is my column and I can do whatever I damn well please.

GroJLart: The re-use of what is essentially just an empty facade is a wide-open book. A few years ago, a plan was floated around that turned the entire trapezoidal block behind the Lorraine into a knock-off Piazza at Schmidts, with the Divine Lorraine as the anchor. That would have been the perfect plan, but the West Poplar NAC, NIMBY’s beyond NIMBYhood, killed the project through delays over how much “affordable housing” should be jammed between the market-rate condos.

Peter: Short term: Keep people out! As of two weeks ago you could still get in through the laundry building behind the main building. The city did a good job sealing it last year, but someone has to stay vigilant, and the current owners who are in default to the bank seem quite content to leave it wide open, making it a lot more likely to burn down. Long term: Apartments make the most sense. It all depends on Mayor Nutter, since a deal probably won’t get done without government incentives. He needs to stop talking about doing something, channel his inner Ruben Amaro, and surprise us all with a killer deal a year from now.

JGT: Divine Laser Tag, mostly because I can picture in my head a great radio commercial, orated by the same guy who does Monster Truck ads: “Ten floors of non-stop laser action in one of the most beautiful buildings in Philadelphia! You got a laser pointed at your chest? You better pray for some divine intervention.”

Editor’s Note (because I edit this column, and I can do whatever I damn well please): Clearly, the Divine Lorraine should be an indoor ski slope. May future Philadelphians never know the word Poconos.

GroJLart: The USS United States could be made into the most badass casino hotel on the eastern seaboard. This Titanic of Tonsil Kicks is 16-and-a-half feet longer than the Comcast Center is tall and has massive interior space. If it can’t become a casino, it should be badassified into a hotel that appears to be a totally restored USS United States that looks exactly as it did when it was the finest cruise ship in the world. There are USS United States nuts all over the world; they would probably try to live there and swab the deck. Shit, you could turn it upside and make it up to look like the Poseidon Adventure, and people would still go.

Peter: Send it to New York. Wonderful as it would be to add such a major attraction to the Delaware waterfront, turning the ship into a hotel, shops, a museum and maybe a casino is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Adding that much (floating) waterfront property makes sense off Manhattan, where property is a tad more dear than down by the Wal-Mart.

JGT: Restore the ship BUT paint off the words “United States” and replace them with the word “Titanic,” then promote it as the doomed luxury liner. Do you really think that tourists from Iowa who just spent $20 on Ride the Ducks are going to know the difference? No chance.

GroJLart: The Power Station would be perfect as a concert venue with a green roof on top. The ramp that goes up there could be all high-lined up and turned into a park as well. NIMBYs nearby would have a problem with it.

Peter: Turn it into a stabilized ruin like Eastern State Penitentiary. Richmond Generating is one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. People travel from Europe just to photograph it, so I think we could get folks to drive two exits up I-95. There’s a reason 12 Monkeys, Transformers (the sequel, I think) and The Last Airbender were all shot there: It’s truly stunning. Sure it would cost a lot of money, but tearing the colossus down would cost more.

JGT: A zoo, but only for deadly animals. I’ve always thought that would be an amazing idea. Who wouldn’t pay to see a zoo filled with cobras, black widow spiders, and box jellyfish?

GroJLart: The Ortlieb Building could be made into condos or apartments with roof decks and courtyards everywhere. It would be a lot of work but probably worth it in the end. Some restoration of lost parts of the building would be cool. Probably way too expensive to ever happen.

Peter: Two years ago, Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments told the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association that he planned to rehab the buildings, but the numbers probably don’t pencil anymore, if they ever did. I’d love to see them turned into apartments, but I’m not optimistic.

JGT: Ortlieb’s Laser Tag Emporium. Now’s the time to make Philadelphia the “Laser Tag Capital of the World,” and all of these abandoned buildings mean we’ve got laser tag venues just waiting to be utilized!