5 Plans That Could’ve Changed Philly Forever
One thing that’s fun about history is that there is an alternate history that invisibly runs alongside of it, the history of things that never were. Today we look at plans that were on the table that would have changed the future of Philadelphia forever, some for the better and some for the worse.
1. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1986, Philly was one of the six finalists for the HOF. Mayor Wilson Goode and other city bigwigs wined and dined the HOF Committee. A crowd of hundreds rallied at City Hall. As for sites? According to a 1986 Daily News column, “Among the Philadelphia sites under consideration … are: the Port of History museum at Penn’s Landing; the vacant Civic Center museum at 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard; and the site of the new Performing Arts Center, at Broad and Locust streets.”
Of course, Cleveland was already out to a huge lead when Philly got serious about bidding. By the time they pitched, it was too late. Cleveland just made between $15 million and $20 million last weekend at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Meanwhile, this past weekend at Penn’s Landing, the Tri-County Paranormal Research Society led an investigation aboard a ship called the Olympia. I am not making that up.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame might have completely changed the future of the waterfront, which is still just a steaming pile of nonsense. Perhaps it would have kicked off a boom down by the river, and even better, maybe that dumb building that looks like an ugly ship would have never been built.
Then again, the results could have been disastrous. According to Peter Woodall of Hidden City Philly: “The Rock and Roll Hall could have turned the waterfront into a mutant version of Xfinity LIve!!! It’s true that San Fran turned its ferry terminal building into the coolest (and most expensive) farmers’ market in the world, but hey, that’s San Fran. Our waterfront is just one step closer to Jersey.”
2. Phillies Moving to Jersey. Hard to believe, but in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the possibility of the Phillies moving to South Jersey was very real. Phils owner Bob Carpenter was tired of playing games at an old and decrepit Connie Mack Stadium, and every time he proposed a place to build a new park, it got shot down. Furthermore, he was losing a fortune due to Philadelphia’s blue laws. Frustrated, he said that he would look into moving the team to New Jersey, where he wouldn’t face such obstacles. Upon hearing that, Jersey State Senator Joseph Cowgill introduced a bill to build a stadium in Jersey. Carpenter went so far as to buy a large plot of land in Cherry Hill (next to some property he already owned right beside the Garden State Park Racetrack). With the A’s having left in 1954, the city would have gone from two pro baseball teams to zero in 10 years.
This would have been a bad move for the Phils—the Racetrack went down in a spectacular fire in April 1977 that resulted in two deaths. If it had destroyed the proposed ballpark, the Phillies may have had to play that entire season on the road. The team was only 41-40 on the road that year, so you have to figure they would have missed the playoffs. Then again, if they missed the playoffs that would have prevented Phillies fans from having to live through Black Friday. Nonetheless, a team in Jersey would have proven to be quite a dilemma for Phillies fans, as they would have to choose between finding a new team in some foreign city or rooting for a team in New Jersey. There’s no easy answer to that one.
3. American Commerce Center. If not for the economic downturn in 2008, the tallest building in the U.S. would be located right here in Philadelphia. Construction on the American Commerce Center was supposed to start at 1800 Arch in 2009. It would have been over 1,500 feet tall and would have transformed the Philadelphia skyline. Get a glimpse of this skyscraping future starting at 1:45 in this proposal video:
All it needed was an anchor tenant for the ball to start rolling. They couldn’t find one. Finally, the owners sold the property and the plan died. According to philaphilia:
This is the biggest dangling-carrot skyscraper proposal the city has ever seen. Though other supertalls have been proposed over the decades, most of them never got passed the first sketch. This one was painstakingly planned down to the last detail and got all its ducks in a row before the shitbag economy killed it. This is unequivocally the saddest dead-ass proposal the city has ever seen. The saddest.
4. Eagles Move to Arizona. This one came extremely close to happening. By 1984, then Eagles owner Leonard Tose had blown all his money at the Atlantic City casinos. He agreed to sell 25 percent of the team to a Phoenix businessman named James Monaghan, then move the team to Arizona. The two men had a handshake deal, and Tose’s daughter (who worked for the team) was looking for preschools for her daughter in Phoenix. Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini was quoted as saying, “I have a very reliable source who says that that is going to happen. I’ll be very surprised if the move doesn’t take place.”
The Phoenix deal fell apart as Mayor Goode came up with an 11th hour deal to keep the team in town by adding numerous luxury boxes to the Vet. Of course, it might not have been a bad deal if they had moved. It would have eliminated the Norman Braman era, and you have to figure that a city as large as Philly would have gotten an expansion team soon. And when you consider the Eagles haven’t won a Super Bowl in the last 28 years, you have to wonder if perhaps the city would have had more luck with that expansion team. Paul Domowitch speculated on what might happened in a 2005 article.
Considering that Philadelphia was the nation’s fourth-largest television market at the time, and considering that the NFL’s network TV deal was almost up, the thinking was that the league would act quickly to replace the Eagles if they had left.
“I have to believe they would have gotten another team fairly quickly,” Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt said. “Philadelphia is an important market for this league. … The passion of the fans there for the Eagles is unique. It’s based on the history of the franchise. You can’t re-create that kind of thing.”
5. Island City. In 1907, Philadelphia decided that it wanted an amusement park to rival Coney Island. And it had the perfect spot: Petty’s Island. The small island between Philly and Camden was going to be home to an absolutely remarkable entertainment complex. According to Hidden City Philadelphia, “it would feature a thousand-room hotel, a casino, theater, and ballroom, a bathing beach and river amphitheater to reenact famous naval battles, a sports arena bigger than Franklin Field, and a 250-foot central tower with six revolving colored searchlights visible for miles.”
The architect for the project was to be the great Louis Sullivan, known as the “Father of Modernism.” Sullivan had fallen on hard times since the Panic of 1893, and this would have been his chance to regain his stature—and for Philly to get a world-class architect for a good price. Sullivan drew up his plans, and they were spectacular. Once again, this would have changed the face of Philly on the Delaware, 80 years before the Rock and Roll Museum would have done the same. But like the Hall of Fame, it never happened. Sullivan returned to a life of financial insecurity and alcoholism, and Petty’s Island took a turn for the worse as well. Instead of being home to Philly’s Coney Island, it’s home to some Citgo plants, meaning it’s more or less owned by Hugo Chavez. There are few “What might have beens” more painful than this one.