Can Center City’s Flying Saucer Be Saved?
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.”
Leech says the city’s position regarding the building’s future is worrisome. “It’s sort of neutral towards the center, which is a red flag. The first RFP they released [for a LOVE Park redesign] specified that the building had to stay. This recent RFP keeps it open ended. You can keep it but you can also demolish it.”
Fortunately, for every person who looks at the space-age saucer and thinks it’s too Jetsonian for 2014, there’s someone else who’s passionate about preserving the building, which has been determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Witness, for instance, the social media campaign #savethesaucer. Once something gets a hashtag, there’s at least some hope.
- Historic Resource Survey Form and National Register “Determination of Eligibility”
- InterPark/City’s Request for Proposals
- Love Park Redesign & Civic Engagement (PennPraxis)
- “City Shouldn’t Sell Visitors Center Short,” Hidden City Daily, February 14, 2014