A Digital Future for Lit Bros?

In June 2011, City Council passed an ordinance creating the Market Street East Advertising District between 7th Street and 13th Street.  Intended to spur the revitalization of Market East, the ordinance allows property owners to erect large-format animated digital signage in exchange for major  property improvements.  The bill excluded historic buildings from the district except in cases where large signs previously existed.

For most of its existence, a large rooftop sign stood on the Lit Brothers building.  This qualifies the building for new digital signage under the ordinance, but the Philadelphia Historical Commission must also approve the alterations.  The Commission’s Architectural Committee has recommended denial of the proposed signage, finding that the colorful animation detracts from the architectural integrity of the building.  The full Historical Commission is set to vote on the proposal at its September 14th meeting.

What do you think of digital signage on one of Philadelphia’s most iconic buildings?  Is it a creative reinterpretation of the building’s commercial past, or a crass intrusion?  The Preservation Alliance is collecting opinions in advance of the Historical Commission meeting.  Please vote in our poll below and leave comments in the comments box, or email advocacy@preservationalliance.com.

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10 responses

  1. I began to wach the video, ready to vote an emphatic “NO”, but somehow, as presented in the video, the prospect of this signing seems less offensive than it might be. As presented in the video, the signing is most certainly in keeping with the commercial character of the Lit Building. No doubt hte Lit Brothers would have approved. Who are we to decide otherwise. A “YES” vote here. G. Gilbert

    September 5, 2012 at 6:58 am

  2. Tony

    Aside from the rooftop flashing signage, which I believe is inconsistent with the character of the building, I also do not like the exterior facade lighting schemes. This building should be lit like Harrods in London, with the windows and architectural details outlined in little white twinkling lights. It would be stunning. Then, if they want to place more appropriate signage on top — something that doesn’t flash and scroll constantly — it might work.

    September 5, 2012 at 11:41 am

  3. Arman Chowdhury

    This article has failed to mention that the commission had indeed approved the façade lighting scheme, a lesser version of what you see in the last two images, where you do not have the lighting of the crowning top floor and the accentuation of the pilasters. However the light grazing of the façade from 2nd floor upwards and bay window accentuation does stay. It is with bemusement that I read the negative comments for this article, it seems they are the collective voice of ‘Ellisworth Toohey’ in the book ‘ Fountain Head’_ voices that hinder progress, the critiques who cannot practice. Those who have expressed support they are the progressive ones, and here is a quick break down of why I say so. Pay attention, for this kind of verdict has immense significance to the neighborhood conditions of north and south Philly.

    The historic ‘LIT Brothers’ has been a commercial building ever since its inception. Purpose of commercial buildings are to have signage, that is the purpose of their existence. Otherwise they are not commercial buildings. The proposal for the current signage was made after thorough and meticulous research work. For 90% of life of this building, it had the signage Lit Brothers a great store in a great city on a story high Chain Link based above the cornice of the building. The lettering was done in Gold color. Now Why Chain Link ? Why Gold Coloring? Because these people who were doing this knew what they were doing. They were not half mules. You see the chain link would almost disappear when perceived from the street level. And the gold lettering is the best contrast you get against the blue of the sky!

    Now this is what was being brought back in the proposal. Instead of the regular chain link it would be the media mesh , same density if not less intrusive but with LED’s that would bring the letterings back to life. And when turned off it disappears! And you can change the content to whatever you deem appropriate and how often you deem appropriate. This would be done in between showing of the lettering ‘ Great Stores in a great city’. Remember a commercial building has to advertise, otherwise they wouldn’t exist and it was proposed that we have a 2012 technology infusion, because this is not only a historic building , this building also ‘Lives today’, amongst us within our time. People have commented of Crassness of the content or that it would look like a jumbo tron. Nothing can be further than the truth. With the media mesh you can never go wrong , because you can change the content to your liking. Imagine time on the mesh is dedicated to civic messaging, commemorating historic events throughout the year, dedicated messaging for the Independence Mall. Imagine clips of the statues of the fore fathers at the top of the cornice, all of a sudden they start to move and Ben franklin walks over from his statue niche to that of George Washington’s , to discuss some serious matter. It does not have to be signage of Coca cola or that of a casino, you don’t like it you can turn it off and you will a have screen that disappears against the backdrop of the sky, unlike the Jumbo tron.

    In the beginning of the meeting, the commission stated they will not or have the jurisdiction to rule on the content of the media mesh, although it was exactly that, based upon which they denied the motion (close call 2 against 3). What contradiction! Most did not have any problem bringing the media mesh as it was so Historically. It was also proposed to the panel a mockup of 12’ x 12’ would be put up at the top of the building and they would be invited to perceive and cast away any doubt of the transparency and density of the mesh, to which the panel had no decisive response (why not?)

    Now why am I writing so much on this? This is not a simple case of validity of Media mesh being used on a historic building or not, it is much more than that. You see, a building , a city is just like any living organism. It has to be allowed to evolve. Otherwise it will become stagnant and stifle the life out of it. There are two kind of Historic preservationist, the ones who fail to see the ever-changing need of ‘context’, these are the people who are void of creativity and fail to grasp how to tackle the issue at hand, because the issues are most difficult. Thus they have one solution: rope off or cordon off architecture. And then there are the people who are ahead of the curve , people with vision & creativity who will see preservation as revitalization. Look at London or Milan. Fashion capitals of the world! These cities are far more historically entrenched and have heritages far deeper than that of Philadelphia, yet you will see modern intervention done taste fully to their old buildings, because they are not afraid to tackle the context and are creative enough to do so.

    ‘Cordon off/ rope off’ preservationist are responsible for a lot of woes to the buildings in this city. How many buildings and towers in north Philly have been abandoned by their owners and their business because they were not allowed to upgrade the window pane/frame, make alterations for new HVAC systems or changes to the elevator core/car? How many of these buildings in north Philly has been boarded up because they were not allowed their due alterations? And then the neighborhood goes south literally and then it is the same preservationist who shed crocodile tears and asks why such has happened. Well guess what, you are responsible for the demise of the neighborhood !!

    The Lit Brothers building will loose tenancy in the future if it is not allowed to upgrade. Who will then take responsibility for its up keep? The commission ? the tax payer? In this economic climate?
    Thank you for reading and for those who have understood what I have said here, then thank you for listening.

    September 6, 2012 at 9:34 am

    • Iman

      I love your writing! I am a transplant from Miami and when I came here for the first time, I found that the area is literally dead at night. As a newcomer walking from City Hall to Independence Mall, I can’t help thinking “Geeshh so this is Philadelphia?” And I am pretty sure alot of tourists also think that way as they go out from their hotel rooms to see LIBerty Bell or Independence Hall. It is a very bad impression to our beloved city! Why don’t make the area more attractive to tourist? Yes, do it like how they do it in MIlan or Paris. Those cities both are “vintage” yet are able to pull it off by meshing the pride of its rich history and the ooh-aaahhhs of modern technology. And thanks for delineating as what happened in the meeting. Also thanks for giving me an insight as what happen in North Philadelphia. So at the end, a question remain. So is this billboard proposal being approved already? When the construction are going to start? With the soon-to-be-open Marshall and the expansion of Hard Rock dining to the street-level, this / these billboard(s) will put MArket East on the right direction. And when do they develop Girard Square? And when will PREIT start renovating the Gallery, adding street-level shopping windows and attracting more middle to high-class retails (while retaining the current tenants)? I want Nordstorm, Bloomies, A & F, Crate and Barrel / CB2, TopShop…arrghhhh so many requests LOL!

      October 5, 2012 at 1:50 pm

      • Arman Chowdhury

        well said

        November 5, 2012 at 9:18 am

  4. AJ SanFilippo

    The sign is the same type of electronic sign that is in the comcast center lobby that everyone loves so much. In the lobby we call it “Public Art” and people flock to see it, why should we brand it crass and ugly when its on top of the Lit Building? Seems to me that if it works sucessfully in one location, it would be equally appropriate for another building.

    September 6, 2012 at 2:44 pm

  5. It was an almost two decade to get “Lits” preserved. Can’t we let the building rest in its restored beauty. Has anyone looked carefully at those old photos. The buildings (some extant, some gone) are beautiful, the pre-1930′s post office. The pictures of the clutter of signage are horrors. Remember sometimes ‘Less is more, not always a bore.’

    September 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

  6. Julie Hoffman

    I love it. It works with the dynamic lighting schemes that have developed across the city over the past decade or so. It is wonderful to see the city transform itself at night. I work in the area of the Lits Brothers building and agree that its architectural character is strong enough to stand up to the moving signage at its crown. A YES vote from me.

    September 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm

  7. I like the scrolling messages. Or the artistic ones. Or the graphic-artsy ones. But god, I would hate to see a huge Coca Cola or Eagles ad up top. *That’s* what cheapens things. Not the billboard itself, but the shameless commercialism that comes with it.

    September 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm

  8. Arman Chowdhury and others who support this idea are exactly right. I’d only add that buildings — a part of street life — should not be treated as though they are vertical museums. They are part of the life of the city. The cities I love — New York, Paris, London — are cities that engage the community visually and dramatically. Although the cube on the Kimmel is rather tame and modest, it offers a visual dialogue with those of us passing by. And that’s good.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:58 pm

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