Archive for October, 2010

Tube Tuesday: WPVI

WPVI, we hardly knew you.  Demolished earlier this year, Vincent Kling’s donut-shaped television studio on City Line Avenue sure looks like a keeper in this mod-tastic 1963 glimpse into its design and construction, featuring a star turn by Kling himself.   Click on the screenshot above for a link to the video, and apologies in advance for the pre-clip commercial.


News & Notes: 10/16-10/22

New life for landmark church in South Philadelphia (Plan Philly, 10/18/10)

While the struggle continues over the future of the Church of the Assumption in Callowhill, another distinctive religious building appears to have a much brighter horizon. The Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Philadelphia is in the midst of growing from its German roots into a Vietnamese Buddhist temple.  Continue reading….

Kimpton plans to turn historic, 5th and Chestnut building into Monaco hotel (Inquirer, 10/20/10)

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants of San Francisco plans a second outpost in Philadelphia: a Monaco hotel at the historic Lafayette Building at Fifth and Chestnut Streets.  Continue reading….

Theophilus the Architect (Brownstoner, 10/21/10)

A goodly number of the 176 buildings designed by gilded-age architect Theophilus Parsons Chandler, Jr. are no longer with us. But in its Chandler Collection, The Athenaeum of Philadelphia has 177 drawings, 1,400 photographs, 255 books and a shelf groaning under the weight of manuscripts. Does having a great archive mean you don’t really need to worry about preservation? Does knowledge somehow forgive a missing urge to preserve? Or does documentation make losses all the more painful? Continue reading….

Twentieth-Century High-Rises (Brownstoner, 10/20/10)

That people on van Pelt are willing to give up space to bump elbows with the rich and famous should not be surprising: after all, that’s the premise behind Rittenhouse high-rises. Beginning in the 1920s, apartment towers rose all around Rittenhouse Square, blotting out the spires of the Church of the Holy Trinity from the skyline completely. Continue reading….

Brownstoner’s Buildings of the Day (10/18-10/21)

Drexel Main Hall, Bishop White House, Shiloh Baptist Church, Overbrook Gardens Court.  Click here to view….

Tube Tuesday: A Place to Live

Part John Steinbeck, part Lewis Mumford, part Alfred Hitchcock, all Philadelphia. The more things change….

Unlisted: Saint Rita of Cascia

Written and drawn by Ben Leech

Unlisted is a series of portraits highlighting Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.  To learn how to protect a building by nominating it to the Register, click here.

Address: 1154-62 South Broad Street

Architect: George Lovatt

Built: 1907

Of the thousands of historic church buildings in Philadelphia, only a small fraction are listed on the Philadelphia Register. St Rita’s is just one of the hundreds that could be but isn’t. A gleaming, swirling terra cotta temple that looks plucked from an opera stage, the church is an apt face for these masses of undocumented landmarks yearning to stay standing.   Though it’s not the largest or oldest or grandest, it was built as a shrine to Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of lost and impossible causes.  And while the future of this particular church, thanks to a healthy and well-funded congregation, seems forseeably safe in spite of its unlisted status, the future of hundreds of others is far more troubling.

Big old churches citywide are fighting against time, gravity, leaky roofs, and dwindling congregations.  And mostly they are losing.  The recent plight of the Church of the Assumption drives the point home– landmark status alone cannot ensure the future of these buildings that so define the skylines and streetscapes of our neighborhoods.  “Saving” these churches just by landmarking them is like trying to pound a nail with a screwdriver.  Unlike factories, another increasingly obsolescent building type we have in spades, churches are usually easier to demolish than repurpose, and even “protected” churches like Assumption are no match for the wrecker’s backhoe when the economics of preservation are not immediately, blatantly, even obscenely, obvious to those left holding the keys.

But if a screwdriver is all you have, swinging it is better than doing nothing. The Church of the Assumption would already be a surface lot if it hadn’t been listed on the Philadelphia Register in 2009. Plenty of others are now landfill because there was no legal mechanism to postpone or prevent their demolition. Along with a good roof and a little patience, listing on the Philadelphia Register can help today’s Assumption or Bonaventure or Boniface or Saint Peter be tomorrow’s Baptist Temple.

But back to Rita.  In addition to being the patron saint of lost causes, she’s also the patron saint of baseball.  So if you happen to be heading south on the orange line for any reason, especially, say, on your way to Citizens Bank Park, you may want to tip your cap at the Ellsworth-Federal stop. You’ll be sitting under a shrine that’s been keeping its end of the bargain in the good architecture department and the good baseball department.  A little recognition is in order.

News and Notes: 10/9-10/15

Neighborhood preservation, commercial corridors and a conference audience that looks like Philadelphia (Urban Prospects, 10/9/10)

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia hosted the second annual Neighborhood Preservation Conference at Temple University yesterday.  PAGP  unveiled their Neighborhood Initiative programs and grant opportunities, and presented some terrific seminars focusing on how residents and organizations can help preserve and enhance “middle market” neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Continue reading…..

Fundraising plan intended to keep the Olympia from sinking (Plan Philly, 10/11/10)

The plan to reef the historic Cruiser Olympia off the coast of Cape May calls for a party – a giant party! Thirty ships on review, 21-gun salutes, international dignitaries, fireworks and 4 million people on the waterfront. Continue reading….

Sites to Save in Philadelphia (Weekly Press, 10/13/10)

Save Our Sites (SOS), a city preservation group, has issued its 2010 list of endangered buildings, streets, and other sites in Philadelphia that face destruction, neglect, or possible demolition. Continue reading….

Music To Our Eyes (Brownstoner, 10/14/10)

What’s the most Philadelphia of all things Philadelphian? Once upon a time, it came down to a contest between the Mummers and the Orchestra. And a very brief contest it was. Continue reading….

Renovation of Independence Hall underway (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/15/10)

The scaffolding is up, girdling the familiar tower of Independence Hall. A decorative scrim, donated by the Friends of Independence and sporting an image of the tower, will soon itself be girdling the scaffolding – a reminder of what lies within and a cover for unsightly construction. Continue reading….

Brownstoner’s Buildings of the Day (10/12/10 – 10/15/10)

Bache School, 717-19 S. 4th Street, Saint Anthony Club. Click here to view….

Variations on a Theme II: Hands Across Philadelphia

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Tube Tuesday: Octoberfest Edition

Don’t miss the incomparable beer historian Rich Wagner TONIGHT at 7:30 at the Center for Northeast Philadelphia History (1507 Orthodox St.) as he presents “The Breweries of Frankford, Kensington and Bridesburg.”  Sponsored by the Historical Society of Frankford, $5 general public (free for HSF members). CLICK HERE for more information.  Special thanks to Stephen Metzger for his great documentary.

News and Notes: 10/1-10/8

Around Philly, a fourth-generation business built on building (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/3/10)

It’s a playful version of I Dare You: Name any neighborhood or town around Philadelphia, and 86-year-old Charles Kahn Jr. will show you how, over a century, his family has left its mark there.  Continue reading….

Look Up! 19th Century rural retreats in northeast Philly (Plan Philly, 10/4/10)

Former farmland sprouted rowhomes and duplexes in Northeast Philadelphia during the post-war housing and baby boom. But a century before, the area was a bucolic retreat for some of Philadelphia’s most affluent citizens, and a few remarkable estates survived the wave of suburban development. Continue reading….

From bank building to billiards club and beyond (

The restoration of 1200 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, a long-vacant landmark building to its former grandeur, has begun. The plans retain the building’s historic beauty, while adding a touch of “now.”  Continue reading…

Train Track Classicism (Objects-Buildings-Situations 10/6/10)

Pennsylvania Station at 30th Street is one of the greatest monuments of Beaux Arts classicism in Philadelphia. Louis Kahn insisted that every visitor to the city enter through this monument (rather than by car or airplane). Continue reading….

Brownstoner’s Buildings of the Day (10/4/10 – 10/7/10)

Philadelphia Traction Company, Ryerss Museum and Library, Weccacoe Recreation Center, Upsala.  Click here to view….

The Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District (Brownstoner)

Extending across most of the southwestern quarter of Center City and encompassing examples of the built environment from the Civil War straight through to current construction, Rittenhouse-Fitler is one of Philadelphia’s most visible historic neighborhoods.  Continue reading here and here….

Philadelphia granary plan harvests a bounty of bland design (Inquirier 10/8/10)

When we last left the massive redoubt of the old granary at 20th and Callowhill Streets, Pearl Properties was proposing to scale its great turreted roof with a thrilling, though problematic, design for an apartment tower. But because the former grain silo is a certified landmark, the Historical Commission rightly poured hot oil on the idea.  Continue reading….

A Sense of Place: Preserving Philadelphia’s Neighborhoods

The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia 2010 Citywide Conference is right around the corner, but there’s still time to secure a spot. A Sense of Place: Preserving Philadelphia’s Neighborhoods will take place on Friday, October 8, 2010 from 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM at the Temple University, Student Faculty Center, 3340 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA. The conference fee is $20 and includes lunch.

Neighborhood organizations and leaders from throughout Philadelphia are invited to convene for this one-day conference focusing on historic preservation in neighborhoods. Participants will have the opportunity to expand their understanding of the important role of preservation in neighborhood stabilization/revitalization, learn about successful examples from local communities and meet with representatives of the non-profit and governmental organizations that are playing an active role in these efforts.

CLICK HERE for more information or to register.

The Week in Review: 9/25-10/1

Historic Bouvier Building begins its transformation (Plan Philly, 9/29/10)

Its insides are all but gutted and its exterior still looks forlorn. But there is an energy buzzing around the long-embattled Bouvier Building these days. Continue reading….

The Second Empire Rowhouse in Philly (Brownstoner, 9/29/10)

The influence of the French Second Empire style was initiated by Napoleon III’s post-revolutionary campaign to rebuild Paris with majestic public buildings and boulevards.  Continue reading….

Fixing a hole in a landmark (Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/30/10)

Nipper has lost his head but not his patience. In a beautiful but broken set of stained-glass windows high above the heart of Camden, parts of the vintage RCA-Victor mascot still await His Master’s Voice. Continue reading….

Best Friends: Symbiosis helps one Philadelphia office building achieve LEED Platinum (GreenSource, October 2010)

The last time renovators operated on the Friends Center, located on 1.26 acres in downtown Philadelphia, it was 1974 and crews were putting the finishing touches on a 56,000-square-foot office building abutting the Race Street Meetinghouse.  Continue reading….

Historic Church of the Assumption needs buyer, not wrecking ball (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/1/10)

Maybe it’s the Mad Men-crazed moment we’re in, but I’m starting to find inspiration in advertisements. My current favorite is one from Patek Philippe, a watch so frightfully expensive, it gets to call itself a timepiece. Beneath a soft-focus photograph of a handsome father beaming at his young son, the copy tells us, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”  Continue reading….