Roundhouse, Broad & Lombard Health Center At Top Of Endangered List


Philadelphia Police Department Roundhouse

1962 Police Administration Building | Photo: Peter Woodall

The Brutalist 1962 Police Administration Building, known as the Roundhouse, at Eighth and Race Streets, designed by Geddes, Brecher, and Qualls, and the 1959 International Style Health Center One by the firm of Montgomery and Bishop at Broad and Lombard top the Preservation Alliance’s 2012 Endangered Properties List. For the 2011 list, click HERE.

They’re joined by the 1941 Family Court Building, designed by John T. Windrim, twin to the 1925 Central Branch of the Free Library on Logan Square, a Beaux Arts ensemble meant to mirror the pair of neoclassical palaces on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Recently, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation put out a call for development proposals for the Family Court building, which will become vacant when the new court building at Fifteenth and Arch is completed next year. The Preservation Alliance’s concern is that adapting the Family Court building to a hotel, as appears somewhat likely, will necessitate building on top of the existing structure up to the legally allowed 150 feet, destroying the architectural character of the twin palaces.

As we reported last week, the Gretz Brewery in Kensington and the Poth-Red Bell Brewery in Brewerytown, the last surviving major Philadelphia brewhouses now that Ortlieb’s is slated for demolition, are also deemed endangered.

Gretz Brewery | Photo: Peter Woodall

Gretz Brewery | Photo: Peter Woodall

The Preservation Alliance believes both the Roundhouse and Health Center One deserve to be listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, which grants legal protection again demolition or significant alteration. Both buildings face increasing development pressure. But while the health center is widely regarded for its teal colored brick and glass tile, the Roundhouse is faces the usual ambivalence to Brutalism, an architectural form that emerged from the use of poured concrete and that is often typified by repetitive fenestration and curving walls. Moreover, as city officials develop plans to move Police Department headquarters–potentially to the Provident Mutual Building at 46th and Market, another white elephant building–according to the Preservation Alliance, they’ve shown little interest in pursuing reuses for the Roundhouse. The Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a similarly under-appreciated circular Brutalist building from the same period, has been caught in a battle between preservationists and architects and Northwestern University, which wants to tear it down.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine.


  1. The Police Administration Building is gorgeous. By no means does it interact well with the space around it, but that can be solved once it changes hands. I’d prefer expanding upward on top of the existing structure as Studio Gang has proposed for the Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago. This is a building that will be universally loved years from now.

  2. Great to see support of threatened modernism. One of the difficulties with many of the Brutalist buildings (Police HQ, Boston City Hall, among others) is their tendency to be far too defensive against the then-current perception of the danger of urban environments. See nearly every building built at Penn in the 1960s.

    The roundhouse is a very significant building – it is an early, bold, and sculptural advance in pre-cast concrete. Its engineering is astounding.

    What makes the Police HQ more difficult is its unfriendly frontage against Franklin Square, whose edge has been so compromised. The bridge, the highway, the Metropolitan Hospital, Police HQ, and the recent expansion of the Am.College of Physicians. The edges of Franklin Square just can’t catch a break. Too bad the hospital wasn’t demolished and replaced with something more respectful of the square. Can the Police HQ be repurposed in a manner that respects its history and restores a tear in the urban fabric? Might it be possible to better preserve both the Police HQ and Franklin Square by moving the roundhouse? Heresy, I know, but worth some thought I think. It would be fabulous on Broad Street.

  3. Debatable whether Prentice qualifies as “Brutalist.”

    Are we now saying that every mid-century poured-concrete building is “Brutalist”?

    Seema to me that Goldberg was speaking in a very different architectural language than Rudolph or Breuer.

  4. Health Center One? Seriously? Give me a break. Mediocrity does not deserve preservation, nor does brutalism. It should be lost and forgotten.


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