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.
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
Nathaniel Popkin is the co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and co-producer and senior script editor of the documentary film series "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment." He's the author of Song of the City: An Intimate Portrait of the American Urban Landscape and The Possible City: Exercises in Dreaming Philadelphia.