Old Town Hall Turns New City Hall

 

Chuck sez: buy your Festival tickets now! Significant discounts for Hidden City members | Photo: Bradley Maule

Chuck sez: buy your Festival tickets now! Significant discounts for Hidden City members | Photo: Bradley Maule

With the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s March decision to close Germantown High School (among 22 others), it spelled the sad end for a major landmark on the corridor of major landmarks. The historic school, designed by Henry Decourcey Richards, opened in 1914 and nearly doubled in size with the modernist addition in the 1950s. While a public discourse continues to determine its future, as of now, it looks like the giant building will be mothballed until that future is indeed determined. Which is a shame, as right across Germantown Avenue stands an already mothballed giant building, Germantown Town Hall.

Vacant since 1997, the awkwardly named Germantown Town Hall technically never served as one; despite its neoclassical appearance, it opened well past the City’s Consolidation Act of 1854, before which Germantown certainly would have needed a town hall. In fact, it had one. Just before the consolidation, the Napoleon LeBrun-designed Old Town Hall opened to serve that function. In 1920, then structurally unsound, it was demolished by the City with a plan for a new building.

That building, designed by John Penn Brock Sinkler, draws heavily from William Strickland’s 1832 Merchants Exchange Building (at 3rd & Dock Streets in Old City), recalling its rounded Greek columns while adding a sizable, memorable clock tower. It opened in 1925. Existing under the auspices of the City, Germantown Town Hall provided various municipal services until the Mayor’s Office of Community Services moved out 16 years ago.

Now, the Hidden City Festival 2013 opens the padlock. In collaboration with Germantown-based ‘Think Tank that has yet to be named’, Oakland artist Jacob Wick and Information Department will grow the town into a city, with Germantown City Hall.

The Germantown City Hall installation will, at least temporarily, enliven the Town Hall with services it might have once hosted. A performance and meeting area, a reading room/lending library, and an office/copy center are among the spaces imagined for the building, and citizens are encouraged to schedule and host events, performances, workshops—anything that requires an imagination and a space to bring it to life. In tribute to the locals who’ve wondered about the building, access will be free to all Germantown residents.

To learn more about Germantown Town Hall, see HERE. For more information on (and to contribute to) the Germantown City Hall project, visit the project page HERE. And to purchase tickets to this and other sites, click HERE. Discounts are available for Hidden City members.

To preview the space with a brief photo essay, click any of the images below.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland (Oregon), Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



5 Comments


  1. Why not renovate the building and lease it out vice leaving it in this present condition? City can make building available to responsible foundation.

  2. I am so glad this building is being remodeled. It is so beautiful !

    … I love the purpose for this space to be for the community too.

  3. It is not being remodeled. It is a pretend show to pretend that the building is being used. City owns the building yet there is no use planned for it. We need to get creative juices flowing. C oncerned residents can petition their councilman to take action to let interested people spend a little money spiffying up the building. a $50K grant can fix a lot if it is done by volunteers including professionals donating their time and this money can buy raw materials for volunteers to use to fix the building. THen we can develop valid uses for the building. That is interior work and exterior work will require serious money plus real contractors as it will involve a lot of scaffolding.

    • This is true. The building is not being renovated and permanently reopened. But part of the philosophy of Hidden City, beginning with the 2009 Hidden City Festival, is that temporary projects help us reengage with lost places and begin the process of reuse. “Pretend,” if that’s what it is, can lead to “real.” This philosophy is very different from the prevailing traditional notion of preservation, which is reliant on regulation and period restoration. The hope of HC is to animate the building and catalyze change–and James is right, people gathering together can transform a space. –ed.

  4. Philadelphia is my top ten big city America has to offer!!! Maybe it is because of the history that city holds for our nation, maybe it is the people of the city, maybe it is the architecture……….maybe it is all of those combined. Either way, I was drawn to this article through articles I was reading regarding Hidden City Philadelphia. I live in Detroit and have watched this city along with many others, just fall to pieces. Went to philly about 6yrs ago and was drawn to this building. There was local walking the streets who shared with me what this building was and how sad it was to see it sit there and just die. How can a building with so much purpose, how can a pillar within society just crumble, how and why do those who live on the streets of a city have more care, concern and compassion!!! Whatever it is Hidden City is doing…..Keep doing it!! If everyone is aware of the history and purpose of these architectural master pieces then we as a people might feel compelled to help where ever we can :)

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