Philadelphia, 4 January 2016. (Happy new year!) We look ahead to a new administration in Philadelphia, a contentious election campaign nationally, and here at the Hidden City Daily, another year of doing what we do—thanks to your generous donations and support. And that means leading off the new year with our time honored tradition: a final look at the last year and what we’ve lost—Hidden City’s in memoriam montage.
As Michael Nutter exits the biggest stage in town, he leaves a legacy that includes a much lower homicide rate, a prioritization of sustainability, a crucial reversal of population drain into gain in a “World Heritage City” . . . and the carnage of dozens of historic structures demolished in the name of growth. In fairness to hizzoner, Philadelphia has a long legacy of demolishing historic assets—the Jayne, the Arcade, Broad Street Station, everything that became Independence Mall, most of Furness’ portfolio (think Provident Life & Trust) . . .
Still, it’s worth remembering all these old buildings lost in the Nutter years one more time. As the Daily didn’t launch until fall 2011, we don’t have lists from the first few years of the Nutter administration, those of say the Drexel Shaft and Youth Study Center and the 19 buildings demolished for the expansion of the Convention Center. However, please do see Hidden City’s Lost Buildings of 2011 (parts one and two), 2012, 2013 (parts one and two), and 2014. And here, the Lost Buildings of 2015.
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Name: Pilgrim Congregational Church
Address: 1407 Marlborough Street, Fishtown
The Story: As we promised it would at the end of 2014, Pilgrim Congregational Church kicks off this year’s list, the New Philadelphia archetype: single old building on large lot, more valuable to developer as several smaller lots. Historic but not historic enough. After a 163-year run, Pilgrim Congregational Church (opened in 1851 as the First Independent Christian Church of Kensington) gave way to five new townhomes. Just a few blocks away, the fate of St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church (Edwin Forrest Durang, 1890) hangs in the air. A “Save St. Laurentius” Facebook page has over 1,700 followers.
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Name: Levy-Leas Mansion
Address: 400 South 40th Street, West Philadelphia
Architect: Attributed to Samuel Sloan
The Story: After many years of trying, Penn finally overcame preservationists, once-supportive near neighbors, and the fact the house was on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, to demolish an important mansion that was probably designed by Samuel Sloan. One of the more complicated demolition cases in recent years, Penn actually did have a plan to preserve the building and construct a new apartment building next to it, but neighbors opposed that plan. As a result, the planned apartment building, to be developed by Azalea Garden Partners, will still come, but the mansion once owned by shipbuilder John P. Levy and leather maker David P. Leas will not be part of it.
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Name: Girard Square
Address: 1100 Market Street, Center City
Architect: James H. Windrim (original), unknown (1970s renovation)
The Story: Few tears were shed as the slow and steady wrecking ball brought down what was left of the former Snellenburg’s store. Architect James H. Windrim’s contribution to Philly’s long gone department store district (with Wanamaker’s/Macy’s the exception, of course) was chopped down to two stories in an urban renewal phase of the Reading Terminal, years after Snellenburg’s closed in 1962. As the ’70s-era façade came down in 2015, the Hallmark and T-Mobile signs revealed a final look at exquisite old details. The East Market project will feature a 15-story apartment tower, a fully renovated 8-story office building on South 11th Street, and a reimagined two-story podium with shopping on Market Street and a pedestrian causeway on Ludlow Street.
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Name: Philadelphia International Records; Picadilly Dine-n-Dance
Address: 301–311 South Broad Street, Center City
Dates: ~1920s–2015 (301 South Broad); 1910–2015 (311 South Broad)
Architect: Unknown (301 South Broad); attributed to Abraham Levy (311 South Broad)
The Story: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff crafted an indelible mark on music history with The Sound of Philadelphia. In 1971, Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records moved in to 301-301 South Broad Street, keeping offices there until a fire destroyed much of the building in 2010. A gift shop for the record company existed on the ground floor next to Utrecht Art Supply, which was bought out and closed by Dick Blick. Next door, across tiny Cypress Street, the handsome three-story building at 311 South Broad opened in 1910 as Superior Laboratories and lived a number of lives including the popular midcentury nightclub Piccadilly Dine-n-Dance, the campaign headquarters for Philadelphia’s first African American mayor, Wilson Goode, and most recently, as the backdrop for the 2013 PHS Pop-up Garden. The two buildings, along with the half-block of Cypress Street to Juniper, have been removed to make way for a 47-story hotel developed by South Broad vet Dranoff Properties and SBE. As news of the development broke, special care was given to name it “SLS International” as a nod to Philadelphia International Records, but now, it’s officially SLS Lux.
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Name: New Hope Temple Baptist Church (née Union Baptist Church)
Address: 711 South 12th Street, Hawthorne
Architect: David S. Gendell, Thomas Bennett
The Story: Especially with old churches, it’s formulaic: a dwindling congregation accepts a buyout from a developer with deep pockets, developer demolishes single large church property, developer builds multiple single-family homes. In this case, the twelve homes going up will replace the church where groundbreaking contralto Marian Anderson first learned to sing.
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Name: Tourison’s Hall
Address: 6656 Germantown Avenue, Mt. Airy
The Story: Though it was a contributing building in the Colonial Germantown Historic District, the National Historic Landmark District designation held no bearing in its preservation, and with notable support within the neighborhood, Martin Elfant Real Estate has demolished the Romanesque Revival structure. Replacing it is a four-story, 28-unit apartment building with retail space on the ground floor aimed at millennial renters.
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Name: Old Medical School Building, Temple University
Address: 3400 North Broad Street, North Philadelphia
Architect: William H. Lee
The Story: Temple University’s long legacy of demolition spares no one, not even the school’s birthplace at Grace Baptist Church (which moved to the namesake landmark Baptist Temple on Broad Street in 1891). Temple’s demolitions even happen when there are “no definite plans,” as was the case here, the first major building at what’s now known as Temple University Health Sciences campus, north of the main campus on North Broad Street. An empty lot remains at the corner of Broad and Ontario where the seven-story neoclassical building stood.
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Name: Barton Hall, Temple University
Address: 1941 Liacouras Walk, North Philadelphia
Architect: Nolen & Swinburne
The Story: In the case of Barton Hall, however, the demolition recognizes a plan that was outdated at best. Hidden City contributor Rachel Hildebrandt put together a painstaking—and painful—look at Temple’s demolition history back in March. In it, she profiled the university’s 1955 master plan by Nolen & Swinburne Associates, which openly complained that the “squeeze of the slum area is becoming intolerable.” That thinly veiled swipe at North Philly’s changing demographics resulted in the gutting of a once-pastoral cemetery and several landmarks, including Grace Baptist Church and multiple blocks of Park Avenue. Barton Hall, one of Nolen & Swinburne’s own utilitarian buildings to replace these old sites, has come down to make way for Temple’s new central library. A major new landmark for not only Temple but also for Philadelphia’s architectural pride, the library’s design comes from Snøhetta. It will front a new quad on campus, after originally being planned for North Broad Street.
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Name: University City High School
Address: 3601 Filbert Street, University City
The Story: Speaking of recognizing an outdated plan . . . University City High School had its place in time, and it wasn’t necessarily a good time. In 1971, the densely populated Black Bottom neighborhood of Philadelphia had, like so many black neighborhoods across America, been systematically blown up in the name of urban renewal. On a 14-acre swath of land in the heart of the former Bottom, University City High School took hold—a fortress of concrete aimed at bringing the neighborhood together with Penn and Drexel. The results, depicted in a powerful mosaic that adorned the entrance plinth, were mixed at best. When UCHS closed as part of the School District of Philadelphia’s wide sweeping closures of 2013, it seemed a foregone conclusion that one of the universities would purchase the site. In June 2014, Drexel made it official, announcing they’ll partner with Wexford Science & Technology to build a $1 billion educational complex.
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Name: Boyd Theatre
Address: 1908 Chestnut Street, Center City
The Story: And the number one Philadelphia demolition for 2015 . . . should come as no surprise. The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia’s last art deco movie palace, became the poster child for preservation over the course of a decade. Howard Haas and the Friends of the Boyd fought long and hard to save the building which hosted premieres of High Noon (attended by Grace Kelly), Philadelphia (attended by director Jonathan Demme and actors Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington), and many others. With the recent onslaught of Star Wars mania, a 1983 Inquirer photo of the opening of Return of the Jedi has recently made the rounds.
The Boyd was open most recently as the Sam Eric 4 in 2002. Despite its inclusion in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, the designation only protected the less-exciting exterior of the building, leaving the art deco interior vulnerable. In March 2014, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved the economic hardship application—a block and a half from Rittenhouse Square—by owners Live Nation (the $5 billion entertainment company) and iPic, paving the way for the interior’s demolition and redevelopment, despite matching funds secured at the 11th hour by an anonymous donor through Friends of the Boyd.
With most of the Boyd gone, namely its grand auditorium, a 32-story tower designed by Cecil Baker + Partners will rise in its place, part of a multi-lot development from Pearl Properties, who bought the Boyd from Live Nation. The development will also see the redevelopment of the Raymond Pace Alexander building at 1900 Chestnut, another building on the Register whose façade was preserved but whose interior was gutted, and a TargetExpress store in newly constructed buildings between 1900 and the Boyd.
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2015 honorable mentions
• In addition to 1900 Chestnut, the façade at The National (109 N. 2nd St.) has been preserved for ongoing (re)development, while the building behind the dazzling orange skin has been removed.
• The former Longfellow School, designed by Henry D. Richards and opened in 1915 at 5004 Tacony St. in Tacony, was demolished as part of PennDOT’s rebuild of I-95.
• And one building we missed on last year’s list: the former Bridesburg School, at 2620 Haworth Street in that neighborhood, was the second-oldest public school building in the city. It was demolished in 2014.
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And of course, four days into the new year, the 2016 list has already begun, with demolition happening now at South Philly’s Mount Sinai Hospital, William Penn High School on North Broad Street, Penn Tower in University City, and soon, the Whitman’s Chocolate building in Old City.
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 OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.
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