North Broad Street is humming with adaptive reuse projects in various stages of progress. The list of historic building renovations now complete or currently underway is growing and signals long-awaited reinvestment in weary Callowhill. It also presents a glimmer of hope for preserving history and culture in a city beleaguered by unchecked architectural destruction. However, one landmark, the handsome, glazed terra cotta building at 329-31 N. Broad Street, will not be around to contribute to the revival of North Broad. The property’s owner, Pennsylvania Ballet, plans to raze the 107-year-old building for a vacant lot.
The building was constructed by United States Tire Company in 1911 on the site of a carriage and coach manufacturer. The new building joined a legion of automobile company showrooms and suppliers that set up shop along North Broad Street at the turn of the 20th century. The similarities between the U.S. Tire Company building and the Packard Motor Company building next door, converted into apartments in 1986, are striking. Both are dressed in creamy terra cotta cladding, subtle ornamentation, and jaunty, overhanging roofs, rendering the two a charming, attractive pair.
From the outside, the U.S. Tire Company building looks to be in good shape. It’s one of the few remaining properties between Vine and Spring Garden that appear attractively intact and ripe for renovation. The building was listed in 2010 on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Callowhill Industrial Historic District. The national designation does not legally protect the building from demolition in Philadelphia, but it does qualify the property for the federal Historic Tax Credit and other rehabilitation incentives.
In an official statement regarding the demolition of the building, a spokesperson for the PA Ballet said, “Pennsylvania Ballet conducted an in-depth exploration into various options for the use of the building on our North Broad Street property. Given the current state of the building the conclusion is that there are no viable options other than removal. We are now taking the appropriate steps to ensure the building will be removed in the safest way possible. At this time, we don’t have further information regarding development on our property, however, we look forward to announcing our plans soon.”
Demolishing designated landmarks is familiar territory for the PA Ballet. The school razed the Willys-Overland Motor Company offices next door at 325 N. Broad Street in 2012. The Colonial Revival building, constructed in 1910 and considered a contributing property within the Callowhill historic district, was cleared to make way for a $17.5 dance center, a proposal that was met with applause from the City and arts community and anger from architects and historic preservationists. The plan, designed by Erdy McHenry Architecture, included retaining and renovating the U.S. Tire Company building for the ballet company’s administrative offices and retail space, while demolishing the Willys-Overland Motor Company building for a small courtyard fronting Broad Street and a main lobby to existing rear parking structures that were converted into rehearsal studios. In addition to donor funding, the Louise Reed Center for Dance received $1 million from the City’s Cultural Corridors Fund and $2.5 million from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. The project is now in Phase III of construction, which originally included both landscaping the small park on Broad Street and renovating the terra cotta building in front of the school. Yet, restoring and reusing the 107-year old Automobile Row landmark has since been eliminated from PA Ballet’s 2011 proposal. According to a permit issued by L&I on May 10, demolition of the property for use as an empty lot may now begin.
“The Preservation Alliance made every effort to persuade the Pennsylvania Ballet that they could and should incorporate this historic structure into their plans for the site,” said Paul Steinke, director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. “In the end the PA Ballet chose not to do so, which will result in the loss of another vestige of North Broad Street’s Automobile Row legacy.”