PA Ballet Swings Wrecking Ball At North Broad Landmark

 

329-31 N. Broad Street was built by the United States Tire Company in 1911 and is listed as a contributing property within the Callowhill Industrial Historic District. The Pennsylvania Ballet originally committed to renovating the building for administrative offices in 2012. The dance school now plans to demolish the terra cotta-clad landmark for a vacant lot. | Photo: Michael Bixler

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.” 

Left: A photograph from 1895 of North Broad Street between Wood and Carlton shows the carriage and coach builder on the lot where the U.S. Tire Company building was constructed. Right: The First Regiment Armory, built in 1884, demolished in 1979, stands shoulder to shoulder to the new U.S. Tire Company building at far right. The Packard Motor Company building can bee seen at the edge of the frame. | Images courtesy of PhillyHistory.org

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.”

About the author

Michael Bixler is a writer, photographer, and managing editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter with Mountain Xpress weekly in Asheville, North Carolina and a native of South Carolina. Bixler has a keen interest in adaptive reuse, underappreciated architecture, contemporary literature and art, and forward-thinking dialogue about people and place. Follow him on Instagram



16 Comments


  1. Shame on the ballet company.

  2. Terrible decision by the Ballet.
    I encourage everyone to call their offices at 215 551 7000 to voice your thoughts.
    Until its torn down, there’s always a chance for change.
    This city really sucks big time when it comes to respecting and preserving the day to day old buildings that give the city so much of it’s character. Sure not every building is famous or beautiful in it’s own light, but added up they create Philadelphia.
    Too bad we have a City gov’t who cares little to none about preservation. And the so called leading local voice for the same, the Preservation Alliance is always fighting a losing rear guard battle after demo permits are already issued; they have nickels and dimes when gold is needed. Read their news letter, stories about awards and tours and the like, but nothing about actually directly helping to preserve any buildings. The culture in this town is to say its somebodies else’s job or concern, then to go out and have a beer.

    • The Preservation Alliance is at every Historical Commission meeting, testifying and standing up for preservation and adaptive reuse. We make a difference month in and month out. We are also directly responsible for recent listing of several buildings on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, including the YM&YWHA, Engine 46, Our Mother of Sorrows RC Church, Penn Fruit and Wanamakers Grand Court (pending). We’re currently enmeshed in several legal battles, including Jewelers Row, the Robinson Building and Trinity Church, Oxford. We work behind the scenes trying to match threatened historic buildings with prospective new users. On top of all that we sponsor tours, events and fundraisers, put out a quarterly magazine, maintain a social media presence, and much more. Do we need more support to expand our capacity and broaden our impact? No question. Any and all help is always appreciated.

      • Thank you, Paul. Any possibility on an update on the three legal battles, particularly Jewelers Row? Do you anticipate any difficulty getting the Grand Court listed? — it should have been one of the first items on the Registry.

        • 1. Jewelers Row: we’ve appealed the demolition permits to Commonwealth Court.
          2. Robinson: we are awaiting a court date on our appeal of the undoing of the designation last November.
          3. Trinity Oxford Parish House: a court hearing is expected in July on the congregation’s appeal of the designation, also last November.

        • P.S. We don’t anticipate any difficulty getting Grand Court designated. It will be only the 3rd interior space listed on the Philadelphia Historic Register, after Family Court (18th & Vine) and City Hall.

      • I applaud the work the Alliance has been doing. Thank you for all your efforts. I’m very excited about the Willis Hale row on Girard Avenue! A treasure. Thank you.

      • no (great) offense was intended. The PA is pretty much the only organization doing anything, hence my saying it is a “leading voice”. My concern is not so much about what PA does directly for the cause of preservation, although personally I question the usefulness of the award dinners and other social events, as much as the need is great and the workers are few, hence the need for gold when you only have dimes and nickels.
        Maybe it’s a half full vs half empty conflict in how the PA goes about it’s work, but it is doing something, and for that I’m glad to support the PA and encourage others to do the same. But in no way am I satisfied with what it’s doing; more, much more please.
        Now can we figure out how to save this perfectly fine building.

  3. Boycott the Ballet.

    This appears to be just plain stupid and/or a pretext to larger scale development.

    Look at the board membership or you will suffer the fate foisted on Brooklyn by one Philly kicked to the curb (head of Brooklyn Public Library).

    When a cultural organization receiving significant public dollars gets into non-trivial development, the public should get out of supporting that cultural organization.

    When the Ballet is gone, there can be another. When this building is gone, it will be no more.

  4. While this is depressing to loose this part of the built environment, terracotta is difficult if not inpossible to restore. While it may look fine on the surface, terracotta uses iron crimping to secure the elements to the structure. If rusted, the iron will expand and cause internal forces to crack the masonry unit. This rusting is not uncommon and would require dismantle of the facade and each unit to be restored. That’s very expensive. Now I don’t know if rusting is happening but if so I can see why the owner wouldn’t want to spend many millions of dollars. As this type of repair is not exactly straight forward and requires very careful technique with no certainty that dismantle wouldn’t break a few units in the process of restoration.

  5. The granting agencies should be going after the PA Ballet to get the money back since they are no longer carrying out the proposal as stated. Breaking a proposal should carry the same rules as breaking any other contract. If the case ends up in court a stop work order could be filed in the meantime.

  6. Richard DiLullo

    Just what this city needs, another vacant lot along a major artery. How is it that less significant cities are able to protect less noteworthy landmarks. How is it that they are able to appreciate the interconnections of all the arts into a place one is proud to call home. Shame on a major cultural institution that they would have so little regard for culture. Buildings are not just piles of construction to be destructed. They are part and parcel of what makes our metropolis great, not unlike the ballet itself.

  7. Harry K. Schwartz

    Why is the Pennsylvania Ballet, a cultural institution that lives off donor generosity and public funding, tearing down a worthy building that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as contributing to a federal historic district?

    Are the whims of dance more precious to us than the preservation of our historic built environment?

  8. Anyone who has been to a Pennsylvania Ballet performance can easily see how little regard they have for culture. That said, they seem to display a total lack of imagination. There’s always a long plan you don’t hear about, so they must want the vacant land for some future project. Many dance companies have located in historic buildings. But the major players in the city’s arts scene seem to operate with total impunity. What of the Art Museum’s disruption of their landmark building with an intrusion of Frank Gehry? What could be more destructive, other than the planned remodeling of 30th Street Station?
    It was Avenue of the Arts that largely prevented the saving of the Boyd Theater, lest they have competition for funding dollars. They want to have a monopoly on the presenting of the arts, and making sure no little guys can get in on it. Thank heaven Bart Blatstein had the vision or greed to save the Metropolitan Opera House, which is perhaps far enough away to be outside their purview. Perhaps the push should have been to move the Boyd, not to save it in situ.

  9. I could have enjoyed this building everyday just by walking past it. I will never go see the ballet, ever. Such a paradox that the built public sphere is enjoyable to all but a public arts institution can’t understand their mission of community inclusiveness extending to their stewardship of their physical presence. I’m engaged in dance events at the grass roots level too; what a shame I can’t possibly stomach supporting this institution in the future.

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