On Thursday, June 28 the Philadelphia chapter of Docomomo International, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and conserving Modernist architecture, will hold a public demonstration to advocate for saving Robinson Department Store at 1020 Market Street. The building’s facade, a cresting wave of purple glass tiles, was designed by the father of the American shopping mall, architect Victor Gruen, and his wife, the designer Elsie Krummeck. The facade was constructed in 1948 on the exterior of a five-story building that dates back to the 1880s. It is one of the last of 11 Gruen-designed Grayson-Robinson stores still standing. The distinctive department store was granted legal protection from demolition by the City in 2016 after it was nominated by historic preservationist Ben Leech and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. However, the building’s historic status was reversed and removed by the Department of License and Inspections Review Board on November 22, 2017 after the group voted 5-0 in support of an appeal filed by the property owners, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), the same real estate conglomerate redeveloping The Gallery. It has been speculated that PREIT pushed the City to remove the building from the register in anticipation of future development on the site.
The Preservation Alliance is currently seeking to appeal both Judge Daniel J. Anders’ decision to remand the case to L&I, rather than allow it to remain under the purview of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, and the Board’s decision to remove the building from the local register.
Docomomo PHL is hosting a “wake” for the building in anticipation of its eventual demolition. The group aims to raise awareness of Philadelphia’s historic preservation crisis while symbolically mourning the loss of the Modernist department store–a rare, surviving example of Center City’s mid-century commercial hey day. In a press release for the event, Ben Leech, board member of Docomomo PHL, stated, “The rescinding of the Robinson Building’s historic designation is deeply disturbing. Not only could it mean the destruction of this particular landmark; it means the undercutting of the entire process. We don’t know what will happen to the Robinson Building, but we hope to make all of us who live and work in Philadelphia more cognizant of the threats posed to the built environment.”
Docomomo PHL will stage their wake for Robinson Department Store at 10th and Market Streets on June 28 at 5:30PM. The group encourages attendees to wear black. The demonstration is part of the organization’s One Building/One Brew series and will conclude over drinks at El Vez. For more information see event details HERE.