Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Winter 2019 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
Unlisted Philadelphia highlights interesting and significant Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. To learn more about the local designation process and how you can participate in nominating a building to the Philadelphia Register, visit the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s website for more information.
BUILDING: American Protestant Hall
LOCATION: 1415 Locust Street
The popular Locust Rendezvous may draw watering-hole aficionados to the building’s ground floor, but the long-vacant upper stories of this stone-faced edifice hover like a ghost over Locust Street. Few realize that this once-imposing, now-obscure relic is one of the oldest commercial buildings west of Broad Street. The neighboring Academy of Music, whose grand arched windows are subtly echoed in its sinewy stonework, is only one year older.
The building was the product of turbulent times. Constructed as a meeting hall, library, and social club for the American Protestant Association, a secretive anti-Catholic alliance of Protestant Irish immigrants and nativist sympathizers, the building outgrew its bigoted roots to become, a generation later, the headquarters of the American Ethical Union (and also, in a karmic twist, a Catholic military academy). In 1905, it narrowly averted becoming one of the first buildings in Philadelphia to be demolished for a parking garage after the Bellevue Hotel redesigned a planned automobile annex.
It is unclear whether our current generation will be as forgiving. Despite its age and stature, the building is not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, leaving it vulnerable to demolition. With a growing list of code violations and protective netting now shrouding its facade, immediate intervention might be necessary to avoid a rendezvous with the wrecking ball.
Its original purpose suggests that probably the second floor is a large meeting hall, which means that it could serve as the much-needed recital hall Center City currently lacks. And the upper floors might serve as much-needed rehearsal and teaching studio space. Who is the current owner?