Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Winter 2022 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.
Queen Lane Filter Plant
Location: 3300 Fox Street
Architect: William E. Groben
East Falls meets Atlantis at this idiosyncratic, Beaux Arts edifice constructed by the Philadelphia Department of Public Works as part of the City’s ambitious campaign to provide sanitary, filtered drinking water. Designed by little-known city architect William Groben, the building features a whimsical menagerie of custom-designed terracotta sea creatures adorning its otherwise traditional classical orders and transforming its looming cornice into a lively reef of conch shell volutes, starfish-studded garlands, scallop shell stringcourses, and sea monster grotesques unlike anything else on dry land. Nearly lost to a century of slow decay, the facade was painstakingly restored in 1994, but not before an original, and equally ornate, tank house and smokestack were razed in the 1950s. Although monumental in scale, this high water mark of municipal ambition remains a pearl amid the newer, more utilitarian accretions of the Queen Lane Water Treatment complex. It is an excellent candidate for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.