Preservation

Lost Buildings of 2022

December 7, 2023 | by Michael Bixler

Historic preservation in Philadelphia can feel hopeless at times and comically at odds with a place that advertises itself as a “World Heritage City.” Yet, it is worth taking inventory of positive outcomes every now and then to mitigate the fog of doom and gloom and get a clearer view of the big picture.

In 2022, the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted in favor of designating 45 individual historic sites. Six nominations were authored by Historical Commission staff, including legendary jazz musician Sun Ra’s Arkestral Institute, the former home of groundbreaking gospel guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and the house of Dr. John E. Fryer, a Philadelphia psychiatrist and an important activist of the LBGTQ rights movement.

Powelton Village Historic District, designated in November 2022, is the largest historic district listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Seven historic districts, small and large, were also designated. These districts are as follows: 4208-30 Chester Avenue (12 properties), Christian Street/Black Doctors Row (154 properties), Conwell House Block (7 properties), Drexel/Govett (95 properties), Gates Street (24 properties), Powelton Village (935 properties), and Victorian Roxborough (343 properties).

In total, 1,615 sites, individual and contributing, were added to the local register in 2022. Compare that figure to the 240 sites that were designated in 2021 (45 individual sites, eight districts containing 200 contributing properties) and it is easy to see an upward trend. With the Historical Commission’s budget increase for additional staff in 2022, these numbers reflect an active agency with the resources it has long needed. Here’s to looking on the bright side, and don’t even get me started on the Commission’s July decision to overturn the Disston-Tacony Historic District designation.

The following is a collection of notable buildings demolished in 2022.


St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church in Fishtown. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: St. Laurentius Roman Catholic Church

Address: 1608 E. Berks Street

Date: 1882

Architect: Edwin Forrest Durang

The Story: The fight to save St. Laurentius in Fishtown was a long, contentious battle that ultimately ended in disappointment. It was also one of the most continually publicized preservation efforts in recent years. In a nutshell, neighbors fought passionately to save the 140-year-old church, then fought a plan to reuse it. In the interim, the building’s exterior continued to fall into dangerous structural disrepair.

St. Laurentius was completed in 1882 and designed by celebrated ecclesiastical architect Edwin Forrest Durang. Construction was paid for with small donations from what would become first Catholic Polish parish in Philadelphia. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed the church and it was deconsecrated in 2014. All of the sacred objects were removed from inside of the church to a storage facility in Overbrook, a move seen as preparation for demolition. The potential threat of losing the building sparked former congregation members and neighbors into action. In 2015, the exterior of the church was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. A developer proposed to adaptively reuse St. Laurentius and convert it into 23 apartment units in 2016. Community stakeholders opposed and appealed zoning permits for the plan. In 2019, a 6,000-pound stone fell from the building’s exterior onto the sidewalk. A New Jersey based developer purchased the church in 2020. Permits to partially demolish St. Laurentius were issued in 2021 after the Department of Licenses and Inspections deemed the church’s 150-foot spires as in imminent danger of collapse. Work to remove the spires began last August and complete demolition followed. Zoning permits for a 49-unit apartment building proposal are currently being appealed. Due to St. Laurentius’ historic designation, the Philadelphia Historical Commission will require the owner rebuild the church’s facade on Berks Street.


Columbia Theater in Brewerytown. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Columbia Theater

Address: 2709 Cecil B. Moore Avenue

Date: 1911

Architect: N/A

The Story: Columbia Theater in Brewerytown was built in 1911 and closed in 1954. It was next used as a grocery store, a church, Celebration Banquet Hall, and, lastly, the Islamic community center of Masjid Al-Huda. The entirety of the theater, including its regal facade, was razed. The construction of a four-story apartment building with 18 units is planned for the parcel. 


The Bogash & Klutsch Store in the Gayborhood. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Bogash & Klutsch Building

Address: 1107 Walnut Street

Date: 1923

Architect: Edwin Leo Rothschild

The Story: This elegant, understated Art Deco building in the Gayborhood didn’t stand a chance against Center City’s development boom. It was cleared to make way for a 18-story, 198-unit mixed use residential tower designed by JKRP Architects. The one-story Wendy’s fast food chain on the corner of 11th and Walnut Street, with the company’s signature 1990s-era solarium, was also demolished. 


University Motor Inn in University City. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: University Motor Inn

Address: 600 University Avenue

Date: 1960

Architect: Henry H. Moger Jr. 

The Story: The University Motor Inn was one of the most curious landmarks on the Schuylkill River before it was razed last winter. The boxy rectangular span on stilts was best viewed by boat or from the University Avenue Bridge. It was built in 1960 as a motel geared towards visitors and the families of students of the University of Pennsylvania. In a incredibly odd turn of events, the Philadelphia Prison System acquired the building for its University Avenue Facility in 1997. While still in decent, reusable shape, the midcentury motor lodge was demolished by PECO Energy Company.

In the late 1950s, Stanley Slote, a developer and builder who operated the Scarsdale, New York-based company Crossway Construction, purchased a plot of land on the Schuylkill River from the Pennsylvania Railroad. Slote was in the middle of establishing a national chain of motels called Crossway Motor Inn. For the University Motor Inn, the developer hired New York architect Henry H. Moger Jr. to design the 90-room motel with a pool, bar, restaurant, lounge, and a large parking lot along University Avenue. The motel was a resounding success. By 1961, plans were developed to provide an extra 57 units to the building, but the addition was never built.

Slote left the real estate world for a second career in academia and sold the motel to the University of Pennsylvania in 1964. Penn converted the old motel into dorm rooms for medical students, which lasted until 1971. The university had planned to renovate and expand the building for a return to lodging, but abandoned the idea and instead leased the old motel to the West Philadelphia Community Mental Health Consortium in 1973. Consortium Inc. purchased the motel in 1982 and converted it into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center with clinical offices, vocational workshops, and a cafeteria. In 1987, Geri-Med purchased the property and used it to provide services for mental health patients.

Postcard photo of the University Motor Inn when it opened in 1960. | Image: Ebay

In one of the strangest adaptive reuse undertakings in recent Philadelphia history, the Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation (PSDC) purchased the building in 1997 and converted the old motel into a halfway house for 180 work-release offenders. Inmates were required to participate in a community re-entry program provided by Firetree, Ltd, a nonprofit that engaged inmates with vocational training, job placement, counseling, and life skills education.

If you had the pleasure of taking a pontoon boat ride with the Schulkill River Development Corporation on one of its seasonal river tours back in the mid-to-late aughts you may remember inamates smiling and waving hello from the windows of their motel prison cells. 

Inmate re-entry operations ceased in 2014, and the building sat vacant for five years. In 2019, PECO seized the motel through eminent domain from the owner, which came as a surprise. The PSDC and local politicians had laid generous zoning groundwork for anticipated commercial redevelopment of the parcel. PECO plans to build a new electric substation facility in its place. A visionless outcome and a wasted opportunity given the motel’s inherent potential for reuse as a commercial kayaking and water sports rental facility, a nature center, lodging for ecological tourism, and other uses that could have attracted and elevated public attention to the great environmental revival of the Schuylkiill and Delaware Rivers, both once poisonous, industrial waste bins that are gradually being rehabilitated into clean and thriving waterways. But I digress.


The George A. Vare Recreation Center in Point Breeze. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: George A. Vare Recreation Center

Address: 2600 Morris Street

Date: 1924

Architect: Phillip H. Johnson

The Story: George A. Vare Recreation Center, named after a early 20th century Philadelphia Republican Party machine boss and the co-founder of a major street-cleaning contracting firm, was demolished last summer. The community and athletic facility in Grays Ferry was shuttered in 2017 when it was declared structurally unsound by the City.

Vare was built in 1924 and designed by Phillip H. Johnson. It was one of the older extant recreation centers in Philadelphia along with Athletic Recreation Center (1913),  Kingsessing Recreation Center (1916), and Funfield Recreation Center, now called Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center (1923). The building’s Beaux Arts brick facade and symmetrical layout helped to articulate a recognizable municipal architectural identity across the city. It will be replaced by a new, modern community center at a cost of $20 million.


Anastasi Seafood in the Italian Market. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: Anastasi Seafood

Address: 1101 S. 9th Street

Date: N/A

Architect: N/A

The Story: The demolition of Anastasi Seafood marks a new phase of future real estate development in the Italian Market. The American Ice and Coal Company facility next door,  abandoned for 40 years, was razed in 2008 after the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority deemed the block-long building as blighted. A developer purchased the parcel, but no movement on new construction had been made. The 32,000 square foot lot sat vacant for 15 years. A seven-story mid-rise with 157 residential units and 15,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor is currently in the works. Only time will tell what kind of cultural and socioeconomic impact the project will have on one of the country’s oldest open-air markets and its vibrant, working class immigrant community.


Lewis C. Cassidy Elementary School in Overbrook. | Photo: Google Street View

Name: Lewis C. Cassidy School

Address: 6523 Lansdowne Avenue

Date: 1925-1937

Architect: Irwin T. Catharine

The Story: The National Register of Historic Places inventory of thematic resources describes Lewis C. Cassidy School as, “selected on the basis of architectural quality and historical importance.” However, a place on the National Register is not a guarantee of legal protection in Philadelphia, and the elementary school, which educated Overbrook children for almost 100 years, was demolished.

A rendering of the school’s forthcoming $30 million facility designed by architecture firm Ewing Cole. | Image: Ewing Cole

The Colonial Revival-style school building was constructed of brick and adorned with handsome stone arches and cornices. It was designed by Irwin T. Catharine, the chief architect of the Philadelphia Public School System from 1920 until 1937. Catharine helped to shape the grand, yet utilitarian Neo-Gothic style that came to define the Philadelphia Public School “look” with his 104 building designs.

There is a $30 million dollar price tag for the new elementary school. This seems like a pretty hefty price when the old building was sturdy, beautiful, and a true neighborhood landmark.


Mt. Pleasant Garage in West Mount Airy. | Photo: Google Street View

Name: Mt. Pleasant Garage

Address: 7081 Lincoln Drive

Date: 1925

Architect: N/A

The Story: The striking white, red, and green-tiled facade of the former Mount Pleasant Garage was illegally demolished last September. The garage was built in 1925 out of Wissahickon schist. The roof of the structure had long since been missing, but at the Department of Licenses and Inspections’ (L&I) last inspection of the site, the facade was standing and the building was recorded as stable. A permit, approved in January 2020, notes the owner’s intention to keep the existing structure, but renovate it and add a new five-story addition with 30 residential units and a food market. Clearly the owner’s plans changed. L&I posted a Stop Work Order, but the tiled facade had already been completely destroyed without a permit.


The Samuel Radbill Building at Belmont Behavioral Hospital in Wynnefield Heights. | Photo: Google Street View

Name: Samuel Radbill Building

Address: Belmont Behavioral Hospital, 4200 Monument Road

Date: 1953

Architect: Louis Kahn and Anne Tyng

The Story: The Samuel Radbill Building at what is now Belmont Behavioral Hospital was an early collaboration between Modernist master architect Louis Kahn and his under-celebrated partner Anne Tyng. The psychiatric facility and entry pavilion was completed in 1953. Considered by architectural historians as one of Kahn’s seminal works, the building was evaluated by owners Acadia Healthcare, which purchased Belmont in 2015, as obsolete and in serious disrepair. Although the architectural importance of the building was recognized by preservationists and hospital administrators, it was demolished with little acknowledgment, resistance, or media attention.

The Radbill Building joins a growing list of Kahn buildings demolished in Philadelphia which includes the American Federation of Labor Medical Services Building at 1326-1334 Vine Street (1957-1973), the Mill Creek Homes in West Philadelphia (1955-2002), Coward Shoes Store at 1122 Chestnut Street (1947-2014), and the Pincus Occupational Therapy Building at Belmont Hospital (1950-2018). The revered architect’s first independent commission, Ahavath Israel Synagogue at 6735 N. 16th Street in West Oak Lane, was completed in 1938 and is currently occupied by Grace Temple Church.


All Souls’ Church for the Deaf in North Philadelphia. | Photo: Google Street View

Name: All Souls’ Church for the Deaf

Address: 3220-24 N. 16th Street

Date: 1912

Architect: Walter Thomas

The Story: The All Souls’ Church for the Deaf was a small and charming Gothic Revival structure that served hearing-impaired Episcopalians in Philadelphia for over 100 years. The church was designed by Walter Thomas, an architect with an impressive roster of buildings as well as a thriving bureaucratic career. In the early 1920s, Thomas served as a consultant for the new Bureau of Architecture of the Methodist Episcopal Church, designing many of the church projects that came through the Bureau. In 1929, Thomas was appointed city architect by Mayor Harry Arista Mackey. In 1930, Thomas became the secretary and technical director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. In 1937, he moved on to become the first technical director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

A photograph of All Souls’ Church for the Deaf from 1913. | Photo courtesy of PhiladelphiaStudies.org via The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania’s Archives

The church itself was made of stone with a distinctive tower. The building and church services were modified to accommodate its hearing-impaired congregation. A sloping floor was added so that the “silent worshipers,” as they were referred to in much of the church literature, could better see the clergyman, and a girls choir sang with sign language and rhythmic dance.

In addition to serving the deaf, in recent years the church also ministered some 60,000 migrant sailors, many of them Filipino who arrived at the Port of Philadelphia, as part of the Seamen’s Church Institute.


Downey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Queen Village. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Downey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant

Address: 526 S. Front Street

Date: Circa 1860s

Architect: N/A

The Story: Downey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant opened for business in 1976 by its original owner Jack Downey. According to the 1856-60 Philadelphia Atlas published by Hexemar & Locher, the building was likely constructed some time in the mid-1800s. A ground floor addition and a second story canopy were constructed some time after 1969. Prior to the bar opening, the first floor was used by a luncheonette and soda fountain.

Downey’s served Queen Village and Society Hill for 40 years. The restaurant’s former chef, Domenico Centofanti, who purchased the place from Downey in 2003, filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and the bar’s liquor license was put into safekeeping by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board in 2015. Losing the ability to serve alcohol was the final nail in the pub’s coffin. It closed for good in 2016. Centofanti owed the City $80,712 in taxes, and the building was sold at a sheriff’s sale for $1.15 million in 2017. New mixed-use construction, designed by Ambit Architecture, will include 18 residential units, ground floor commercial space, and a communal roof deck. 


Meg Saligman Studios in Bella Vista. | Photo: Google Street View

Name: Meg Saligman Studios

Address: 829 Bainbridge Street

Date: N/A

Architect: N/A

The Story: The longtime studio of Philadelphia mural artist Meg Saligman, on the north side of Bainbridge Street between 8th and 9th Streets, was razed last year. The single-story concrete block building was humble for sure, but memorable for Saligman’s entertaining and ever-changing exterior, making her studio a beloved neighborhood landmark. We hope that what comes next will be as colorful and community-oriented, but it is doubtful. Gray, vinyl-clad condos, anyone?


Special Troops Armory in Ogontz. | Photo courtesy of Smallbones via Wikimedia Commons

Name: Special Troops Armory

Address: 5350 Ogontz Avenue

Date: 1938

Architect: N/A

The Story: The historic Special Troops Armory (aka Philadelphia Armory) next to the campus of La Salle University was demolished to make way for a self storage facility. It was originally built for the Philadelphia Special Troops of the Pennsylvania National Guard in the late 1930s. It featured a firing range, drill hall, offices, a kitchen an locker rooms. During World War II German prisoners of war were housed there. The Moderne-style brick and limestone armory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. La Salle, which has a history of demolishing historic structures, purchased the property from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs in 2014. The university sold the property for $1,890,000 to CubeSmart in in 2021. 


Wood Norton Residences in West Mt. Airy. | Photo: Google Street View

Name: Buildings A and B of Wood Norton Residences

Address: 6347-57 Wayne Avenue

Date: 1913

Architect: N/A

The Story: Last December tenets of Buildings A and B at Wood Norton Residences were served eviction notices. They had 75 days to vacate the 110-year-old Tudor Revival complex. A demolition permit was issued for half of the apartments there, and it was razed last spring. A six-story, 50-unit residential building was built in its place. In April 2023, a nomination to list the remaining buildings of the complex on the local register was approved by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.


A former furniture store and later a church in Sharswood. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Name: Triumph, the Church of the New Age

Address: 2030-32 Ridge Avenue

Date: Late 1800s

Architect: N/A

The Story: Ridge Avenue is full of interesting, eye-catching signs. The handmade lettering of Triumph, The Church of the New Age is no exception. It was not only endearing, but it possessed a human touch and spoke of the building’s former use by a resourceful, modest congregation. Not much information can be found about the building’s origins other that its construction some time during the last 19th century. An old listing in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s archives for Shneider’s Furniture Company indicates that the ground floor was converted for commercial use nearly a century before the church moved in. The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), headquartered across the street, acquired the building in 2015 during its demolition blitz of Sharswood. This structure, along with a bevy of other addresses, will be replaced by 224 residential and retail units as part of the PHA and Pennrose’s Sharswood Phase III project. 


The inbound shelter of Fishers Station in Germantown. | Photo courtesy of Edward J. Picardy via Wikimedia Commons

Name: Fishers Station

Address: Between Wayne Junction and Germantown stations

Date: mid-1800s

Architect: N/A

The Story: Last summer the abandoned inbound passenger shelter of Fishers Station was demolished by SEPTA, much to the surprise and anger of Germantown residents and preservationists. The Italianate shelter on the Chestnut Hill East Regional Rail line was built by the Reading Railroad some time in the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s Fishers Lane was one of the busiest train stations in Greater Philadelphia. The station’s main building was razed in 1983 and service ended there in 1992. The fate of the the existing outbound shelter at Fishers Station currently hangs in the balance as SEPTA weighs whether to eliminate it as well.


157 W. Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy. | Photo courtesy of The Keeping Society of Philadelphia

Name:  Clifflawn 

Address: 157 W. Carpenter Lane

Date: 1892

Architect: N/A

The Story: When demolition permits are issued before a historic nomination is submitted to the Philadelphia Historical Commission there is not much that can legally be done. Such was the case with Clifflawn, a Colonial Revival mansion in Mt. Airy built in the late 1800s by successful banker and businessman Sydney Wright. Preservationists submitted a nomination for the home two days after a demolition permit was issued. The Historical Commission can only assume jurisdiction over a potentially historic property when a nomination is submitted before a demolition permit is issued. Much to the disappointment of neighbors, the house was razed last June. The developer who owns the parcel plans to built six 4,000 square foot homes in its place.


Arctic Cold Storage/Kensington Brewery in Fishtown | Photo: Peter Woodall

Name: The Remainder of Arctic Cold Storage

Address: 1224 Frankford Avenue

Date: 1890s

Architect: N/A

The Story: We often joke that developers seem torn between two, and only two, options when they are in control of a historic building: should it be a boutique hotel or a co-working space? Roland Kassis, the veritable engine of Fishtown development, hedged his bets and chose both in his slow-burning project on Frankford Avenue: a co-working space in the lower levels of a 114-room boutique hotel, complete with a restaurant and a rooftop pool. A real cornucopia of bourgeois millennial development trends.

1224 Frankford Avenue was built in the late 1890s as part of a mid-sized local brewery which operated under the names William Heimgartner, Frankford Avenue Brewery, and Kensington Brewery. The brewery was later purchased by Protobrewery, which ran its operation out of the connected buildings until the 1910s.

After the brewery closed the windows of the Frankford Avenue building were bricked over and the space was converted into Arctic Cold Storage Company in in 1925. By the late 1990s the building had been purchased by a local resident to store his car collection.

Demolition permits were issued in 2018. An adjoining, four-story brick building that featured a Shepard Fairey mural was demolished that year to make room for the prospective hotel. Although the extant structure was to be retained and incorporated in the design of the new project, permits to raze the last remains of the brewery were granted in March 2022. The building’s fate typified the industrial arc of Fishtown: from brewing capital to boutique business capital. We will miss the structure’s elegant and simple Italianate arches and well-crafted brickwork that formed the facade.


Photo: Google Street View

Name: Warehouse with ghost sign

Address: 1701-07 S. 4th Street

Date: Mid-to-late 1800s

Architect: N/A

The Story: The interconnected warehouse on Dickinson Square Park’s southwest corner met the wrecking ball last summer after over 100 years of continuous use. The buildings were constructed between 1863 and 1895. A meat curing facility used the warehouse by 1900. It was marked as a storage facility in the 1910 Atlas of the City of Philadelphia. According to the 1917 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the warehouse next housed an art glass and mirror company.

Mural along 4th Street. | Photo: Google Street View

The one and two-story masonry buildings were modest, but structurally solid. The roofline was marked with a triangular, extruded brick pattern. It is notable that this kind of craftsmanship and attention to detail is something that we would be extremely lucky to get from a new building.

1701-07 S. 4th Street was also notable for its faded ghost sign, which charmingly read the misspelled “Wearhouse.” On the side facing the park was a large mural depicting a quiet scene of geese lazing and trees swaying in front of a bridge. The warehouse will be replaced by a proposed four-story residential building with 25 units.

Celia Jailer and Peter Woodall contributed reporting to this article.



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About the Author

Michael Bixler is a writer, editor, and photographer engaged in dialogue and documentation of the built environment and how it relates to history, culture, and the urban experience. He is the editorial director and chief photographer of Hidden City Philadelphia.

6 Comments:

  1. Ted Suchodolski says:

    Any idea what’s going to happen to 6012 Ridge Ave.One of the last great houses in Roxborough,recently sold and now has a Stop Work order posted on its front door ?Thanks Ted

    1. Elaine Welles says:

      Great series. So sad to see these great old buildings being lost, mostly for not good reasons
      What replaces them can not often measure up. Thanks again.

      1. Greg says:

        What all of this demonstrates the greed of LaSalle and
        the endemic corruption and possible kickbacks between developers, Licenses and Inspections and its staff. All sounds very shady to me.

  2. The last update on the Langhurst Mansion that was given to the Roxborough Manayunk Wissahickon Historical Society was that the property was going to be turned into a multi-unit rental property. It is “believed” new construction will fill the back of the property and the existing mansion will be gutted and subdivided but the outside **may** remain.

  3. JP says:

    What about the textile banks at Front and Norris in Kensington? That was a particularly tough loss

  4. Steven Lawrey says:

    Will there be an endangered list for 2024?

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