Architecture

UArts Closure Will Bring Change, but It’s Not the First Time

June 28, 2024 | by Kimberly Haas

Dorrance Hamilton Hall at 320 S. Broad Street. | Photo: Michael Bixler

With the University of the Arts (UArts) announcing its abrupt closure this month, several blocks of South Broad Street might soon look different than they do today. The university’s real estate portfolio includes buildings with origins that span 100 years and are scattered along a five-block stretch of Broad Street, plus a few either east or west of it.

However, it won’t be the first time the street changed its looks. The nine UArts buildings, along with other significant landmarks, have contributed to the built fabric of Broad Street that’s been varied over time.

The oldest of the UArts buildings is at 320 S. Broad Street. Currently known as Dorrance Hamilton Hall, it was designed in 1824 by architect John Haviland for The Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb (now the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf). Today it is recognized as the oldest surviving building along the Avenue of the Arts.

A lithograph from 1851 of The Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. | Image courtesy of Library of Congress

Just as Haviland was at work on Hamilton Hall, another construction project was taking place to the north, where Vaux Hall Garden, a garden and open-air theater that occupied the block bounded by Broad, Walnut, Juniper and Sansom (then George) Streets was being rebuilt. Although originally dating to 1813, it was burned by a mob in 1819 in response to a cancelled balloon exhibition. Slightly to the east of the garden, the parcel that now holds the university’s Juniper Hall, 311 South Juniper Street, was a cemetery for St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and Associate Presbyterian Church.

Vaux Hall Garden was demolished in 1838. Two years later, the Dundas-Lippincott House, also known as the Yellow Mansion, was built by Thomas U. Walter for banker James Dundas at 1335 Walnut Street. The project incorporated some of the landscaping of Vauxhall Garden.

In 1855, a significant addition to the street was made at 232-246 S. Broad Street where Napoleon LeBrun & Gustavus Runge designed the Academy of Music, then called the American Academy of Music. It was followed three years later by the Academy of Natural Sciences, which moved to the northwest corner of Broad and Sansom Streets.

A postcard from 1930 shows Vaux Hall Garden as it would have looked in 1819. | Image courtesy of Print and Pictures, Free Library of Philadelphia

Interspersed among these significant institutions were the artifacts of everyday 19th century life. There was a coal yard across Sansom Street from the Academy of Natural Sciences, which would be replaced in 1864 by the Union League building. There were also coal yards across Broad Street from the Academy of Music, along with a freight depot. A livery stable was across Broad Street from the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf, on the site at 333 S. Broad Street that would later house UArts’s Anderson Hall.

There were a number of changes on Broad Street in 1876. The Institute for the Deaf left for Mt. Airy, and the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art acquired the building at 320 S. Broad Street, enlisting architect Frank Furness to design an addition that today UArts calls Furness Hall.

That same year, the Academy of Natural Sciences moved to its current location on Logan Circle, and J.H. Haverly, a New York promoter of blackface minstrel shows, built a theater at 259 S. Broad Street.

A postcard from 1915 showing Horticultural Hall, completed in 1896 and designed by Frank Day Miles at Broad and Spruce Streets. | Image courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia

The next few decades saw organizations moving onto the street, including the Beth-Eden Baptist Church on the northwest corner of Broad and Spruce Streets in 1885, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Horticultural Hall built at 250 S. Broad Street in 1894, and the Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church at 321 S. Broad Street in 1899, today housing Broad Street Ministry. At the southern end of today’s UArts campus, the South Philadelphia National Bank was built at 601 S. Broad Street at around 1900. Today it is the university’s ArtsBank building.

The early 20th century saw a lot of activity at the intersection of Broad and Walnut Streets. In 1902 architects George W. Hewitt and William D. Hewitt designed the Bellevue Hotel on the southwest corner. The Dundas-Lippincott House on the northeast corner was demolished in 1909, ultimately replaced in 1928 by the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Company, now Wells Fargo. Horace Trumbauer designed the Ritz Carlton Hotel for George Widener on the southeast corner in 1911, and today it is known as UArts’s Terra Hall.  

The Philadelphia Art Alliance at 251 S. 18th Street in 2015. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Another demolition and construction project followed at 250 S. Broad Street, where Horticultural Hall was torn down in 1917 and the Shubert Theatre (later the Merriam Theater and now the Miller Theater) built on its site.

To the west, the former Philadelphia Art Alliance on Rittenhouse Square at 251 S. 18th Street, was built in 1906 as the residence of Samuel P. Wetherill.

The former offices of Penn Garage Company, now Anderson Hall, was built in 1920 and designed by Ballinger & Perrot. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The following decades saw a move away from constructing grand halls, banks, and hotels, and towards office buildings with three of today’s UArts buildings appearing at this time. Across Broad Street from Hamilton Hall, the architectural firm of Ballinger & Perrot designed an office building for the Penn Garage Company in 1920, which today is UArts’s Anderson Hall at 333 S. Broad Street. It was followed in the next few years by two properties to the east of Broad Street: the United Lutheran Publication House, also known as the Muhlenberg Building at 1224 Spruce Street, now UArts’s Spruce Hall dormitory, and Juniper Hall, also a residence hall, designed as the Social Service Building by Horace Trumbauer’s firm on the former site of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church’s cemetery, the interments of which had been moved to Mt. Moriah Cemetery in 1869.

Further south, the youngest of the current UArts real estate portfolio was completed in 1924 at 401 S. Broad Street. Known as the Young Men’s & Young Women’s Hebrew Association or Gershman Hall throughout the 20th century, it was acquired by UArts in 2000 and, before the school’s sudden closure, was its student center.

The former the Young Men’s & Young Women’s Hebrew Association, now Gershman Hall, at 401 S. Broad Street. | Photo: Michael Bixler

So, what could those blocks look like in the next few years once the dissolution of the university is completed? In those earlier years, buildings changed one by one or a couple at a time, not in one fell swoop. “If they all go vacant at once, how long would it take for a new use to come about for all of them?” questioned Paul Steinke, president of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

A few of the buildings are afforded some protection through historic designation. Dorrance Hamilton Hall was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1956, the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and has been included in the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Furness Hall at 15th and Pine Streets was built in 1875 and designed by Frank Furness. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Three others were added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places: Furness Hall in 1956, the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1970, and Gershman Hall in 2017. The two off-Broad residence halls, Juniper Halll and Spruce Hall, have been included in the proposed Washington Square West Historic District. Although not yet reviewed by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, its rules and regulations stipulate that, once nominated, properties are deemed to be under the agency’s legal protection from demolition.

The University of the Arts is a private entity, but the magnitude of this event will have a widespread effect far beyond that individual institution, and will likely require involvement by many sectors to find a solution. “If they’re all vacant, we’re going to need people to imagine and plan new uses for them,” said Steinke. “If conversions are considered, the Alliance could be an advisor regarding the properties, such as ideas for funding sources for historic properties.” Rallying cries have been raised at the state and municipal levels, as well as by other Philadelphia institutions like Temple University, which is currently involved in talks about a possible Temple and Uarts merger.



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About the Author

Kimberly Haas is a staff writer for Hidden City Daily. She is a long time radio journalist, both nationally and locally with WHYY and WXPN. In particular, she enjoys covering Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, culture and history, as well as urban sustainability and public policy, in both print and audio.

4 Comments:

  1. Sara MacDonald says:

    Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (PIDD) didnt leave 320 S Broad/Broad and Pine until about 1892. Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art purchased it in 1893. I wrote the UArts Libraries web page on Hamilton Hall, https://library.uarts.edu/archives/hamilton.html

  2. Matt Griendling says:

    I would like to see Dorrance Hamilton Hall and the Furness Building open as a Museum of Philadelphia. I’ve been to other cities with less history that have exhibition space telling the story of the location. Too many collections have left the city because there was no place to house them.

    1. James says:

      We could ask Drexel if they were willing to host their Philadelphia collection in Dorrance Hamilton Hall and Furnace building.

      However, Drexel would have to purchase the buildings.

  3. James says:

    Unless the merger with Temple University is successful, developers are more likely to purchase abandoned dormitories to convert in apartments/condominiums. If Temple merges with UArts, they will forgo building theatres in their campus. Finally, Dorrance Hall will become a site for administrators and they will be in constant communication with Temple.

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