Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Family Court: Farewell Logan Square, Hello Love Park

On the same day at that Philadelphia officials gleefully began blowing up several blocks just north of City Hall for the Convention Center expansion, Mayor Street announced that he wants Family Court to move from its neo-classically styled palace on Logan Square to a spot close to City Hall: the corner of 15th and Arch Streets, now the site of a parking lot that faces Love Park. You can see, way in the bottom right corner of this old photo, what stood on the spot long, long ago.

All in all, it could be a very good move. Now that the Barnes Foundation is supposed to displace the Youth Study Center, there is no reason for Family Court to be off by itself on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Arch Street site is closer to city offices, closer to the city's other court buildings and it's way more convenient to transit. Considering the site's prominence and proximity to City Hall, the city should commit itself to doing a first-rate design.The only way to get a decent piece of civic architecture - on the caliber of some recent federal courthouses - is to hold a serious design competition, rather than running out and hiring the usual suspects. (Exhibit A: the unremarkable Criminal Justice Center on Filbert Street).

Meanwhile, there is the question of what to do with John T. Windrim's family court building. This was the last neo-classical piece of Philadelphia's Champs-Elysee-inspired parkway to be built. Although Windrim began the design in the 1920s, the family court building wasn't built until 1939. It formed a companion to the Free Library and completed Paul Cret's homage to Paris' Place de la Concorde, but it was a pretty stuffy piece of architecture. (See my November post here.) It does boast some very fine stained
glass by Phila-delphia's D'Ascenzo Studios and a series of paintings on the themes of family and childhood done for the Depression-era Public Works Administration. It might be nice to move them into the new building.

Along with finding the right architect to design the new family courts, the city needs to give serious thought to the best use for the imposing old palace. Before the building goes on the block, the Free Library should be given a chance to see if it would make a suitable addition. But given today's real estate market, it's more likely that the columned courthouse will end up in private hands, as a condo or hotel development, following the trend established by the Philadelphia School District when it sold off its Paul Cret-designed headquarters on the other side of the parkway. It's being converted to luxury condos at this very moment.


Blogger Arthur Petrella said...

the free library mimics the facade of the Hotel Crillion in Paris, but this was originally a royal palace and is now a hotel, so if the family court, which mimic the Hotel Crillion's twin, becomes a hotel that would be another connection to the paris buildingd

the lobby of the hotel crillion is all Siena marble and crytal chandeliers, the lobby of the belleview is so similar there might be a conscience effort to mimic it.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous scott b said...

The Family Court Bldg, The Free Library, Logan Circle, The Parkway, The Art Museum... You know, like it or not, architects and planners had vision then. A vision that inspired them to build a beautiful city. And they began to succeed. We all show off these parts of Philly to visitors. What have we built in the last 70 years? A haphazard collection of dated, uninspired buildings. Your piece on the Convention Center makes my point. I cringe at what the new Barnes might be.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Fernando08 said...

Family court's classical architecture is the stuff of cities that people expect to see when visiting from the land of tract homes and big box shopping.
A cultural use of some sort but what where does the money come from? HINT: Sun Oil Co. and the Pew Foundation, to name one such place, is bleeding money from the highest gasoline prices in the history of America. Time for a spectacular give back? There is always a need for an bold library expansion plan, a massive literacy factory for all of the Philadelphia School District's less than proficient readers and the adults who dropped out. Not so much a GED place but a real initiative for reading and writing development augmenting public education efforts. Perhaps also, an international library with a seriously deep collection of foreign language newspapers, magazines and contemporary non-fiction as well as fiction and established literary works. And classes that go with them to create a more cosmopolitan Philadelphia, one ready for the global gamesmanship of the 21st century. Imagine a place where immigration is supported and a global multi-culture citizenry speaks more than one language as a matter of their every day social identity. Someday, someone from Philly will be known for a cosmopolitan, multi dimensional character that roams the world's cultures as easily as they roam the Franklin Mills Mall. No longer a smokestack factory worker, but skilled in conducting a multitude of transactions simply because he or she can speak more than English. If Indians can do it why can't we?

5:41 AM  
Blogger phillyrbh said...

I must disagree with you on this one.

The Arch Street lot would make a perfect small park framing the wonderful Friends Meetinghouse on Cherry St. The park would also serve as an invitation to the last neighborhood of small rowhouses close to City Hall, on Mole Street.

With a park there the Meetinghouse would be visible from Love Park and City Hall.

Given your plan Friends can expect the rear end of a high rise, this cutting off all sun and vistas. Great.

8:03 AM  
Blogger ssinger said...


Do you know anything else about Synterra's school district building condo conversion? How big will it be? When's it supposed to be done? Have the developers shown how much of the architecture they plan to preserve? etc. I haven't heard any news on this in a while.


10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like phillyrbh's ideas for a small mini park and bringing the Friends Meeting House into view for visitors and Citizens of Philadelphia alike. The Friends mean very much to this area; the history of the city and the nation -- especially as a continuous presence for peace.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Rendell hit it on the head of the nail. Put the Family Court near 46th amd market near the proposed new Juvenile Detention Center. 15th and Arch can be a lovely park or a new tourist hotel to support the Convention Center expansion.

2:02 PM  
Blogger HughE2030 said...

Can we put the Barnes Foundation in the Family Court Building, but still tear down the Juvenile Justice Hall.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous janet said...

Have you any pertinent information regarding the Central Library's steadfast objection to purchasing Windram's Family Court building? I realize the prestige that accompanies a modern Sadfie addition to the north side of Parkway Central but couldn't a walkway atop 19th St. commection the sister buildings also draw considerable applause if well designed? Such a connector would be able to be seen from Vine Pkwy. as well as Center City, drawing attention to both structures. An added bonus would be its functionality.

The probability of the Sadfie addition retiring to the back burner interminably has considerably increased due to the surprising city budget crisis. Instead of never accomodating the space requirements of an ever-growing library system, wouldn't practicality and logic, not to mention the $$$ saved, demand another look at the plusses associated with acquisition of Family Court?

I hope you can shed light on the issue.

11:52 AM  

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