Friday, December 21, 2007

Decision: The Bulldozers Stop at Broad Street

Tough luck, Pennsylvania Convention Center: The bulldozers stop at Broad Street.
In an eleventh-hour decision, the Pa. Historical and Museum Commission has just ruled that the behemoth center must abide by a 2004 agreement to preserve the better part of two charming and historic commercial buildings that make up a crucial block just north of City Hall. Based on the strong wording in the letter, which went out Dec. 20, it looks like the PHMC means business: The center will have to stop its devious efforts to get out of its preservation promises.

This is a big win for the Preservation Alliance and the Design Advocacy Group, which adopted the cause of the two buildings after I wrote several columns (1) (2) in their defense. In the letter, which was addressed to another state agency, the Department of General Services, and copied to the Preservation Alliance, the newly empowered state historic commission concluded that there is simply no justification for the convention center to weasel out its contact protecting the little gems. PHMC director Barbara Franco recommends in strong language (for a bureaucrat, that is) that the center should stick to its original design, which weaves three-quarters of the block into the new North Broad Street facade.

It's pretty amazing. Only two months ago, it looked as if the state historic commission was prepared to cave and allow the convention center to raze the pesky pair, which includes a stately early 20th Century insurance company building and its modernist sidekick, a 1962 addition by Romaldo Giurgola, one of the most important architects of the so-called Philadelphia School of the '60s and '70s. The convention center and DGA had claimed that a city building inspection indicated the two structures were too far gone to be saved, but later examination suggested they were exaggerating the structural problems.

There were several important issues at stake here. First, and perhaps foremost, is the relevance of the state historical commission. The deal to save the Broad Street buildings was a compromise worked out after the state commission and others agreed to sacrifice several other historic structures that were standing in the way of the center's expansion. What's the point of drawing a line in the sand if you're going to let it be crossed?

But just as important for me is the logic under girding the choice of what to preserve. The deal recognized that you need to retain whole, intact blocks for preservation to be meaningful, not just isolated, free-standing buildings. Hence the decision to sacrifice the wonderful Race Street firehouse, which is all by its lonesome, and to retain this crucial block that frames Philadelphia great City Hall.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best news I've heard all week!! This is good news today...and will continue to provide Phily with an architectural uplift for years to come. Great, great news.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific news, Inga.

I true victory for current & future generations of Philadelphians.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous sam said...

I am from Philadelphia, but now live in Charleston, SC and I am estatic about Philly saving these wonderful building.Keep up the fight Philly....

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been complaining about the Convention Center coming all the way to Broad Street on the block to everyone who will listen as we drive by. Thank Goodness someone is actually doing something about it. Great!

11:00 PM  
Blogger Degenerate said...

Thank GOD!! It's refreshing to see such a victory in this city!!

11:10 PM  
Anonymous Davis said...

You are to be thanked for waving the flag on this. The loss of these buildings would have been tragic and the way this stuff passes by has been a stain on the city's reputation.

I hope this is really a final judgement.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also a Philadelphian living in another town (DC) and am thrilled that the two structures on Broad St were saved through the great efforts of local preservationists and diligent news columnists.

7:56 PM  

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