Friday, December 28, 2007

Pa. History Exec:Demolitions Unauthorized


The chorus of outrage over the Saturday-before-Christmas demolition attempt on the Broad Street Two continues to grow. Barbara Franco, the director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, has sent a withering letter to the Department of General Services, condemning its assault on a pair of historic buildings that were supposed to be incorporated into the Convention Center's new Broad Street facade.

The department, which is overseeing the construction of the expanded center, was prevented from completing the legally questionable demolition on Monday after the Preservation Alliance secured an injunction from Commonwealth Court. Now, Franco, who has tended to be fairly cautious in her statements, lets loose in a Dec. 26 letter to DGS' acting head, Elizabeth O'Reilly. The Inquirer's editorial page also urged Gov. Rendell to stand by a 2004 agreement by the state to preserve those structures . All those righteous claims that the deal was non-binding are starting look pretty disingenuous.

Franco's letter should help boost the Alliance's case Jan. 8 when it goes to court to ask for a permanent halt to demolition. In the three-page document, Franco criticizes DGS for "abruptly terminating consultations" with her agency, taking "pre-emptive action to demolish" the former headquarters of the Philadelphia Life Insurance Co., and "failing to do due diligence." Franco concludes that "the preponderance of the engineering evidence clearly shows it is feasible to save the building facades."

Meanwhile, in a small bit of irony, the Convention Center just released an update rendering of its new facade, (above), done in a style that might be called "airport modern." This version has a few more details to keep the new wall from killing us with boredom. And significantly, it still includes the facades of the buildings that the center and itshenchmen tried to tear down last weekend. Love to hear that parsed by the DGS.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Davis said...

Let's hope the façades can at least be saved at this point. Having just looked carefully at the new rendering I must say it is a frightening behemoth woefully out of scale with the streetscape.

God help this city.

10:52 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

The proposed expansion hasn't improved with age. Even worse, it is across the street from one of those ever-present parking garages. It would be hard to imagine a worse design for that part of Broad Street. I think the facades should be preserved, but to be honest, they are too small and too overwhelmed by the Convention Center to make much difference.

Between fuel costs and environmental considerations, large-scale conventions are probably not the wave of the future. What will happen to this monstrosity if the convention business goes downhill—as I, at least, think it will? Staking so much on attracting conventions may come to seem like a very bad decision in the long run.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Degenerate said...

That building is humongous! It is amazingly out of scale, and I fear for North Broad street. What sort of street life will there be with a city block long monster like that? I also find it curious that the design is such that those buildings are rendered insubstantial by comparison. This city will work around this, as it has always done with such monsters, but it shouldn't have to. This is irresponsible at the least.

What is happening to those two buildings is at least a tragedy and at worst a crime! This city has demolished too much of its historic past, and this needs to be addressed.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the aesthetics aside, the economic concerns are enormous regarding this 'airport terminal' sized building eating up formerly human-scaled Philadelphia.

Apparently, the STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA is so sure that future conventions will be so large, and so many of them will come to Philadelphia, that it will all be a sound investment. Perhaps because I've myself have never attended a convention myself, I'm not aware of them. But I've never heard anything about gigantic conventions coming and going from Philadelphia. I'm sure they are and willonly increase, based on the STATE's projections aboutn realized in concrete.

But as others have pointed out, what if Philadelphia does not become the all time leader in enormous conventions? That big box, about the size of four Wal-Marts, will sit empty every day there is not a house-filling convention. Given its behemouth size, an empty center will deaden the entire around it. It really willbe like a football stadium - huge, hulking, empty most of the time, except when actually in use - then a burst of congestion with buses and cars, then back to dead. These are not attributes that increase urban vitality.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The garage will be gone in a few years and much of that area will be built up with larger-scale modern buildings soon as well. It is the next phase in North Broad's Urban Evolution. It is scaled to the future, not the past, and will have enough foot-traffic from conventioneers to keep the street busy. It is ugly, yes, but it is not going to kill the streetscape.

What did you want to see, re-created little cutesy townhomes each with a front door acting as an entrance to the Center?

As far as "what will happen" in this building's second life IF large conventions disappear...remember that it can always be divided up again in to smaller theatres, ballrooms, or other uses...maybe even a new arena to replace the poorly-located Wachoia Center. It doesn't have to stay exactly as it is about to be built forever.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

Nobody, especially Inga, ever argued for "cutsey townhomes". This town deserves better than that banal hulking monster. It's about avoiding looking like a big-box development, and about making a beautiful addition to an architecturally great city. But, then, beauty is seen as a waste of money.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Paul Pincus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul,
right on!
But, please write without run on sentences.

2:52 PM  

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