Wednesday, March 07, 2007

One Way to Save Broad Street's Odd Fellows

There has been little protest (except in a couple of my columns) over the plan by the Pennsylvania Convention Center to demolish the 1892 Odd Fellows Hall at Broad and Cherry Streets so the center can expand its meeting hall two more blocks. It's a shame because this building punctuates a perfectly intact row of commercial buildings that beautifully frames the north side of City Hall, and serves as a counterpoint to the great, early 20th Century skyscrapers on the south side. A small consolation is that a seller on e-Bay is offering gorgeous magazine print by the architects, Hazlehurst and Huckel.
The building, which has an elegantly curved marble lobby staircase and a large meeting room, has been badly treated over the years. You won't find the sculpted figures looking imperiously down from the roof line, any more; indeed that whole roof balustrade is long gone. But it's a trim, well-proportioned early skyscraper in the classical palazzo style that is a reminder of the days when Broad Street was lined with meeting halls of the city's many fellowship societies. The long, bland glass facade that Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates had designed for the convention center's Broad Street facade is a pretty meager replacement for this stout-hearted office building.
The con-vention center is planning to save the front 30 feet of two other buildings on the block, the New York Insurance Co.'s townhouse-size Beaux-Arts structure, and Romaldo Giurgola's equisitely crafted modern addition. It's a sliver of a building, but the design was a landmark that showed modernists could make great, street-friendly urban buildings. Go look at Giurgola's gem before they amputate the back portion and you'll see a composition as disciplined and timeless as any great classical building.
I guess I'm glad the convention center will leave something of these two little buildings, but when the big glass monster (covering 18 acres) sidles up to these itty-bitty row buildings, it's going to look ridiculous. Odd Fellows, at least, has the heft and height to stand up to the convention center, so it's a shame the designers couldn't have incorporated its facade, too.
I suspect the print on e-Bay is pretty rare because it doesn't appear in Robert Morris Skaler's book on Broad Street. But the print will soon be the only thing left of Odd Fellows Hall.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real question is, why can't today's architects design buildings that effortlessly fit the streetscape, as was generally the case in the early 20th century.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new convention center looks wonderful. It will be boon to desolated and deserted North Broad Street, neglected for 100 years, and will mesh extremely well with the current streetscape, like so many European cities that use modern architecture to offset and highlight historical surroundings.

I can't wait to see it finished. I'm looking forward to the international acclaim that its design will not doubt earn.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you mean Hazelhurst and Huckel.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At City Council hearings a few weeks ago a committee of Council was debating zoning legislation for the casinos. A key witness in favor of the casinos was someone named Ahmeenah Young from the PA Convention Center Authority. Apparently some of the (ahem) "new" tax revenue from the casinos are going to be used for the expansion of the Convention Center. So the Authority gushed about how great the casinos will be.

How many more institutions wired with the Governor are willing to whor$ themselves out to the Friends of Ed who own the casinos?

At the hearing other gushers were the "PA Convention and Visitors Bureau" and the "The Greater Phila. Tourism Marketing Corporation" (run by F.O.E. Meryl Levitz).

The river neighborhoods are sickened by these cowards.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Tourist and convention people will be aghast when the neighborhoods adjacent to the Casinos begin to convey to future and present visitors that they are NOT welcome in our neighborhoods, and are asked not to come back.

Shoving these projects down a neighborhood's throat does not make for a hospitable environment,
just the opposite. So when the hostilities begin, don't blame the neighborhoods, blame yourselves!

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "...when the neighborhoods adjacent to the Casinos begin to convey to future and present visitors that they are NOT welcome in our neighborhoods..."

That is getting off topic here. It is worth noting, however, that it is unlikely any casino visitors will be seen even 1 foot to the west of I-95 off-ramps - they will move directly from buses or cars into the slot parlors and will in no way contact the residents, however angry, of the "neighborhood" which is already cut off from the riverfront by the fact of Delaware Avenue.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is also the beautiful firehouse down the street to be torn down The irony is that people will chose to hold a convention in Phila. because of its historic places and still the city fails to see the value of those places.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The design for the new portion looks like a radio. Sometimes I guess architects can be talented in math and engineering, and still flunk art.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, what can we do? Anything? I know a lot of local preservationists that would jump on the bandwagon to save our streetscapes.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is Howard when you need him.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Howard is overtime volunteer leading to save the Boyd AGAIN since the owner isn't proceeding with plans.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga - have to disagree on this one the addition to the new conv. ctr is actually pretty good. Could always look better. A former blogger stated it best most of these 100 year old office / warehouse builings have not been maintained and look tired or are semi vacant. Unlike Soho in NYC there is no arts scene or gound level retail to spice up that section of N. Broad hopefully the new convention center will bring enough tourists to add restaurants and galleries as far north as Girard Avenue.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goes to show you how bitter the anti-casino types are that no one cares about their "made up" plight.

Pennsport. Home of two massive strip clubs and more big box stores than Cherry Hill.

yeah... where were the hordes of protests against Ikea or Risque.

The Convention Center would logically support anything that makes Philadelphia more attractive to tourists and convention attendees.

A convention visitor doesn't want to visit a bland collection of treeless industrial era dense housing. a couple BYOB don't make a "destination" The only people that visit Pennsport are the residents and people who missed the Washington ramps.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the City has no business to build on, there seems to be the idea that tourism is the answer. Has anyone thought of the negative affect on the Furness PAFA bulding being overwhelmed by the "new" convention center facade? Are we willing to trade aesthics for warm bodies to pay the cost of keeping the history we have. This is the same logic that has movativated the Barnes move.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Ms. Saffron,

Here's a related post I read today...

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to add to come of the comments below. I too wish you had made mention of that wonderful firehouse facade around the corner, also extremely worthy of protection. I also don't wonder if the center plan could be amended to include at least a fromt portion of the Odd Fellows Hall, ideally restored (and the firehouse for that matter). Although I realize that "facadism" is generally viewed as a poor alternative to true preservation in the US, European cities seem to be more comfortable with it -- recognizing that sometimes this compromise is the only way to bring into historic cities the facilities needed by contemporary society. It would be a shame to lose more of the surviving historic "look" of those blocks around PAFA. PS -- while they're at it, they should also finish restoration of the Reading Terminal -- I recall when the Con. Center opened, they added the "dog house" along the train shed roof, at the expense of reproducing the Victorian finials and other roofline decorative features.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Captain America said...

No mention of the demolition of old Fire come?

9:45 PM  

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