Dreaming about Philly’s Endangered Buildings?

Engine House #46, Reed and Water Streets, 1896. (

It’s been more than a decade since the Preservation Alliance started issuing its annual Endangered Properties List. This year the list features eight properties bringing the total to a hefty 84.

Has this ritualistic exercise in advocacy proved a success? Yes, if you consider coverage of the list’s release had become part of Philly’s December news cycle. But there are navigational challenges in getting the word out. Accessing the annual lists requires going through a mix of separate web pages (from 2003 to 2007) then a couple of pdfs (2008 and 2009) before the most recent format: a combination of web pages and pdfs (2010 to 2013). Each list is numbered, but not clearly dated. For instance, the 7th annual list came out in 2009 but was issued in the Alliance’s Winter 2010 newsletter. Only a preservationist with OCD would navigate through it all.

If this advocacy tool is to be effective in raising sights (and help prevent razing sites) it needs to be built on a clear, comprehensive web presence that can be easily located, augmented, enriched, updated and shared to help inform and advance a preservation agenda. Very useful; very doable.

Has the list helped prevent razing sites? For that question, the answer is “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.”

“Yes,” if we look at the new home of FringeArts  in the High Pressure Pump Station at the foot of Race Street (listed in 2006) or the Nugent Home for Baptists in West Mount Airy (listed in 2004). But it’s a definite “no,” if we look for the Church of Christ, once at 63rd and Vine Streets (listed in 2003). What’s there today is a spiffy new Walgreens.

Not too many victories; not too many losses. But in a contest, the worrisome “maybes” would win by a mile.

Robinson Store, 1020 Market Street. Built in 1946. (Library of Congress)

First is the Boyd Theatre, which made its second appearance this year (the Boyd debuted in 2007). The Divine Lorraine was also the subject of a double feature, in 2009 and 2010.

Does it really matter what year the former 26th District Police Headquarters at Trenton Avenue and Dauphin Street was listed in 2006?  Or that John P. B. Sinkler’s  Germantown Town Hall made the list in 2010? Or that the Royal Theater debuted in 2011? Or that both its neighboring District Health Center No. 1 at Broad and Lombard Streets and the Roundhouse at 7th and Race Streets were listed last year? Listing dates don’t matter; what does is documentation, information, and ultimately, preservation.

So, as the list of preservation challenges grows longer, what are the latest additions?

Age before beauty: From 1894, there’s the Flemish-revival Engine House #46 at Water and Reed Streets. “One of the most intriguing” buildings in the Pennsport neighborhood, wrote Inga Saffron. There’s the 1946 Robinson Store at 1020 Market Street designed by Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck in 1946. In its day, and especially at night, the Robinson Store was one of those buildings capable of giving chills. Here’s a specimen of “the surging tide of modernism” that never really reached us” here in Philadelphia, writes the Alliance’s Ben Leech. “It’s a Don Draper dream” writes Liz Spikol.

But Don Draper isn’t real. The Robinson Store, on the other hand, is…and very much endangered. It’s survival… well, that may be a dream.

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