CLASSIC SKYLINE: Conventional Philadelphian Destruction (August 07)

Classic Skyline is a semi-occasional feature that revisits stories of 21st Century Philadelphia.

Today’s comes from summer 2007, when demolition began on the 19(!) buildings that were in the way of the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s fattening. The gluttonous white elephant schlumps together three city blocks like a cheap white Band-Aid, not the missed opportunity of a green roof to exemplify Mayor Nutter’s quixotic dreams to become the greenest city in America by his last year of office. (LOL.)

It’s hideous to look at; inside and out, it looks like what Iowa City would build if it had nearly a billion taxpayer dollars to work with. And its construction inspired the least inspired building downtown, the Home2 Suites one can see so well from the second level of the Convention Center.

With demolition in 2014 Philadelphia still full speed ahead, I’m surprised my younger optimist was somewhat supportive of it. Nineteen is a lot of buildings to clear for a single project, especially when it turns out to be such a dud.

—B. Maule

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17 August 2007

If like any good attentive Philadelphian urbanist you are of the Cult of Inga, you’re surely aware the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PACC) is, after years of haggling, expanding. And if you’re a long time (pre-Erin O’Hearn) Philly Skyline reader, you’ll remember Steve Ives’ excellent look in January at the square blocks being razed to make way for that expansion.

Well the time is upon us. On Wednesday, the Convention Center authority hung a banner high on Buck’s Hardware store and ceremoniously plowed a wrecking ballthrough the effin thing.

Click to enlarge and see which buildings will be demolished.

The Convention Center’s expansion, like any controversy worth its salt, is a two-sided story. But, very generally speaking, it’s a good thing, extremely so for the overburdened local hotel industry.

As the PBJ reported last week, as many as 26 (twenty-six) new hotels could pop up as a result of the $700M (seven hundred million) expansion. As a result of the expansion, our Convention Center will jump up to 14th largest of its kind in the country, and perhaps more notably, be the largest in the mid-Atlantic region, larger than New York’s Javits Center and larger than the expanded Washington DC Convention Center.

When it’s finished in 2010 (which is less than three years away … wow, it’s gonna be fun to review the first decade of the new millennium and see all the top ten lists and see how it stacks up against the 20s and 60s), the Pennsylvania Convention Center will have over a million square feet of saleable space. Some of the larger convention centers in the country — Las Vegas, Orlando, Honolulu — are in cities that live and die on their tourism, but then cities like Boston and Chicago have their acts a little more together and host larger convention centers than ours.

Whatever the case, when it all shakes out, the expanded PACC will likely be viewed with a positive impact, its hohum architecture aside. The expos alone should be a cash cow for Center City, and a healthy hotel industry makes for a happy downtown.

The down side is relatively minor: the 20 buildings we are losing to make way for it. There isn’t anything of particular historical significance, but there are some nice buildings — the Gilbert Building (former home to Vox Populi), the Metzger Building, Mitchell/Giurgola’s bank on Broad Street — that it’ll be sad to see go.

As with the one above, click this photo to enlarge it and see which buildings are going.

None among them, though, is as . . . cute? contextual? as the Firehouse at 1328 Race Street. The station built in 1925 was one of the central locations for the Philadelphia Fire Department for several decades. The small structure features six gargoyles which a little Skyline birdie told me will be saved and displayed at PACC.

But again, on the whole, it’s hard to think of PACC’s expansion as anything but an upgrade (architecture aside). Save for nights with Vox openings and specials at Edward’s Adult Bookstore, the area was one of Center City’s dead zones. And where the exterior of the expansion is pretty bland, the all important Broad Street side has a nice glass wall that transitions the pedestrian into a large, well lit open space on the way to the money making bowels.

Some further reading about the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s expansion:

• Blowing Up the Convention Center Neighborhood: Inga’s continued coverage of the expansion, with links to previous columns about same
• Expansion Is Here!: PACC’s official web site
• If the Convention Center expands: Phillyblog discussion
• Buildings at Stake: A 2006 Daily News diagram of the buildings slated for demo