PCCA reports challenged

Dec. 6

By Matt Blanchard
For PlanPhilly

Despite signing an agreement to preserve two historic buildings on North Broad Street as part of its expansion, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority recently submitted additional information to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission again requesting demolition of both structures.

The five-story neoclassical Philadelphia Life Insurance Company building and its 1960s addition by architect Romaldo Giurgola are at risk after the state interpreted a not-so-bad L&I designation of “unsafe” as permission to take down the buildings.

The Preservation Alliance has submitted a memorandum to PHMC regarding this new information.

“The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has been exceptional in its review of this matter,” Alliance executive director John Gallery said Friday. “PHMC has been a strong advocate for the preservation of these buildings and has continued to resist amending the memorandum of agreement to allow the buildings to be demolished. The Preservation Alliance commends PHMC for its efforts and hopes it will continue to resist pressure to demolish the buildings.”

In the memo, Gallery notes curious contradictions between two engineering reports:

“The support of the preservation community in Philadelphia, including the Preservation Alliance, for the demolition the other historic buildings, as well as the support of the Philadelphia Historical Commission for the demolition of the Fire Station, was based on the total preservation agreement reflected in the MoA (memorandum of agreement). Preservation of the PLICO building and its annex were fundamental to the support of the demolition of the other historic buildings.”

The memo concludes:

“There has been no independent assessment of the overall conditions of the project.

“The closest thing to an independent assessment is the I-Tan Yu Associates report, which finds the PLICO building to be structurally sound, the steel and joists of the structure of the annex to be sound.

“There is no support for a conclusion that either building is structurally unsound to a degree that would preclude compliance with the MoA.

“There has been no consideration of the findings of CSA Associates and Kelly/ Aiello both of who appear to have concluded that the facades and 20 feet could be preserved and rehabilitated.

“The cost estimate of $9 million is unsubstantiated and significantly at odds with the actual costs of a similar installation for the Rittenhouse Club.

“The preservation community supported the preservation of these facades both for their importance and for the preservation of the character of Broad Street in this area.

“Based on these findings, PHMC should not agree to amend the MoA to allow for demolition and should continue to request that the Convention Center Authority and DGS comply with the intent of the MoA with respect to the PLICO building and its annex.”

Click HERE for Design Advocacy Group’s call to action on Sept. 19. DAG’s most recent statement and Inquirer Architecture Critic Inga Saffron’s Sept. 14 column.

Read the entire Preservation Alliance Dec. 6 memo HERE.

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