UPDATE: A little more than two weeks after about 60 preservationists held a protest rally to call for the protection of the PLICO buildings on North Broad Street, the only standing portion of the historically significant structures is the first floor facade of the original building at 111 Broad St.
Wrecking crews began their grim work on the historic PLICO buildings on Jan. 31, starting at the back. A large crane lifted and dropped a metal ball on the structures, and lifted and dropped again. The impacts shattered brick walls and caused the steel superstructure to groan, eventually sending battered steel beams crashing to the ground.
The dramatic outline of the a small part of the front of one building now marks the Broad Street side of the project. Only a portion of the early 20th century neoclassical facade stands, with the rest of the front of the building lying in a heap. The 1962 Giurgola addition has been completely razed.
Last week, Jersey barriers that jutted out into Broad Street were placed in front of the damaged facades of the Philadelphia Life Insurance Company building, a column-fronted five-story structure at 111 North Broad, and its annex, designed by noted local architect Romaldo Giurgola. The remaining facade should be completely demolished this week, making room for a planned pocket park.
Check the webcam link above for live demolition updates.
Stay tuned for continued breaking news updates through the week.
By Matt Blanchard
Philadelphia preservationists staged a sizeable protest on Friday in a last-ditch effort to halt the demolition of the so-called PLICO buildings, two historic structures on North Broad Street.
About 60 architects, city planners, professionals and passersby mobbed the median strip near Arch Street during the lunchtime rush, some with protest signs, and others with floral bouquets to place in the chain link fence around what is about to become a demolition zone.
“We’re killing our history, and that is something I just can’t understand,” said Karren DeSeve, an attorney from Chestnut Hill. “The rest of the country must look at Philadelphia and wonder what we’re doing.”
“Save these buildings!” the crowd chanted while raising fists for news photographers. “Not too late!”
PLICO stands for Philadelphia Life Insurance Company, which built the column-fronted five-story building at 111 North Broad, and later commissioned noted local architect Romaldo Giurgola to build a modernist annex in 1962. The side-by-side ensemble appears in architecture textbooks as an early masterpiece of integrating the old with the new.
Now they’re days – or perhaps moments – from final destruction due to the $700 million expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“It’s a shame because once this stuff is gone, it doesn’t grow back,” said bartender Rick VanTassell. “Especially considering what’s replacing it,” he continued, referring to the Convention Center’s proposed Broad Street façade, which he derided as “a glass abomination.”
Doomed on a Technicality
Both PLICO structures were to be saved as part of a 2004 agreement between preservationists and the Convention Center Authority. But this summer, the state Department of General Services changed course, citing engineering reports the pair were unsound.
Preservationists fought back, securing an emergency injunction and winning a Jan 24 trial date. But on Tuesday, Commonwealth Court Judge Keith B. Quigley gave the green light for demolition to proceed, saying the preservationists had no legal standing.
John Gallery of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia led the failed legal fight.
And so Gallery organized Friday’s protest as a signal his side has not given up, and would be pressing for a greater focus on preservation in a city that’s seen a number of egregious demolitions in the last year, and is facing many more in years to come. Speaking into a portable PA system slung over his shoulder, Gallery asked the crowd to make their feelings known:
“When you get back to your office, email the mayor! Email the governor!” he told the crowd, adding later: “As long as these buildings are still standing, miracles are possible.”
Nutter Will Not Intervene
It may indeed take a miracle. It is Rendell’s DGS that is pressing the demolitions. And as for the mayor, Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said today that there are no plans to act on behalf of the PLICO buildings.
“It’s always been his position to address those issues that are within his span of control,” Oliver said of the mayor. “In this particular instance, the courts have stepped in and ruled that DGS can proceed with the plan. He’s not going to intervene … You have to pick and choose where you spend your energy.”