Historical Commission Approves Hotel, Reading Terminal projects

It wasn’t easy, but the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, an adaptive reuse project of the Lafayette Building on Independence Mall, received approvals for much of what it was seeking at Friday’s meeting of the Historical Commission.

After an hourlong discussion, the project, by Gensler Architects, got the green light for the installation of two — temporary, not permanent, as requested — banners bearing the hotel’s name, and a series of awnings marking the facility’s corner restaurant.

A third component of the hotel’s signage — a sign placed high on the building’s pediment — was refused.

Commissioners deemed it extraneous and not imperative to the branding of the building since it wouldn’t begin to become legible until a distance of some 200 yards.

All other requests — including interventions, repairs, and restorations to the building’s exterior — were approved by the Commission.

An earlier meeting had okayed the project’s proposed rooftop lounge area. The Commission’s Architecture Committee recommended denying all of the signage plans, but Commissioners wavered in their support of various components. For example, Dominique Hawkins, the Committee chair, reiterated her belief that awnings would impact on the building’s “grandeur” and “symmetry,” even as Commission Executive Director, Jonathan Farnham, noted that his staff had found that buildings of the period were “historically riots of awnings.”

Presenting architect Matt Wolfe pointed out the presence of awnings on other similar buildings — such as The Phoenix, and the building that now houses a Banana Republic at Broad and Walnut — and Commissioner John Mattioni said that “signage is a sign of vitality,” adding that it would be a “key ingredient in [the success of] a building that’s been falling apart.”

After three varied motions that called for keeping some elements and denying others were resolved unsatisfactorily (twice in a tie, once in a 5-7 vote), Chair Sam Sherman, impatient with what he called a “circular conversation,” suggested wiping the slate clean and starting over.

Commissioners then voted on each component separately and the matter was at last settled.

The Commission also granted final approval to another ongoing public project, that of renovations to Reading Terminal Market, after the submission of revised plans to the Architectural Committee.

The Commission also followed the Committee’s recommendations in denying a request for the installation of two banners at the northeast corner of the Public Ledger Building on Independence Mall, even though they were intended to replace two existing banners. Those banners had never been approved, according to the staff, which further recommended that the pulley system used to operate them be removed.

The Commission granted conceptual approval to the erection of a temporary tent on the grounds of Ohio House in Fairmount Park, requested by the owners of a cafe currently operating there. Commissioner Mattioni raised questions about how “temporary” the structure might be and seemed reluctant to allow the project to go forth at all.

Originally slated for the consent agenda, the plan was tabled for discussion after several Commissioners raised questions about parking that would be displaced.

During the discussion near the close of the meeting, other Commissioners expressed dismay at the thinness of the submitted drawings, requesting that the applicants return with more details on materials, construction, and impact.

The meeting began with the speedy approval of six other consent agenda items, most of them residential.

It also included final approval for the construction of an addition to a residence in the Rittenhouse Fitler Historic District, and the denial of the installation of a deck, vinyl windows, and a sliding door to another residence in the same district.

The meeting ended with the granting of final approval for the installation of HVAC equipment in the Hopkinson House apartment building on Washington Square.

Contact the reporter at jgreco@planphilly.com

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