Historical Commission’s Architecture Committee recommends denial of Lit Brothers sign

In a unanimous decision Tuesday morning, the Architectural Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission recommended denying an application by Brickstone Realty to install a rooftop sign on top of the historic Lit Brothers building on the 700 block of Market Street.

The decision follows an approval in concept granted by the Historical Commission last month. That approval was conditional upon the applicants installing a small but to-scale mockup of the sign — they’ve done so, and it remains in place near the corner of 8th street — to provide a truer idea of the mesh’s density and transparency.

At today’s meeting, Committee members posed questions following up on that in situ placement, requesting clarification on the number, shape, and increments of the mesh’s structural supports and the size of the proposed static lettering.

The applicants said the letters would more closely resemble those in the 1936 sign, and that the structural support would ultimately be more T-shaped than the current H-shape, and would be placed further apart than they are now on the sample.

The Commission also requested the applicants to provide the Architectural Committee with more details on the animated portion of the proposed advertising. The applicants did that today with what they called a video — it was really more of a slide show — demonstrating the building’s LED signage as it would typically appear.

Set to lilting classical music — something along the lines of Pachelbel’s Canon — the slides depicted a host of Philadelphia institutions, and eliminated the  garish soda ads and, for the most part, the flashing razzmatazz movement of previous demonstrations.

Nevertheless, observed Dominique Hawkins, the Committee’s chair, the sign would create “another story on the building — and this video reinforces that.” She likened the mesh to a television and its pixels, static when not in use, but basically a “wall of light” when animated.

When Hawkins asked other committee members for their comments, she turned first to newcomer Amy Stein, who admitted that she was “sort of excited” by the idea of the sign, but that she wondered how often the static sign proposed, a spin on the classic adage “Lit Brothers: A Great Store for A Great City,” would appear.

Brickstone president John Connors responded that the intent was to ensure that the static sign appeared every quarter hour in the hopes that it would grow to be an iconic way to measure the time.

Other committee members weighed in with comments along the same tenor — that the animated sign differed significantly from the original sign and was not in keeping with the building’s historicity. Several audience members — John Gallery of the Preservation Alliance, a lawyer appealing on behalf of the nearby St. James apartment building, a spokesperson for the Center City Residents Association, and Mary Tracy of Scenic Philadelphia — echoed these sentiments.

Committee members Hawkins, Rudy D’Allesandro and Nan Gutterman then fashioned a motion summing up these objections and the recommendation of denial passed unanimously. Some committee members also suggested that — should the Historical Commission’s already-granted conceptual approval go forward at its November meeting — applicants be asked to produce more detailed drawings than they have so far.

Contact the reporter at jgreco@planphilly.com and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.