Editor’s Note: The Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance are having a big party tonight to celebrate their well-deserved victory — one of too few wins in Philly that preserve some of our architecturally renowned buildings. If you’re interested in preservation in Philly (or just want to party), check out their In With The Old event tonight.
Favorite Spot: Fairmount Park Welcome Center
Address: 1599 John F. Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Neighborhood: Center City
I Am: a full-time architectural conservator, part-time bowler
Years in Philly: 7
Current Home: South of South
My Love Note
To my beloved Saucer,
I first found you in 2009 when I, along with a team of young and eager graduate students, were charged with figuring out how to draw and photograph your completely round shape. It might seem like a simple enough task, but I can assure you that it can be quite difficult to document a building without any flat walls and this much personality. You were a challenge, but you were well worth it. Though certainly quirky with a design that inspires either great admiration or derisive critique, there is no doubt that you are part of a really important moment in Philadelphia’s design and urban history.
Standing as a bookend to the Paul Philippe Cret-designed Benjamin Parkway, the building was designed by a firm of Cret proteges, Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson (H2L2) between 1959 and 1961. Built in a time of immense urban development, the glass structure was constructed for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau as a Hospitality Center contemporaneously with its neighboring Penn Center. The old Broad Street Station and its corresponding elevated tracks, infamously known as the “Chinese Wall,” had just been torn down, and this opened the surrounding area for unprecedented development.
You are literally out of this world, using innovative form and modern materials to project a spirit of forward-looking optimism. Inspired by space-age design and Jetson-esque visions of the future, it reflects the excitement of the era and the desire for a rebirth in Center City. Described as “an architectural jewel” in the opening lines of a promotional pamphlet published by PCVB at its grand opening, the hope was that the Hospitality Center would become “a radiant symbol of the Philadelphia renaissance now in progress.”
As Philly undergoes its own current “renaissance,” I am looking to you as inspiration of hope and optimism for Philly’s future while reminding us where the city came from. Though originally on the chopping block for the current re-design of its surrounding LOVE Park, the Welcome Center benefited from the awareness and support of many people who contributed to the #savethesaucer campaign, begun by the Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance. With news that the building will be saved and incorporated into the new design, I, along with my other “young friends,” are so happy to be able to celebrate you this today. From your perfect curves to your plated glass, from your teal mosaic tiles to your central concrete core, you are not only a beauty, but a spark of imagination.
One of many Saucer-heads
(All photos by @yfpaphilly)