Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hale's Legacy

Willis Hale's legacy in Philadelphia is often as macabre as his architecture. With the eerie Divine Lorraine, once home to the International Peace Movement Mission and Father Divine's followers, vacantly awaiting a new owner after being stripped of it's soul and left behind by an absent European investor, and the Keystone Bank Building's upper floors of the former Drucker's Bellevue Health Baths on Chestnut and Juniper quickly decaying above the retro-fitted Value Plus facade.

Unfortunately most of Hale's neo-Gothic Victorian examples were razed in the mid-century quest to return Philadelphia to its Colonial roots. These two in particular, arguably his most well known works, share a distinctly Halian identity.

Developer Alon Barzilay and architects JKR Partners have been in a debate with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia on a rendering of what will be the latest of six interpretations of it's lower facade in the building's 123 year history. While Barzilay intends to fully restore the existing, historic masonry, the PAGP is concerned with JKR's interpretation of the 1960's addition. I just hope the roof survives the PAGP's stubbornness.

The numerous facades of the Keystone Bank Building - also known as the Lucas Building and the Hale Building - throughout its 123 year history. Seen here in 1893, 1900, 1930, 1955, 1970, Today, and JKR's rendering.

Everything and nothing is historic about the facade. It would only be fitting for its latest incarnation to be specifically dated to modern, 21st century architecture. Unless Barzilay plans to alter the remaining original details, any historical organization has no business dictating design. The PAGP can and should be offering suggestions, but it is not their place to halt progress based on the replacement of an insignificant facade. Their area of expertise is in existing, historical structures, not design, and they seem to have successfully hijacked an absolute authority over this building that they have no business exercising.

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