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Iconic Painted Bride building fails to secure historic designation

In a narrow 5-4 vote, the building was not listed among the city’s historic places.

An innovative art center for edgy and experimental music, art, dance, poetry and other performing arts, the Painted Bridge was founded as a cooperative gallery on South Street in 1969 and later evolved into a performance space, moving to its permanent location in Historic Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood in 1982.
An innovative art center for edgy and experimental music, art, dance, poetry and other performing arts, the Painted Bride was founded as a cooperative gallery on South Street in 1969 and later evolved into a performance space, moving to its permanent location in Historic Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood in 1982.
Photo by M. Kennedy for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

The Painted Bride building, a beloved, mosaic-covered Old City structure, will not be getting a historic designation.

The building’s fate was decided in a narrow 5-4 vote at the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s monthly meeting Friday, during which the majority of members opted not to add the building at 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The lack of designation means it will not be protected from demolition.

It’s just the latest in a series of unsettling turns for the structure, which has long been home to the Painted Bride Art Center, who have hosted performances and art shows there since the early 1980s. Even apart from its art center connection, the building has become a sort of icon in Old City, largely because of its artistic and zany exterior; it’s covered in colorful mosaics, designed by Isaiah Zagar, the Philly artist most known for South Street’s Magic Gardens.

Last year, The Painted Bride’s executive director, Laurel Raczka announced the building was going up for sale, with plans to keep the Painted Bride art center itself going, just in different parts of the city.

“With the proceeds of the building sale, we will secure a source of funds that will ensure the Bride can fulfill its central mission, which is to support artists who are committed to blazing paths of innovation that are transformative at the community level,” Raczka wrote on the art center’s website.

But the decision was met with resistance from the local art community, many of whom believed that The Painted Bride building should stay in the hands of the art center. A group of 50 artists wrote a letter to the center, asking to have a discussion on the building earlier this year, according to WHYY.

The fate of the building beyond its designation isn’t clear, but for now, the art center plans to finish out their shows at the building through October.

  • Painted Bride is selling its mosaic-covered building in Old City [Curbed Philly]
  • Letter from Laurel Raczka [Painted Bride]
  • Painted Bride says farewell to iconic building in Old City [WHYY]

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