clock menu more-arrow no yes

Curbed Philly's Preservation Heatmap: Top 10 Spots to Save!

View as Map

Because Philadelphia is such an old town, there are endless contenders for historic preservation. Each year the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia releases its annual list of Endangered Properties; this year's list is coming out in December. In advance of that list, which will feature all new (old) selections, we present our own picks for the city's top 10 historic sites or properties that we should do everything in our power—short of homicide, probably—to save.

Some of these picks may already have historic designation or owners, but that doesn't mean we can forget about them. Resources are scarce for some sites; others are owned by developers who may or may not respect the historical imperative. When the Alliance releases its list, we'll update this one with those choices. Until then, we await your contributions!

Read More

1. Joe Frazier's Gym

Copy Link
2917 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19132

The former home and gym of boxing legend Joe Frazier, where he trained for his famous fight with Muhammad Ali, was recently declared an endangered national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The gym was also important as a community stalwart for Philly kids in need of mentoring, which Frazier provided not only through boxing, but with generosity of spirit. When the National Trust's new list of treasures was announced earlier this year, the gym was one of the few in the country that had significance to an African-American community.

2. John Coltrane House

Copy Link
1511 N. 33rd
Philadelphia, PA 19121
(215) 686-4596
Visit Website

If you're looking for historical significance, the name of this house pretty much speaks for itself. The pathbreaking jazz saxophonist moved to Philly from the South in the 1940s to work in the city's thriving jazz scene, which included some of the most inventive and well-known musicians on the East Coast. Trane fans continue to make pilgrimages to the house where the legend lived in the 1950s, but instead of finding a museum—the current owner's dream—they encounter a precarious, crumbling house.

3. Royal Theater

Copy Link
1524 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Built by architect Frank E. Hahn between 1919 and 1920, the neo-Georgian Royal Theater was one of the first cultural venues that directed its entertainment—and hiring efforts—to the African-American community. Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Bessie Smith are just some of the greats seen in a mural on the theater's facade. At the moment, the ownership of the Royal is unclear. While the Preservation Alliance has an easement on the facade, the building is rumored to have been sold. Let's just hope a new owner honors what the Philadelphia Historical Commission describes as a “major landmark in American entertainment.”

4. Mount Moriah Cemetery

Copy Link
6201 Kingsessing Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19142

This exquisite historic cemetery where thousands of Philadelphians—including 5,000 veterans—are buried. Sadly, the burial ground is overgrown and neglected, resembling a set from Dark Shadows. Mt Moriah does have a proactive friends group that has done amazing work in maintaining the property and trying to keeps its beautiful monuments and headstones from being choked by weeds. But with the ownership of the cemetery far from resolved, there's only so much they can do—and resources are scarce.

5. Dox Thrash House

Copy Link
2340 Cecil B Moore Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19121

Dox Thrash, who died at his home was a pathbreaking printmaker and the subject of a Philadelphia Museum of Art retrospective. called and one of the central figures of Philly's Pyramid Club and Print Center. The home, which needs serious TLC, has been nominated to the Historic Register due to Thrash's importance in the history of American art. Unfortunately, the family that owns the house doesn't have the funds to do anything to improve it, making its designation even more important.

6. Church of the Assumption

Copy Link
1131 Spring Garden St
Philadelphia, PA 19123

The good news for the glorious Church of the Assumption is that it was saved from what seemed, every day for the last four years, to be impending demolition by its former owners. Now it's owned by developer John Wei, who has said he hopes to do something with it that will satisfy the neighborhood's interested parties, aka, the people who want to save it. On the other hand, Wei has also said he's a businessman who has to keep his eye on the bottom line. So we'll see.

7. SS United States

Copy Link
S Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

This hulking ship sits in the Delaware, its iconic profile seen every time we go to IKEA. The ship, in military service from 1952 to 1969, was disguised, and happily used by civilians, as a luxury liner with lush interiors. At the time it was built, the SS United States was the largest American ship of its kind ever constructed, and it remains a unique remnant of American history. The SS United States Conservancy is dedicated to its preservation and redevelopment as a waterfront hub.

8. Lynnewood Hall

Copy Link
920 Spring Ave
Elkins Park, PA 19027

This vast, partially hidden estate in Elkins Park was built and designed by famed architect Horace Trumbauer for the Widener family. They wanted an American Versailles and that's pretty much what they got, though the interior of the once grand estate has supposedly been "cannibalized," as the Washington Post once put it. The current owner, Rev. Dr. Richard S. Yoon, won't allow the public onto the property, so we don't really know what's going on. But check the Facebook group for updates.

9. Germantown Town Hall

Copy Link
5928 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19144

Look at this remarkable building on Germantown Ave., and you might feel like you're seeing double. That's because the Beaux Arts beauty is modeled after the far more famous Mercantile Exchange building at Third and Dock streets. Built by architect John Penn Brock Sinkler in 1920, the vacant building is now owned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), and is currently for sale. But who's going to buy this dilapidated three-story behemoth?

10. Divine Lorraine Hotel

Copy Link
699 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19123

It's a relief to know that someone who actually cares—North Broad Street developer Eric Blumenfeld—owns the Divine Lorraine; now we don't have to worry about it going up in flames, serving as a death trap to urban explorers or simply toppling over one day like so many local church steeples. We do have to worry, however, that Blumenfeld will get a terrible idea for the renovation of the building that will destroy its mythopoetic essence or—god help us—demolish it so he can build condos on top. Keep an eye on this one, everybody.

11. Logan Square

Copy Link
Logan Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103

According to the Preservation Alliance, "Logan Square is home to the greatest concentration of civic architecture in Philadelphia." This includes the Horace Trumbauer-designed Free Library and the Beaux Arts Family Court Building by John T. Windrim. "The symmetry of these buildings opposite Swann Fountain is one ofthe most picturesque and character-defining elements of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway."

12. The Roundhouse

Copy Link
700 Race St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

The Roundhouse, or Police Administration Building, is "a landmark of the PhiladelphiaSchool and architects Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham," according to the Preservation Alliance. It's called the Roundhouse not only for its exterior. Inside, "even the elevators and exit signs are round." It also, rather bizarrely, looks like a pair of handcuffs from above. The threat? The Nutter administration seems to be promoting demolition rather than reuse.

13. District Health Center No. 1

Copy Link
500 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

This health center designed by acclaimed architects Montgomery & Bishop was built in 1959. According to the Preservation Alliance, it "its curving corners and slab-like cornice epitomize midcentury style." The health center is likely to move to West Philly and the building is not protected from demolition.

14. Ortlieb Brewery

Copy Link
N American St & Poplar St
Philadelphia, PA 19123

This is one of several Philly breweries that the Preservation Alliance is concerned about. In this case, owner-developer Bart Blatstein—who has pitched a casino-entertainment complex idea for the old Inquirer building—announced that he plans to demolish the old brewery building.

15. Gretz Brewery

Copy Link
Germantown Ave & W Oxford St
Philadelphia, PA 19122

This brewery has been abandoned since 1961, but South Kensington Community Partners has lobbied hard to preserve it and have it placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Now the Preservation Alliance names it one of its Endangered Properties, another step toward saving it from demolition.

16. Poth Brewery

Copy Link
W Jefferson St & N 31st St
Philadelphia, PA 19121

As the Preservation Alliance points out by putting this on its Endangered list for 2012, this is the last remnant of the industry that gave Brewerytown its name.

17. Boyd Theatre

Copy Link
1910 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103

This shuttered theater—once a famed grand dame of movie palaces, subsequently the Sameric—has been the subject of preservation debate since it closed in 2002. While it is now listed on the Register of Historic Places, thus protecting it from demolition, its future remains unclear. Its last committed patron passed away, and its current owner, LiveNation, is not known for sentimentality.

Loading comments...

1. Joe Frazier's Gym

2917 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19132

The former home and gym of boxing legend Joe Frazier, where he trained for his famous fight with Muhammad Ali, was recently declared an endangered national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The gym was also important as a community stalwart for Philly kids in need of mentoring, which Frazier provided not only through boxing, but with generosity of spirit. When the National Trust's new list of treasures was announced earlier this year, the gym was one of the few in the country that had significance to an African-American community.

2917 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19132

2. John Coltrane House

1511 N. 33rd, Philadelphia, PA 19121

If you're looking for historical significance, the name of this house pretty much speaks for itself. The pathbreaking jazz saxophonist moved to Philly from the South in the 1940s to work in the city's thriving jazz scene, which included some of the most inventive and well-known musicians on the East Coast. Trane fans continue to make pilgrimages to the house where the legend lived in the 1950s, but instead of finding a museum—the current owner's dream—they encounter a precarious, crumbling house.

1511 N. 33rd
Philadelphia, PA 19121

3. Royal Theater

1524 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

Built by architect Frank E. Hahn between 1919 and 1920, the neo-Georgian Royal Theater was one of the first cultural venues that directed its entertainment—and hiring efforts—to the African-American community. Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Bessie Smith are just some of the greats seen in a mural on the theater's facade. At the moment, the ownership of the Royal is unclear. While the Preservation Alliance has an easement on the facade, the building is rumored to have been sold. Let's just hope a new owner honors what the Philadelphia Historical Commission describes as a “major landmark in American entertainment.”

1524 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

4. Mount Moriah Cemetery

6201 Kingsessing Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19142

This exquisite historic cemetery where thousands of Philadelphians—including 5,000 veterans—are buried. Sadly, the burial ground is overgrown and neglected, resembling a set from Dark Shadows. Mt Moriah does have a proactive friends group that has done amazing work in maintaining the property and trying to keeps its beautiful monuments and headstones from being choked by weeds. But with the ownership of the cemetery far from resolved, there's only so much they can do—and resources are scarce.

6201 Kingsessing Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19142

5. Dox Thrash House

2340 Cecil B Moore Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19121

Dox Thrash, who died at his home was a pathbreaking printmaker and the subject of a Philadelphia Museum of Art retrospective. called and one of the central figures of Philly's Pyramid Club and Print Center. The home, which needs serious TLC, has been nominated to the Historic Register due to Thrash's importance in the history of American art. Unfortunately, the family that owns the house doesn't have the funds to do anything to improve it, making its designation even more important.

2340 Cecil B Moore Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19121

6. Church of the Assumption

1131 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA 19123

The good news for the glorious Church of the Assumption is that it was saved from what seemed, every day for the last four years, to be impending demolition by its former owners. Now it's owned by developer John Wei, who has said he hopes to do something with it that will satisfy the neighborhood's interested parties, aka, the people who want to save it. On the other hand, Wei has also said he's a businessman who has to keep his eye on the bottom line. So we'll see.

1131 Spring Garden St
Philadelphia, PA 19123

7. SS United States

S Delaware Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148

This hulking ship sits in the Delaware, its iconic profile seen every time we go to IKEA. The ship, in military service from 1952 to 1969, was disguised, and happily used by civilians, as a luxury liner with lush interiors. At the time it was built, the SS United States was the largest American ship of its kind ever constructed, and it remains a unique remnant of American history. The SS United States Conservancy is dedicated to its preservation and redevelopment as a waterfront hub.

S Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

8. Lynnewood Hall

920 Spring Ave, Elkins Park, PA 19027

This vast, partially hidden estate in Elkins Park was built and designed by famed architect Horace Trumbauer for the Widener family. They wanted an American Versailles and that's pretty much what they got, though the interior of the once grand estate has supposedly been "cannibalized," as the Washington Post once put it. The current owner, Rev. Dr. Richard S. Yoon, won't allow the public onto the property, so we don't really know what's going on. But check the Facebook group for updates.

920 Spring Ave
Elkins Park, PA 19027

9. Germantown Town Hall

5928 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19144

Look at this remarkable building on Germantown Ave., and you might feel like you're seeing double. That's because the Beaux Arts beauty is modeled after the far more famous Mercantile Exchange building at Third and Dock streets. Built by architect John Penn Brock Sinkler in 1920, the vacant building is now owned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), and is currently for sale. But who's going to buy this dilapidated three-story behemoth?

5928 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19144

10. Divine Lorraine Hotel

699 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19123

It's a relief to know that someone who actually cares—North Broad Street developer Eric Blumenfeld—owns the Divine Lorraine; now we don't have to worry about it going up in flames, serving as a death trap to urban explorers or simply toppling over one day like so many local church steeples. We do have to worry, however, that Blumenfeld will get a terrible idea for the renovation of the building that will destroy its mythopoetic essence or—god help us—demolish it so he can build condos on top. Keep an eye on this one, everybody.

699 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19123

11. Logan Square

Logan Square, Philadelphia, PA 19103

According to the Preservation Alliance, "Logan Square is home to the greatest concentration of civic architecture in Philadelphia." This includes the Horace Trumbauer-designed Free Library and the Beaux Arts Family Court Building by John T. Windrim. "The symmetry of these buildings opposite Swann Fountain is one ofthe most picturesque and character-defining elements of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway."

Logan Square
Philadelphia, PA 19103

12. The Roundhouse

700 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

The Roundhouse, or Police Administration Building, is "a landmark of the PhiladelphiaSchool and architects Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham," according to the Preservation Alliance. It's called the Roundhouse not only for its exterior. Inside, "even the elevators and exit signs are round." It also, rather bizarrely, looks like a pair of handcuffs from above. The threat? The Nutter administration seems to be promoting demolition rather than reuse.

700 Race St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

13. District Health Center No. 1

500 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

This health center designed by acclaimed architects Montgomery & Bishop was built in 1959. According to the Preservation Alliance, it "its curving corners and slab-like cornice epitomize midcentury style." The health center is likely to move to West Philly and the building is not protected from demolition.

500 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19146

14. Ortlieb Brewery

N American St & Poplar St, Philadelphia, PA 19123

This is one of several Philly breweries that the Preservation Alliance is concerned about. In this case, owner-developer Bart Blatstein—who has pitched a casino-entertainment complex idea for the old Inquirer building—announced that he plans to demolish the old brewery building.

N American St & Poplar St
Philadelphia, PA 19123

15. Gretz Brewery

Germantown Ave & W Oxford St, Philadelphia, PA 19122

This brewery has been abandoned since 1961, but South Kensington Community Partners has lobbied hard to preserve it and have it placed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Now the Preservation Alliance names it one of its Endangered Properties, another step toward saving it from demolition.

Germantown Ave & W Oxford St
Philadelphia, PA 19122

16. Poth Brewery

W Jefferson St & N 31st St, Philadelphia, PA 19121

As the Preservation Alliance points out by putting this on its Endangered list for 2012, this is the last remnant of the industry that gave Brewerytown its name.

W Jefferson St & N 31st St
Philadelphia, PA 19121

17. Boyd Theatre

1910 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19103

This shuttered theater—once a famed grand dame of movie palaces, subsequently the Sameric—has been the subject of preservation debate since it closed in 2002. While it is now listed on the Register of Historic Places, thus protecting it from demolition, its future remains unclear. Its last committed patron passed away, and its current owner, LiveNation, is not known for sentimentality.

1910 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103