clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

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
Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process.

Joe Frazier's Gym

Copy Link

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.

John Coltrane House

Copy Link

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.

Royal Theater

Copy Link

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.”

Mount Moriah Cemetery

Copy Link

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.

Dox Thrash House

Copy Link

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.

Church of the Assumption

Copy Link

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.

SS United States

Copy Link

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.

Lynnewood Hall

Copy Link

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.

Germantown Town Hall

Copy Link

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?

Divine Lorraine Hotel

Copy Link

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.

Logan Square

Copy Link

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."

The Roundhouse

Copy Link

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.

District Health Center No. 1

Copy Link

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.

Ortlieb Brewery

Copy Link

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.

Gretz Brewery

Copy Link

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.

Poth Brewery

Copy Link

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.

Boyd Theatre

Copy Link

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...

Joe Frazier's Gym

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.

John Coltrane House

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.

Royal Theater

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.”

Mount Moriah Cemetery

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.

Dox Thrash House

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.

Church of the Assumption

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.

SS United States

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.

Lynnewood Hall

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.

Germantown Town Hall

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?

Divine Lorraine Hotel

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.

Logan Square

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."

The Roundhouse

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.

District Health Center No. 1

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.

Ortlieb Brewery

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.

Gretz Brewery

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.

Poth Brewery

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.

Boyd Theatre

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.