Friends of the Boyd

Mayor Street’s Radio Address

August 10, 2002, KYW Radio Address
Preserving the Past, Building for the Future

Good morning. This is Mayor John Street. Philadelphia’s historically significant architecture is one of the things that makes this city special and we are the only ones who can compromise this.

The majestic Philadelphia Museum of Art, flanked by the Philadelphia Waterworks and Boathouse Row, forms a grand entrance along the Schuykill River, and, let me assure you, we will complete the restoration of the Waterworks. Then, there is City Hall, a municipal building on the international historic register, unparalleled anywhere in America. Our City Hall, which marked its one-hundredth anniversary last year, is the only example of French Second Empire architecture in this nation and holds William Penn, the tallest statue on any building in the world.

Beyond these historical landmarks, there are buildings in our city that may not be as significant architecturally, but are important historically, because of the time period they represent or the great events they hosted.

The Sameric Theater is one such building. When the theater closed, many preservationists feared Philadelphia would inevitably lose a cultural landmark as well as Center City’s last grand movie place. Some of you may remember when these theaters were a major part of our social scene.

The current owner of the Sameric Theater site has announced plans to transform the site into a multi-purpose arts venue but may be forced to demolish the building if a tenant cannot be found. Although I respect and fully support our development community, I do hope that by working together with the current owner, the Sameric can share the same success as the old Midtown Theater. In 1997, the Midtown Theater underwent a $10 million restoration and now houses the Prince Music Theater.

Preservation is not a new issue for me. As a member of City Council, I drafted and sponsored the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance and served on the city’s Historical Commission for four years. I am also very proud to have been honored as “Preservationist of the Year” in Pennsylvania in 1985 and actually do understand these issues.

As a result of our local commitment to preservation, we have enjoyed real successes working with private developers and state and federal governments. We have brought new life to many landmark buildings throughout the city. We saved the abandoned Lit Brothers building from the wrecking ball. The Reading Terminal Head House is now the grand entrance for the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The Loews Hotel, housed in the old PSFS building is a great example of postmodern architecture. We were instrumental in preserving the character of the 1700 block of Locust Street in Rittenhouse Square and our preservation ordinance established the Diamond Street neighborhood historic district. We preserved shopping at the Wanamaker Building and we have also converted many abandoned office buildings, factories, and warehouses into more than 1,000 market rate units of housing. The newest conversion is the Phoenix condo development located in the Insurance Company of North America building across from Love Park.

On July 31, I toured the Sameric with the current owner and discussed the potential for saving the theater. We should save it. If the Sameric is demolished, we’ll look back and say it was an opportunity that was lost.

My administration is committed to exploring every possibility to preserve the Sameric Theater. The Commerce Department is working with both the developer and the preservation community to find creative, flexible financing and other solutions that will work. However, we need state and federal help. Viable tax credit programs would go a long way toward helping us preserve valuable historic gems in neighborhoods throughout the city.

From City Hall, this is Mayor John Street. It’s a great weekend! Don’t forget to drink your water.