Rogue Condo Developer Demolishes Historic Buildings

BY INGA SAFFRON INQUIRER ARCHITECTURE CRITIC Bulldozers smashed the two 1830s buildings to dust last month, but the case is likely to reverberate a long time in City Hall. The matter is under investigation by Philadelphia’s inspector general, Seth Williams. Officials at three agencies — the Historical Commission, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and the Law Department — are engaged in discussions about what went wrong and how to plug the loopholes.

They need to do more than talk. What happened at Front and Chestnut Streets reveals deep structural weaknesses in the city’s preservation system.

The demolished buildings occupied Philadelphia’s oldest commercial intersection, and were a reminder of its thriving 19th-century maritime economy. But they were also an integral part of the city’s 21st-century Internet-age, leisure-time economy. This summer, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. begins a campaign to encourage tourists to venture from Independence Mall to the real “Historic Philadelphia” of Old City. Too bad they’ll see a decidedly unhistoric parking lot at the end of Chestnut Street.

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