Montco bank building, Legendary Blue Horizon on endangered list

The vacant Public Federal Savings Bank in Lower Merion is an example of modernist architecture.
The vacant Public Federal Savings Bank in Lower Merion is an example of modernist architecture.
Posted: January 31, 2014

HARRISBURG A 1950s-era bank building in Montgomery County and a famous boxing venue in Philadelphia are among the treasured Pennsylvania sites most endangered by development, according to a state preservation group.

The Public Federal Savings Bank, a 1951 modernist structure in Lower Merion Township, and the Legendary Blue Horizon, the boxing arena in North Philadelphia, were among nine properties named Wednesday by Preservation Pennsylvania on its annual list of endangered structures worth fighting to keep.

"These are the historic properties that we think we might be able to make a difference with," said Mindy Crawford, the group's executive director.

They are also properties slated to change.

The vacant bank, at Penn and Wynnewood Roads in Wynnewood, has been targeted to be demolished and replaced with a drive-through bank under a plan township officials are reviewing.

The Lower Merion Conservancy, which supports saving the one-story brick-and-glass structure, said the building could easily be adapted for modern use.

"Even if you are not a fan of the design, you can appreciate as a value how to use things rather than throw away," said JulieAnn Murphy, the conservancy's historic preservation coordinator. "It can be adopted to fit the needs of 21st-century banking."

The Preservation Pennsylvania report called the Public Federal Savings Bank building an excellent example of modernist architecture, representative of an era of buildings being lost at "an alarming rate" because they don't fit with people's concepts of what is historic.

In Philadelphia, a trio of post-Civil War mansions on North Broad Street was best known for a half-century as the Blue Horizon.

The 1,500-seat hall was featured in the movie Rocky V and noted by Sports Illustrated as one of the nation's top boxing venues because of its intimate atmosphere. It closed in 2010.

The site's current developer, Mosaic Development Partners, wants to erect a hotel and parking garage complex. It concluded it was not feasible to save the whole building, so plans call for saving only the facades.

"We did spend a significant amount of time investigating the feasibility of maintaining the auditorium in some form for future use," said Greg Reaves, a principal in the company. "Unfortunately, in the end, preserving the auditorium would add millions to the project's cost and result in a significant loss in annual income."

Other sites on the list include a Romanesque Revival passenger train station in Coraopolis, near Pittsburgh; the Moorish-style Irem Temple in Wilkes-Barre; and a little-known Civil War battlefield, Monterey Pass, in Franklin County, southwest of Harrisburg.

Preservation Pennsylvania says the sites on the list will be its priorities - "until the resource is lost or the threat is overcome and the property is saved."

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