Preserving Pennsylania: A Journey Through the Last 20 Years, Part 10

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.


2001 — Lazaretto, Delaware County

Camp Security, York County

The Lazaretto was built by the City of Philadelphia’s Board of Health between 1799 and 1801 as a quarantine station for ships heading toward the port of Philadelphia in order to protect its citizens from the effects of infectious diseases. Reflecting 18th century public health policy, the Lazaretto is the oldest extant quarantine structure in the United States. The property operated as a medical facility until 1895. Because of its prime waterfront location and proximity to Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Athletic Club began to operate the former Lazaretto as an elite pleasure ground known as the Orchard Club in the mid-1890s. Despite their heyday in the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s, the Orchard Club left the facility in 1910. In 1913, a flight school was opened on the property, and in 1915, it became a base for seaplanes. In 1916, operations were taken over by the Army Signal Corps for use as a training facility, with the Lazaretto’s main building as their headquarters and barracks through World War I. The facility’s use as a flight school and seaplane base continued into the 1990s.  After nearly 10 years on the market, the Lazaretto was sold in 2000. The new owners proposed demolition of the Lazaretto’s historic buildings to accommodate modern development in the form of parking or commercial development. As a result, Lazaretto Quarantine Station was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey’s Endangered Buildings Program in 2000 (an addendum to the 1936 documentation), and was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk in 2001. Tinicum Township officials were concerned about the potential loss of this historic building, and acquired the property in order to preserve it, but the historic building was still in danger. Preservation partners at the Preservation

Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust for Historic Preservation came together, determined to find a way to preserve this important historic place. The group worked with the Township to negotiate an agreement that permitted construction of a new firehouse on part of the grounds, while preserving the historic Lazaretto building and its connection with the river. On behalf of the project partners, Preservation Pennsylvania recently received a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission that will fund the exploration of rehabilitation alternatives, including use of the building as the Township’s offices. Although this project still faces many challenges, it is a good example of partnerships in action and the good things that can be accomplished when people work together toward a common goal.

2002 — The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia

The Boyd Theatre


The Boyd Theatre is Philadelphia’s sole surviving movie palace from Hollywood’s Golden Era.  Opened in 1928, the Boyd reflects a period when theatres were characterized by enormous auditoriums with luxurious ornamentation, and services such as doormen and ushers. The interior of the Art Deco theatre is grand, with a huge two-story stained glass window, murals, and other ornamentation celebrating the progress of women throughout history. The theatre closed in 2002, already considered by many to be an eyesore. The Boyd has now been vacant for a decade, and its condition continues to deteriorate. A contentious battle raged over historic designation of the theatre by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, but there were no local protections for this theatre. As a result, a demolition permit was issued in 2002. The local outcry was tremendous: area residents called for its preservation in rallies, petitions and editorials. They also formed the Committee to Save the Sameric/Boyd, which came to be known as Friends of the Boyd, Inc.

With plans to spend $31 million to restore the Boyd as a live performing arts venue, Clear Channel, Inc. purchased the Boyd Theatre in 2005. However, Clear Channel soon reorganized, and the Boyd was transferred to Live Nation. Restoration plans were halted

in 2006, and the Boyd was again placed on the market. In 2008, the Boyd Theatre was recognized as endangered by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Later that year, the theatre was listed in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. In September 2008, a local development firm entered into an agreement to buy the theatre and restore it. Unfortunately, the developer died before the deal was finalized. Today, the theatre still stands unused.  The Friends of the Boyd uses donations to pay for advocacy expenses and a security guard outside of the theatre at night to protect it from vandalism until a new owner can be found. They continue to meet with potential developers in the hope of finding one interested in acquiring the property and restoring it for use as a theatre. With limited public funds available, it is clear that the help of a philanthropist or corporate supporter will be critical to the success of the effort