Walnut St. Theatre wins 1, loses 2 before Phila. Historical Commission

CENTER CITY — The Walnut Street Theatre got mixed results at last month’s Philadelphia Historical Commission meeting.

The minutes from June 14 (pages 17-19, entire section below) say the theater had three requests for its annex: installing a new LED marquee above the “Walnut Street Theatre” sign, replacing doors at the building’s existing entrance and replacing brick at the entrance.

Note that minutes of past meetings are not official until approved, and the next meeting is scheduled for Friday morning.

The theater needs permission from the Philadelphia Historical Commission — called a project or design review — since it’s on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

On June 14, the commission decided theaters require marquees but “an existing banner is covering a decorative terra cotta feature on the front façade.” Therefore,

“a marquee could be approved if a more appropriate location was found.”

Also, the commission agreed even though the brick by “the existing entry doors is not historic, the proposed grey (sic) color for the replacement brick does not appear compatible with the brick to remain at the side walls of the vestibule. In addition, the smooth texture of the brick face and mortar joints as proposed lend a mismatched appearance rather than a differentiated one.” So,

“the proposed brick replacement could be approved if the color better matched the brick at the side walls of the vestibule.”

But the theater did better with its other request. The “entry doors could be replaced as proposed” because they would replace non-historic doors.

“Therefore, their removal and replacement does not destroy historic fabric. The proposed doors appear to be compatible with the existing, already altered entrance.”

The six-story annex building in question was built for office use in 1905, and been on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places since 1973. It serves as the entrance to the Walnut Street Theatre, which was founded in 1809.

In May, “America’s Oldest Theatre” announced a $39 million expansion plan for the complex, with groundbreaking to begin next spring and completion expected in 2022.

The theater building itself was designated in the 1950s. It’s also the Official State Theatre of Pennsylvania and a National Historic Landmark.

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