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Electronic Displays Atop Historic Philadelphia Building Get Tentative OK

(The former Lit Brothers department store building at 7th and Market Streets in center city Philadelphia.  Credit: Ed Fischer)

(The former Lit Brothers department store building at 7th and Market Streets in center city Philadelphia. Credit: Ed Fischer)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Historical Commission has given tentative approval to electronic advertising atop the old Lit Brothers building, at 7th and Market Streets in center city, despite objections of residents.

John Connors saved the Lit Brothers building from the wrecking ball back in the mid-1980s.  Now he wants to bring back the wire mesh sign that adorned the top of the building for decades (photo below) — with one key difference: the mesh would include technology that would display moving images, including advertisements, at the corners of the building.

“While it has a fairly transparent look when the lights are turned off, when the lights are turned on you have LED images,” Connors explains.

Representatives of local neighborhood groups voiced objections, as did the National Park Service in a letter to the commission.

litbrothers historic Electronic Displays Atop Historic Philadelphia Building Get Tentative OK

(A photo of Lit Brothers’ department store from about 1972 shows a static mesh sign atop the building.)

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Eleanor Gesensway, who had led the original effort to save the building in the ’80s, called the proposal “a travesty” that “desecrates the honesty of the building.”

Also opposed was Mary Tracey of the anti-blight group “Scenic Philadelphia.”

“This is a historical building,” Tracey said.  “These are eye-popping, pulsating, glaring, electric lights, full-motion video — giant TV screens.”

But Connors argues that the Market Street East corridor sorely needs the vibrancy and economic boost that the signage could bring.

“The only reason we are able to preserve Lit Brothers, Wanamaker’s, and others is that we had to reimagine these buildings and make them relevant.  And that’s what we’re trying to do.  What are we going to do: ban these buildings from the digital age forever?  Relegate them to second-class citizenship?”

The Historical Commission, after a lengthy debate, approved the plan in concept but wants Connors and staff to work out further details on the density of the wire mesh, and the movement and oscillation of the advertising, before any final vote.

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