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September 21, 2023

Preservationists say they have two weeks to save mural from former Painted Bride building

The Philadelphia Magic Gardens expects the mosaic-covered property in Old City to be demolished soon, but the developer says it may be next year

Arts & Culture Murals
Painted Bride demolition Kristin Hunt/PhillyVoice

The mosaic-covered, former Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., will be demolished in November, and developers have allowed preservationists two weeks in October to save as much of Isaiah Zagar's artwork from the building's exterior as they can, according to The Philadelphia Magic Gardens.

The days are numbered for the Painted Bride Art Center's colorful former building in Old City, which stands as one of artist Isaiah Zagar's largest public pieces.

The Philadelphia Magic Gardens, which promotes and preserves Zagar's work, said demolition of the building at 230 Vine St. is moving ahead after months of uncertainty. Its team will have "two weeks starting in mid-October to remove and save any tiles that we're able to" before the current owners level the property, PMG events and marketing manager Allison Boyle said Thursday in an email.

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According to Atrium Design Group, the current owners of the building, permits are still in the works and crews may not break ground until next year.

The building was the longtime home of the Painted Bride Art Center, a theater and gallery now headquartered in West Philadelphia. But since its sale to Atrium Design Group, which was finalized last year, the property has sat vacant as the developers worked out plans to convert the space into apartments. 

The building's 7,000-square-foot mosaic, known as "The Skin of the Bride," has been a matter of contention for fans of Zagar, who have fought to preserve the piece for years. A 2018 bid to add the site to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places failed in a 5-4 vote.

Atrium Design Group had previously proposed a plan to build luxury townhomes over the existing structure, a concept which won approval from preservationists and the city. But a group of Old City residents successfully appealed that decision last year, citing the neighborhood's 65-foot height limit for buildings. 

"I must say I already know the demolition, when start(ed), will be a very difficult emotionally to me and my team," Shimi Zakin, principal CEO of Atrium Design Group, said in an email. "We are still very sorry that we have lost in the appeal process and, more (so), that the (Registered Community Organization) and other neighbors around this area didn’t see the benefit of... allowing us to build the original proposed 85-foot building that allowed keeping the entire mural untouched."

Now, his team planning a six-story, H-shaped building which would incorporate pieces of the mural on the first floor. PMG, however, has said that many pieces cannot be easily removed and that "the vast majority" of Zagar's mosaic "will be lost." 

This story has been updated with additional information from Atrium Design Group.

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