The Fight for the Future of the Legendary Blue Horizon

At 1314-16 N. Broad Street, on the northern end of Philadelphia’s Center City, a decaying late nineteenth century brownstones sits unoccupied. Nestled between the Freedom Theater and a Sunoco gas station, only a blue historical marker sheds light on the importance that the building has held in Philadelphia’s diverse history. Beginning its life as three separate residences, the iconic brownstone façade is representative of the emergence of an upper middle class in urban centers during the nineteenth century, specifically the then affluent Philadelphia north side. The moose head above the joint entrance denotes the Loyal Order of the Moose, a civic group popular among men in the early twentieth century. Inside, the legendary boxing ring, continuously referred to as the best in the world amongst the boxing community, echoes back to the famous bouts once held within the buildings walls, and a cultural phenomenon that swept the country throughout the twentieth century.

In 1912, the Loyal Order of the Moose purchased three brownstones and converted them into one large building, adding an additional auditorium to the rear of the building. The location became the site of the largest meeting of the Order of the Moose in world. In 1961, when middle class Americans were fleeing to the suburbs, the building was purchased by a new owner, converted into a boxing arena, and renamed the Blue Horizon. For nearly fifty years the Blue Horizon hosted world renowned matches, and was even featured on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights” until safety concerns and monetary issues forced the doors closed in 2010. Apprehensions regarding what to do with the historical building have since plagued the city and local preservationists alike.

In 2011, Governor Tom Corbett, approved a six million dollar Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant, which was given to the Mosaic Development Partners firm to be used to bring life back to the Blue Horizon building. The firm purchased the building under the agreement that they would restore its historical significance while creating a new commercial opportunity for the surrounding neighborhood. The Mosaic Development Partners collaborated with the Orens Brother firm to draw up plans which included building a hotel in the lot next to the Blue Horizon, and turning the arena into a night club and banquet hall. However, after two years of stagnation, the Mosaic Development Partners and Orens Brother firm came forward with a new plan for the building, which no longer included the preservation of the famous boxing arena.

The threat of its destruction caught the attention of Preservation Pennsylvania, Hidden City Philadelphia, and the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, as well as the national boxing community. Preservationists have argued that the building, and particularly its interior, is a strong candidate for being protected by the City’s Historic Commission. With the destruction of the Blue Horizon auditorium comes the destruction of a large piece of Philadelphia’s past. A city that has played a major role in the history of boxing continues to see reminiscences of said history washed away. With two other arenas already demolished, and Joe Frazier’s Gym, though added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, housing a furniture store, there is little to be seen of the once rich boxing culture.

Moving into action the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia submitted a request to the Historic Commission to ensure the salvation of both the exterior and interior of the iconic building. In a recent hearing the Historic Commission deemed the arena to not be worthy designation. ”Legendary did not mean historic” was the argument made for the allowance of deconstruction with the understanding that the façade of the building would be preserved. It is cases like this that raise questions regarding the difference between salvaging and preserving and what preservation really means. Furthermore, it begs the question, what parts of history are worthy of saving and who gets to decide?

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