If you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, it’s time to add her to your list of Mid Century Modern architects. And if you want to catch some of her work in Philadelphia, Penn., you’ll need to act quickly.
A student of the round structures and accordion roofs of her time, Fleisher is a landmark architect in that she was the first woman licensed to be an architect in Philadelphia. Best known for her work on the Parkway House, a local luxury apartment house, her name is in the news for another reason: One of her structures is scheduled for demolition.
Built in 1960, the Columbus Square pavilion is a strange structure halfway between castle turret and modernist hideaway. It stands as one of only a handful of Fleisher’s buildings still standing. A similar pavilion in nearby LOVE Park, nicknamed “the flying saucer” and built in the same year by architect Roy Larson and engineer Nicholas Gianopulos, is getting a $3M restoration. But unlike its sister, the Fleisher pavilion is scheduled for demolition as part of Columbus Square’s renovation.
Although the pavilion opened the same year as the LOVE Park saucer (designed by architect Roy Larson and engineer Nicholas Gianopulos), Fleisher’s design is the antithesis of that lightweight glass building. Where the saucer appears ready for liftoff, Fleisher’s stone redoubt is rooted heavily on the earth. Instead of a flat modernist roof like the one on the saucer, Fleisher’s pavilion sports an unlikely king’s crown. Neighborhood lore claims the shape is a reference to the folds on the hat worn by Christopher Columbus.
Because the neighborhood was largely Italian in 1960, that could be true. Perhaps Fleisher conceived of the tower as a modernist version of the round Martello towers that line the coast near Genoa. But crown-like roofs were all the rage in the early ‘60s. Philadelphia architect John Fridy gave his Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Asbury Park an almost identical topper in 1962. A variation of those accordion folds can be seen in Philadelphia at the Charles Santore Library at Seventh and Carpenter.
Or maybe Fleisher just wanted the pavilion to look taller. The structure is unusually small for a park building, just 35 feet in diameter and roughly two stories tall. Intended to serve a neighborhood senior center, it contains just one large room, a small mezzanine, and restrooms.
Read the whole article here, and make a trip to Philly soon to see the other remaining pieces of Fleisher’s legacy.