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Potential sale of the Painted Bride building is back in court

Commonwealth Court heard the appeal from the Painted Bride seeking permission to sell its building, putting Isaiah Zagar mosaics at risk.

The landmark Painted Bride building in Old City, in a 2018 file photo.
The landmark Painted Bride building in Old City, in a 2018 file photo.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

At a Commonwealth Court hearing Thursday, the Painted Bride Art Center sought to overturn a lower court ruling stopping a sale of its building. The sale would almost certainly mean destruction of the Old City building’s well-known mosaic facade by the artist Isaiah Zagar.

Last September, Philadelphia Orphans' Court Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello ruled that “many individuals consider [the mosaics] to be a true treasure,” and blocked the $4.85 million sale to Philadelphia-based Groom Investments, which wanted to build condominiums on the site.

The Bride appealed Carrafiello’s ruling to Commonwealth Court, arguing that the sale would further its mission as a charitable nonprofit by providing cash support for future operations.

Marc J. Sonnenfeld, an attorney for the Bride, told the court Thursday that the monetary value of the mosaics could not be determined apart from the building, likening them to “a fixture.” Carrafiello had chided the Bride for not demonstrating the financial and artistic value of the mosaics, known colloquially as “the skin of the Bride.”

The state Attorney General’s Office, which is charged with protecting the public interest in matters related to nonprofits, appeared in support of the Carrafiello ruling, arguing that it amounted to a “measured approach” balancing the value of the mosaic to the public and the Bride’s nonprofit future. During the original Orphans' Court hearing, the Attorney General’s Office did not object to the Bride’s effort to sell.

In arguing for sale, the Bride said that its future lay with neighborhoods all over the city, not with the gentrified population of Old City. Sale of the building would provide the organization with an influx of cash for use as an endowment, and free it from the costly burdens of ownership.

A widespread outcry ensued after the Bride’s decision became public in 2017. Eventually the Bride agreed to sell to Philadelphia-based Groom. It spurned a $2.6 million offer from Lantern Theater Company, which wanted to continue the building’s use as an arts and performance center, and preserve the Zagar mosaics.

A ruling from Commonwealth Court is expected within several days.