The tower on top of the Tower is gone.
On Tuesday in Upper Darby, the Tower Theater’s iconic sign was taken down after engineers deemed it a threat to public safety.
So what’s happening to the beloved spire that rose above the 69th and Ludlow Streets showplace since it opened as an Art Deco movie palace in 1927?
Where is the sign resembling the old RKO Radio Pictures logo going? Do Upper Darby residents and Philadelphia concertgoers face a permanent future with a towerless Tower?
The answer to the first question is: Lansdale, Montgomery County. In his Facebook post on Tuesday morning announcing that the sign was coming down, Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie said the sphere atop the spire would be donated to a museum by concert promoter Live Nation, which owns the theater and its sign.
That museum is the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project, or EMEAPP (pronounced “emmy app”). It’s a nonprofit, appointment-only museum and research facility founded by businessman, musician, and progressive-rock enthusiast Vince Pupillo that opened in 2017.
EMEAPP houses a collection of vintage instruments and gear, from a Freddie Mercury microphone to amps belonging to Jimi Hendrix and the Who and parts of studios owned by Neil Young and the Rolling Stones.
The 30,000-square-foot space — formerly a warehouse for Pupillo’s Supermarketers food company — specializes in the history of the synthesizer and electronic music.
“We concentrate on the preservation of historically significant rock and roll equipment,” said Drew Raison, the music producer and engineer who is EMEAPP’s executive director.
Raison was on hand on Tuesday as the Tower sign was removed from the roof. “It was devastating to see it come down,” he said. The sign was removed by Yeadon contractor Martino Signs, whose owner, Dave Martino, was the conduit between Live Nation and EMEAPP, Raison says.
Martino “feared that it was going to go into the scrap heap, and took the steps to contact me,” Raison said. “We wanted to make sure that it was going to come down safely and be protected.”
The plan is for the sign “to be rebuilt to a display standard by Martino Signs, and it’s going to end up outside the new entrance at EMEAPP.”
Future travelers on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike then will be able to pull off the highway and gaze upon the icon that stood atop the theater where David Bowie recorded David Live.
The Lansdale facility has plans to become a more conventional, open-to-the-public museum, which Raison says could happen in 2020. “The Tower sign, that could be part of a beautiful thing that people could come and experience,” he said.
When word got out of the sign’s coming down on Tuesday morning, it opened up a sea of memories of U2 and Prince and Bay City Rollers concerts, and led some to question why the news seemed to come without warning.
“Today is the first time I’ve heard about this,” Barbarann Keffer, the Democratic Upper Darby councilwoman-at-large who is running against Micozzie, a Republican, in November, said on Tuesday.
”Why was it allowed to go this long, to the point where it was apparently beyond repair?" she said. "The Tower is a beloved icon in Upper Darby.… It’s a surprise, at least to me. I’m just questioning the whole inspection process.”
On Wednesday, Micozzie said that he had first learned about the condition of the sign from Live Nation in January and posted about it on Facebook at the time. Subsequently, the sign was inspected by engineers hired by Live Nation as well as contractors brought in by Upper Darby’s License and Inspection Office.
“We went over all the options to see if it could be repaired, but we all agreed that this thing has got to come down,” the mayor said.
The removal of the sign was announced only on Tuesday morning, Micozzie said, because he didn’t want to draw a crowd while dangerous work was being done. “Then it becomes a spectacle, and I have to put additional police on. I don’t need 600 people standing underneath the crane watching the tower come down.”
The attention the Tower tower’s coming down has received was no surprise to Micozzie. “I’ve had campaign pictures taken there. People take their wedding and graduation pictures there."
He said he explained the importance of the Tower to Upper Darby to a Live Nation executive in Los Angeles this way: “If you can see the Hollywood sign out your window, imagine if they removed the H. That’s the kind of impact it will have in my community. It’s that much of an icon.'"
Meetings will be held in September with State Sen. Timothy P. Kearney and others in an attempt to "get some sort of historic grant or funding” to hasten the process of replacing the sign in conjunction with Live Nation, the mayor said. The Tower is not a historically protected building.
The hope, Micozzie said, is that an improved tower on top of the Tower could be built with lighter materials and LED lighting. “It’s a privately owned building, but we will give all our effort to get something back up there," he said. "I would like to see the same design. Why put it back up if you can’t make it look the same, right?”