Work began Tuesday to dismantle the iconic radio tower signage atop the Tower Theater in Upper Darby after engineers determined it posed a threat to public safety.
In a Facebook post, Mayor Tom Micozzie said Live Nation, the theater’s owner, had notified the township that the work was expected to last two days. The company’s engineers determined the sign atop the 92-year-old building on 69th Street was unsafe after an inspection, Micozzie said.
“When the company first approached the township to request the necessary permits, I expressed my strong concern about the removal of the sign, which has become a landmark for 69th Street,” he said. “However, an independent analysis by the township’s engineers confirmed that severe deterioration of the metal base and structure could not be corrected and posed a hazard to public safety.”
The mayor said Live Nation told him the sphere atop the tower and letters on its sides would be donated to a museum and options for the tower’s replacement were being explored.
“We appreciate the iconic nature and importance of the Tower signage,” said Tower Theater general manager Trenton Banks. “However, the safety and well-being of our guests is of utmost concern. In light of the sign’s age, structural integrity, and significant public safety concerns voiced by our independent engineering firm and other experts, a decision was made to remove the Tower sign atop the venue. Once the sign has been taken down, we plan to explore all options to potentially refurbish the signage.”
» READ MORE: Music and memories at the Tower Theater
The spire was part of the building when the theater was opened in 1927 by real estate developer John H. McClatchy, who used the Art Deco theater as a lynchpin for the commercial district he built on 69th Street, said Bart Everts, a librarian and writer who’s researching an article on McClatchy for the history-focused website Hidden City Philadelphia.
The tower, Everts said, was likely built “to capitalize on the popularity of radio at the time.” The spire was never a working radio tower, but it symbolized modernity long before it became the architectural feature that announced people had arrived at a storied music venue.
“McClatchy was one of these developers that had a big vision of things that weren’t there yet to lure people," Everts said. "Sixty-ninth Street was just a dirt road before he got there. He named it 69th Street.”
Opened as a vaudeville and movie theater, the building became a music venue in the early 1970s after a major renovation. It opened with a concert by Dave Mason in June 1972, celebrated in the Daily News by music critic Jonathan Takiff, who called the venue’s debut “an unquestionable smash.”
David Bowie performed frequently at the Tower in the 1970s – including an unannounced guest appearance with Mott the Hoople in 1972— and the venue gained international renown when he recorded an album called David Live there in 1974 at the start of his “Diamond Dogs” tour.
Bruce Springsteen was also a regular at the Tower in his early days with the E Street Band, and in 2015 he released Tower Theater, Upper Darby 1975, recorded on Dec. 31 of that year.
Prince, Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, Jerry Garcia, the Replacements, the Pretenders, the Beastie Boys, and Eddie Vedder have played there. Jonathan Demme’s 2010 movie Neil Young Trunk Show was filmed over two nights at the Tower.
The 3,000-capacity Tower is one of many Philadelphia-area venues in the 2,000-to-4,000 range, including the Fillmore and the Met Philly (both also owned by Live Nation) as well as the Franklin Music Hall and Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center.
Recent shows at the Tower have included Philly rock star War on Drugs in December and indie rock band Beirut and British quarter Snow Patrol this year. On the schedule are Brian Wilson and the Zombies on Sept. 28, the Offspring and Beach Slang on Oct. 5, and Deep Purple on Oct. 10.
The Upper Darby Police Department Twitter account’s curator, in the meantime, took the opportunity to suggest that the tower be be replaced by a Colossus-like statue of Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood.