The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, in a ruling for emergency relief, today ordered the two state agencies overseeing the Pennsylvania Convention Center's expansion to immediately halt demolition of two Center City buildings that are at the center of a protracted legal fight with Philadelphia's Preservation Alliance.

The Alliance, an advocacy group for historic preservation in the city, contends that the buildings in the 100 block of North Broad - a modernist masterpiece from 1962 by renowned Philadelphia School architect Romaldo Giurgola, and an ornately carved early 20th-century commercial building - should be spared the wrecking ball.

Despite what the Alliance said was a preexisting agreement not to harm the buildings, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, and the state Department of General Services (DGS) authorized facade demolition that began two days ago, amid pre-holiday distractions.

"I was stunned. To me it was outrageous. In my view they deliberately did this at a time when no one would be around the say anything," said John Gallery, executive director of the Alliance.

Today's court order, in response to the Alliance's emergency application for a preliminary injunction, stops that work pending a full hearing on the matter scheduled for Jan. 8 in Harrisburg.

The order, which was reached by agreement of the parties, and is signed by President Judge Bonnie Leadbetter, says in part: "To the extent any destruction, demolition or dismantling of such properties has already occurred, the respondents are ordered to save and preserve any such dismantled or disconnected facades, pieces and parts for the purpose of maintaining the ability to restore such buildings if so ordered by this court at a later time."

The Department of General Services takes the position that it is not bound by the preexisting agreement, which was negotiated by the Convention Center Authority before General Services came on the scene.

Further, the agency said in a letter last week to the state historical commission, incorporating the two buildings into the design for the Convention Center expansion would be too costly.