The Blue Horizon may be considered "legendary" by some, but a panel of the Philadelphia Historical Commission considers the famed Moose Lodge-cum-boxing venue only a little bit historic.
The historic designation committee, which reviews candidates for the local historic register, voted Thursday not to recommend the interior of the 1314-16 N. Broad St. site for designation.
The building contains the city's last surviving intact boxing auditorium, an intimate 1,200-seat arena.
At the same time, the panel decided that the exterior of the 19th-century brownstone complex "meets the criteria" for designation. Two of three members said they recommended designation; the third, panel chair Richardson Dilworth III, stopped short of such a recommendation.
The panel's comments amount to a less-than-ringing endorsement for the full Historical Commission to weigh at its March meeting. The commission makes the designation decision.
The Blue Horizon, deemed in 1999 by Ring magazine to be the best boxing venue in the world, began as a group of Second Empire mansions in the mid-19th century. In 1912, the Loyal Order of Moose purchased the cluster of mansard-roofed townhouses, carved out an auditorium and ballroom within, and built a lodge numbering up to 40,000 members by the onset of the Depression.
In 1961, the buildings were sold again and the lodge auditorium became the Blue Horizon. By 1994, the deteriorating buildings were acquired by Philadelphians Vernoca L. Michael, Carol P. Ray, and Carol M.A. Whitaker, who remain the owners.
They shuttered what they had dubbed the "Legendary Blue Horizon" in 2010 after ongoing financial difficulties, as the sport's popularity and the building declined. Up until the end, the arena served as a boxing venue - the last match was in June 2010.
In the decade before closure, it also served as host to weddings, concerts, meetings, educational activities, and various revenue-generating events.
On Thursday, they argued that legendary did not mean historic and that a historic designation might torpedo a development deal that would utilize $6 million in state funds to transform the Blue Horizon into a boutique hotel.
Dorothy Hamill, a lawyer for the owners, said the developers, Mosaic Development and Orens Bros., were still seeking to complete financing arrangements.
The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia nominated the Blue Horizon for historic certification last year, seeking to block demolition of the interior and exterior.
But a demolition permit had already been granted by the Department of Licenses and Inspections in September 2013.
Normally such permits must be picked up and paid for within a set period or they expire.
The 2013 permit was not utilized and there is no written or online public record of any extension granted.
Carlton Williams, L&I commissioner, says "no record" is kept of extension requests. In an e-mail Thursday, Williams wrote: "The applicant was granted extensions to pick up the permit as we have done for many other projects. We forced the issue of declaring a hard deadline to pick up the permit so that if it was not picked up, the Historical Commission would be clear to move forward. The application was picked up on 2/17/2015."
The preservation alliance, in an agreement signed with owners and developers last week, will not challenge the demolition permit if the developers can show they have a complete financing package. The building facade will also be protected by a conservation easement under the agreement.