The Painted Bride Art Center building in Old City has been sold after years of legal battles centered on the preservation of its signature mosaic.
Architect and developer Shimi Zakin of Atrium Design Group bought the more than 14,000-square-foot building at 230 Vine St. on March 31 for $3.85 million. He plans to incorporate the 7,000-square-foot mural by artist Isaiah Zagar into the development of an apartment building with commercial space on the ground floor.
“This out-of-the-box proposal to hover our building over the existing mural is very ambitious,” Zakin said Wednesday. “And the architect in me really wants to see it get built.”
The Painted Bride Art Center announced in 2017 that it wanted to sell its building, which is located in an area that has grown more valuable and attracted developers. But a Philadelphia Orphans’ Court judge blocked the sale, saying a transfer in ownership would likely mean the destruction of the mural. A panel of Commonwealth Court judges said the sale could move forward, but Zakin needed approval from Orphans’ Court to buy the building.
The nonprofit cultural center purchased the building for $325,000 in 1982, according to property records. In selling the building, the center originally wanted $1 million more than the final sales price, but the stipulation that the mosaic be preserved forced the value down, said Dan Mayock, who represented the center in the sale as a broker with SSH Real Estate with colleagues Cathy Coate and Tyler Berlinsky.
“The complexity of trying to preserve that mural created expense and made it harder for developers to get their arms around how you would build there,” Mayock said.
Zakin is proposing apartments that hover over the existing Painted Bride building. He abandoned earlier plans to remove the building and build 16 luxury townhouses at the site after talking with advocates in the arts.
In August, the city approved variances that Zakin requested to exceed height and density limits for his seven-story building with 64 apartments. The development also includes 10 short-term rental units, parking, roof decks, and commercial space on the ground floor. A neighboring property owner appealed the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s decision, and a court hearing is scheduled for June.
Zakin said the result of the appeal will determine whether he gets necessary permits and goes forward with his plans or has to recalculate his next steps, “which would be very, very much unfortunate.”
Emily Smith, executive director of the nonprofit arts group Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, which preserves and provides access to Zagar mosaics, said she is confident in a favorable ruling that will “allow us all to move forward with Shimi’s incredible design, which will save the entirety of Isaiah’s mural.”
“We are excited to work with Shimi and bring the building into its next life,” she said.
As for Laurel Raczka, executive director of the Painted Bride Art Center, she said she believes that she can finally breathe after almost five years of trying to sell the building. The organization, which is renting space at 52nd and Market Streets as a home base, is working on interactive art experiences and planning artist residencies in neighborhoods throughout the city.
“We’re in a place now where we have the freedom to bring artwork to any venue across the city,” she said. “We really feel people need more choice in where they can go to experience art.”