The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia has been working to get the Chinese Cultural and Community Center up and running again. It has also tried to protect the historical building against demolition. The center closed in 2007 and has been vacant to this day.
Before the construction of the friendship gate, the Chinese Cultural and Community Center was known as the most iconic symbol of Chinatown.
Ben Leech, advocacy director for the Preservation Alliance, is passionate about the center and its unique fabrication pieces from the Chinese Pavilion.
“Not only does the building hold a deep neighborhood importance, it is an architecturally interesting building,” he said.
The center served as the public face of the community for over five decades. It was built as a YMCA in 1955 by T.T. Chang. The center was known for its vast array of Chinese cultural artifacts and traditional New Year’s banquets. It also held classes in language, cooking and art. However, Chang’s death marked the beginning of the center’s decline.
“As of right now anyone can tear this building down. It has no historic protection,” Leech said. “The key to keeping these buildings around is raising awareness.”
In order to make its demolition illegal, the center has to be nominated to be part of the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. The register would then direct the building to the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
“We’re working with community members to nominate it for the Philadelphia register. It’s a process and it takes a lot of time and research,” Leech said. “We’re hoping to complete the research this summer. We have to make sure the community is behind us.”
Leech said he believes the center could be transformed into a restaurant, community center or library.
“A restaurant would be more ideal. It would generate income and make the building sustainable again,” Leech said.