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Wyeth Laboratories: 1957 and Today

Might future generations regret the loss of buildings like Radnor's Wyeth labs?

One of Radnor's largest landmarks, often overlooked in plain sight, is the Wyeth Laboratories complex, built in 1957. Though the property has changed hands several times over the years, the original Wyeth buildings are currently threatened with development of the site. It may be difficult to imagine, but the Wyeth labs were an architectural showpiece when first constructed. The buildings, designed by the prestigious New York firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, were featured in a 6-page spread in the nationally-distributed journal "Architectural Record" in April, 1957. 

Though these buildings might not be thought of as great works of architecture today, it is interesting to read the designers' intent in the 1957 article: "The architects placed the laboratory on the north knoll, the office building on the south knoll, and connected them at lower level with a one-story, glass-enclosed reception lobby across the central swale... The scheme focuses on a landscaped court between the two buildings; an area visible through the glass as one enters the lobby... The buildings are faced with fixed sheets of blue-green, heat-absorbing plate glass and porcelain enameled panels held in place by a pattern of delicate, natural aluminum surrounds. The porcelain panels are deep blue-green."

The photographs shown here depict the same angle, one from the 1957 article and the other taken this fall. Very little has changed from the original design; even the "deep blue-green" panels remain in place. Today, when under-appreciated works of modern architecture face an uncertain future, it is worth thinking back to when these buildings were new: at the time, Victorian architecture was disappearing from Philadelphia and the Main Line countryside at an alarming rate. It was appreciated about as much as the boxy, glass and metal-clad buildings of the mid-20th century are today. Might future generations regret the loss of buildings like Radnor's Wyeth labs?

- Greg Prichard, Radnor Historical Society

Ted M. December 14, 2012 at 02:59 PM
My great-grandfather owned a factory in Beaver Falls that manufactured porcelain enameled products. They started with license plates and advertising signs but went on to making porcelpanels after plastics became more popular for advertising signage. I remember my grandmother telling me that her father's company manufactured the panels used at the Weyth building.
G Morrison January 02, 2013 at 07:56 PM
I wouldn't say this site is 'threatened with development' -- I think the more appropriate term would be 'may remain economically viable if redeveloped.' The company that owns it and pays the taxes on it cannot find any tenant interested in its outmoded lab space (much R&D sadly has permanently left Philadelphia) and is willing to invest tens of millions in it to make it appeal to tenants, all of which would bring new construction and permanent high salary jobs and new tax revenue. And would remedy a lot of the stormwater runoff issues (creek damage, property flooding) the initial development created in the 1950s.


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