Over the weekend, a zoning permit for the complete demolition of the structure at 210-12 N. 12th St. in Chinatown caught our attention. When we first saw this notice, we didn’t think too much of the property at the NW corner of 12th & Spring, where a handsome but neglected two-story building stood to meet the wrecking ball. After further digging into the history of the site, we made our way to check out the current view (while dodging the countless PHS Philadelphia Flower Show attendees flocking to the on-going festivities close by).

The soundboard and other recording equipment

While we didn’t recognize that address at first blush, this is the home of the world-famous Sigma Sound Studios, the heart of The Sound of Philadelphia. With songwriters Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff working with the likes of the O’Jays and the Teddy Pendergrass-fronted Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, this studio hosted countless world-class musicians, including David Bowie among others (backed up by a young Luther Vandross, no less). The vibes of this place are absolutely impeccable, from the 1930s architecture of the facade to the massive sound board, to the Coors Originals surrounding our favorite Starman.

David Bowie contemplating horn arrangements and crushing Banquet Beers
Signage outside of the building highlights just a few of the many musical luminaries
Elevation drawings showed the pre-designation ten-story plans

This property is included on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, so any demolition would have to be approved by the Historical Commission before work can begin. Plans in the past called for a ten-story, 26-unit condo tower with ground floor commercial space, though those plans are likely caput given the inclusion on the register.

Long story short: we aren’t sure what is happening here. The zoning permit comes from the Department of Licenses and Inspections, which is a separate body than the Historical Commission, hence why we felt compelled to visit the site to ensure it was still standing. Weirder things have happened in the past, so we hope that the zoning notice was perhaps mistaken and that some sort of overbuild is in the works. This is our Hitsville USA and losing this important slice of musical history would be a shame, especially with so many other parcels close by begging for an upgrade. Now excuse us as we put on some MFSB as we head to the (Soul) Train.