WFIL Studio placed on National Register of Historic Buildings

Dick Clark's American Band Stand memorabilia on display at the former WFIL-TV studios in the 4600 block of West Market Street. (Staff File Photo)

The former WFIL Studio in West Philadelphia is not only famous as the original site of American Bandstand, it is also recognized as the first building in the nation designed as a television studio.

In September of 1947, when WFIL began television broadcasting, the station was one of only a handful of stations operating in the United States.  At the time, most stations were converting existing radio stations or renovating other existing space rather than spending money on new construction.

Walter Annenberg and his company, Triangle Publications, however, were in the process of building a media empire. Triangle Publications owned The Philadelphia Inquirer, WFIL and the Philadelphia Arena, a 9,000-seat professional sports stadium built in 1920 in West Philadelphia.

The concept for the new television station was based heavily on sports broadcasting, and Annenberg constructed his new studio next to the arena, which was the source of much of the station's programming. The studio even shared a party wall with the arena, and television equipment was connected directly into the stadium to allow easy coverage of major professional sports.

The WFIL building is actually two structures built five years apart. The original building, completed in 1948, has an art deco-inspired stream-lined façade. The western part was added in 1952 when WFIL consolidated its television and radio operations in one location. The addition included the 3100 square foot studio B, the largest of the three studios in the facility and the site of the production of American Bandstand.

With special attention given to the interior arrangement of technical, production, and administrative functions, the WFIL Studio was a model for television station design during the medium’s early years. The state-of-the-art building and its equipment were featured in TV Stations: A Guide for Architects, Engineers and Management, a 1954 primer used to develop plans for many of the stations constructed during the mid-1950s and later. Indeed, many of the general considerations of site selection and even interior space planning are relevant to the design of television stations today.

The Market Street studio served as WFIL’s headquarters until 1963 when a new facility was built at City Line Avenue. The old structure was transferred to Philadelphia's public broadcasting station, which used the studio until 1980. WFIL television was sold to Capitol Cities in 1972, at which time the ABC network affiliate became WPVI.

The WFIL Studio building is significant in the history of communications because it is one of only a few early television broadcast facilities that occupied a building designed specifically for that purpose. In addition, the extraordinary impact of American Bandstand on the development of popular music and culture confers a special significance to this building for its association with the program's early and most influential years, 1952-1963.

The structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 1986. The West Philadelphia Enterprise Center is now headquartered in the old WFIL Studio. Founded in 1989 by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, the Enterprise Center provides assistance to local, largely minority-owned small businesses and provides business incubation space.