Magic Gardens takes action to save Isaiah Zagar's Painted Bride mosaics: 'one of his masterpieces'

The Painted Bride Art Center, a ceramic- and mirror-encrusted jewel box of a building in Old City, has been nominated for historic designation based on artist Isaiah Zagar’s fanciful mosaics that cover its exterior walls.

Emily Smith, executive director of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a South Street educational and artistic site that showcases Zagar’s work, said she compiled the nomination for historic designation in an effort to preserve the mosaics.

“The Painted Bride is one of his masterpieces,” Smith said. “The building itself is a treasure.”

The Painted Bride, a one-story former elevator manufacturing site at 230 Vine St., is currently up for sale, which many fear puts the survival of the building in peril. Historic designation would put any proposed changes to the exterior under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

Laurel Raczka, Painted Bride executive director, could not be reached for comment Thursday. In an interview earlier this year, she said the Bride, the grandfather of Philadelphia’s alternative arts venues, would host its last performance July 7. The organization is seeking ways to present arts projects throughout the city without being saddled with an expensive performance venue, she said.

The Bride started out on South Street in the 1960s and eventually acquired the Vine Street building in 1982.

Zagar did the bulk of the work on the facade in the early 1990s, according to the historic designation application, which argues that the Bride should be designated because it features the work of an important designer and shows “significant innovation.”

The Painted Bride is also a visual landmark of the Old City neighborhood, the application contends,  and is an “established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood.” Beyond that, the application maintains that Zagar’s work draws attention to the Bride as a site that “exemplifies the cultural, political, economic, social or historical heritage of the community.”

Smith, the Magic Gardens executive director, said both the Zagar mosaics and the Painted Bride as an entity have passionate supporters. “I don’t think it’s OK to take down this incredible thing. It will never be made again. It was made by an artist who lived in Philadelphia his entire life.”

The next meeting of the historic designation committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission is April 18.