This Old Stuff

Architectural salvage enters the mainstream.

Second Chance's executive director, Mark Foster, with an art deco piece salvaged from the Philadelphia Civic Center last year

Credit: Maximilian Franz

Standing tall amid piles of clutter, it instantly caught my eye, its cool bronze and steel and glass throwing off the dim afternoon light. Its lines were impossibly sleek, its details stylish and vaguely Oriental. I was smitten. But taking it home would have cost $15,000, far more than I could afford.

My crush that day was on an art deco ticket booth. I encountered it the way many Americans come upon similar objects: during a weekend browse through an architectural salvage warehouse. In Baltimore, where I live, the biggest salvage operation by far is Second Chance, Inc., a nonprofit that has more than 100,000 square feet of warehouse space behind the city’s professional football stadium. Founded in 2002, Second Chance has grown into one of the leading salvage businesses on the East Coast and now employs more than 30 people.

The ticket booth, I later learned, had been plucked from the Convention Hall at the Philadelphia Civic Center, an imposing art deco landmark built in 1931. The hall—where FDR received the nomination for his second term as president—was razed last year. But not before the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which owned the building and whose expansion led to the demolition, awarded Second Chance a contract to salvage the hall’s rich interior.

Last January, shadowing local union workers who showed them how to handle certain architectural elements, Second Chance trainees gleaned multicolored terra-cotta, oversized light fixtures, and leaded-glass windows from the hall, abandoned more than 15 years ago. By any standard, the yield was incredible. Yet it could have been more substantial, said Second Chance's executive director, a brawny, friendly man named Mark Foster.

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