The Painted Bride's facade in Old City, with its Isaiah Zagar mirrored mosaic. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A celebrated mosaic in Old City created by artist Isaiah Zagar is set to be demolished by the building’s new owner.

The plan to raze the former Painted Bride Art Center on Vine Street — and the mosaic covering its walls — is the latest twist in a six-year battle over the building’s fate.

Last decade, the Painted Bride arts group decided it could no longer maintain the building at 230 Vine St., and moved to sell the building.

Zagar’s organization, Philadelphia’s Magic Garden, at first succeeded in blocking the building’s sale over the potential loss of the huge artwork. 

Developer Shimi Zakin of Atrium Design Group then came up with a design for an apartment building that would preserve the mosaic, and a court allowed him to buy the property.

That brought rejoicing from various corners: fans of the mosaic, fans of adaptive reuse, and fans of denser housing. The Painted Bride arts group relocated to a new space in West Philadelphia

But a neighborhood group opposed Zakin’s design — in Philadelphia, registered community organizations (RCOs) wield power over zoning variances, and can appeal them — and in yet another court decision, a judge last year threw out Zakin’s zoning approval. 

With an apartment building out of the question, the developer now has a new plan to demolish the structure and build short-term rental units.  

It took just 17 people’s votes to bring the compromise project to a halt. Here are some of the other key numbers that have shaped the ongoing preservation battle.

The Vine Street building in 2009 (Flickr Creative Commons/chrisinphilly5448)


  • Year Isaiah Zagar was born: 1939
  • Approximate year 230 Vine Street was built as a garage: 1950
  • Year the Painted Bride was founded: 1969
  • Year the Painted Bride Art Center bought the building: 1982
  • Sale price in 1982: $325,000
  • Sale price in 2022: $3.85 million
The Painted Bride mural in progress in the 1990s (Nomination to Philadelphia Historical Commission)


  • Year the mosaic was commissioned: 1991
  • Approximate number of people who helped make it: 50
  • Year Zagar finished working on the mosaic: 2000
  • Mosaic size in square feet: 7,000
  • Handwritten Philadelphia Bulletin articles in the mosaic: 1
  • Public Zagar mosaics in Philadelphia: Over 220
  • Zagar mosaics abroad: 28
Architectural rendering of the apartment building proposal for the Painted Bride site. (Atrium Design Group)


  • Year Painted Bride put the building up for sale: 2017
  • Year sold: 2022
  • Design proposals by owner Shimi Zakin, so far: 3
  • Luxury townhouses in Zakin’s original tear-down plan: 16
  • Rental units in his subsequent mosaic-preserving proposal: 74
  • Supportive votes from members of Franklin Bridge North neighborhood group: 7
  • Opposing votes: 17
  • Months between zoning approval and judge’s overturning of approval: 10
  • Short-term rental units in Zakins new tear-down plan: 110
  • Roof decks in the new plan: 2

Updated Aug. 8

Meir Rinde is an investigative reporter at Billy Penn covering topics ranging from politics and government to history and pop culture. He’s previously written for PlanPhilly, Shelterforce, NJ Spotlight,...