Current Advocacy Issues
Sidney Hillman Medical Center
|Above: The Hillman Center demolition in December 2011 |
|Above: The Hillman Center in 2010.|
|Above: Proposed 33-story apartment building on the Hillman site.|
The long-threatened demolition of this iconic mid-century modern medical center became a reality in late 2011 as site preparation began for a new highrise apartment tower at 22nd and Chestnut Streets. The efforts to save the building, though ultimately unsuccessful, contributed to a growing appreciation for architecture of the recent past in Philadelphia. The Preservation Alliance has assembled an inventory of midcentury modern architectural resources across the city for use as an educational and planning tool in future efforts to preserve and promote buildings built between 1945 and 1980. It is available online HERE.
Update December 2010:
A statement from John Andrew Gallery, Executive Director, Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia:
In December 2010, the Preservation Alliance withdrew its two appeals of decisions by the Philadelphia Historical Commission and the Zoning Board of Adjustment related to the demolition of the Hillman Medical Center at 2116 Chestnut Street and the construction of a 33-story apartment building on that site. Normally, the Alliance does not enter into settlement agreements of appeals and for that reason I would like to share with you our grounds for doing so in this case and the benefits we have achieved through the settlement agreements.
The Hillman Medical Center is a distinctive mid-20th century modern building located in the Rittenhouse Fitler Historic District and therefore listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. It is also eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, both for its architecture and its distinguished history as a pioneering medical center for labor union employees. The owners of the Center and the John Buck Co. of Chicago submitted a financial hardship application to the Historical Commission to allow demolition of the building and an application to the Zoning Board for zoning variances. Both the demolition application and the variances were approved. The Alliance appealed these decisions for two reasons: first, in the case of the demolition application we did not think that the applicant had met the requirements of the financial hardship provisions of the preservation ordinance, and therefore the Historical Commission should not have approved demolition. Second, at the Zoning Hearing the variances were granted without a showing of hardship, and the Alliance was not allowed to testify because the board determined that we did not have “standing,” a decision the Zoning Board made without providing the Alliance with any opportunity to present information on this issue.
Our decision to enter into discussions to settle this matter was influenced by several factors. The Center City Residents Association, the Lutheran Church of the Savior and the First Unitarian Church had all entered into agreements with the developer to support the project and the zoning variances. In those agreements the John Buck Co. made commitments to provide financial contributions to support preservation projects for the two churches and a community project recommended by CCRA. In addition, we felt there was an opportunity to resolve issues related to the evaluation of financial hardship applications and the issue of standing without going through a lengthy and expensive appeals process.
After close to a year of negotiation we reached agreements on a settlement and withdrew both of our appeals. Through the settlement agreements with the Buck Co. and the City we achieved the following: 1) the Buck Co. agreed to contribute $125,000 to Preservation Pennsylvania to conduct an inventory of mid-20th century modern buildings in Philadelphia and prepare nominations to the Philadelphia or National registers. These funds will be contributed in two installments when the project is under construction; 2) the Historical Commission agreed to hire an independent real estate consultant to help the Commission evaluate future financial hardship applications, an idea which the Historical Commission staff also felt would be of benefit; 3) the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development issued a letter stating that “community groups and advocacy groups will be accorded the opportunity to present testimony and documents, make objections and request issuance of subpoenas” as well as cross examine witnesses at public hearings before City boards such as the ZBA. We feel this letter gives greater strength to our own efforts before these boards as well as the efforts of other organizations.
Paul Boni, Esquire represented the Alliance in these appeals and was instrumental in helping us complete negotiations with the Buck Co. and the City.
Simultaneous with our negotiations, HUD conducted a review of the project under the Section 106 regulations that require review of the impact on historic properties of projects receiving federal financial support. With the aid of Preservation Pennsylvania, the National Trust and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Section 106 memorandum includes a provision that requires the Buck Co. to update information related to mid-20th century modern buildings in the Rittenhouse Historic District for both the National and Philadelphia registers.
I would like to express appreciation to the John Buck Co. for recognizing that the loss of the Hillman Medical Center merited mitigation and for their willingness to make not only the financial contributions contained in the HUD agreement and their agreement with the Alliance, but earlier contribution commitments made to the support the needs of the adjacent churches and to a community project selected by CCRA.
While the loss of the Hillman Medical Center will be unfortunate, we believe that the agreement with the Buck Co. and the actions by the City will be of benefit to the community and to the future preservation of mid-20th century modern buildings.
John Andrew Gallery
Media coverage of the Sidney Hillman Medical Center:
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