Preservation in Philadelphia
Information about historic preservation in Philadelphia is located in many sections of the Preservation Alliance's website. The following is an index to all the relevant information about historic preservation procedures and resources applicable to historic resources in Philadelphia.
To reach the following sections, simply click the link or scroll down.
Milestones in Historic Preservation in Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Historical Commission designates properties and districts as historic and reviews alterations to such properties. The Commission and its Architectural Committee meet monthly (click here for meeting schedules and agendas). Information about the Historical Commission may be found on its web site (www.phila.gov/historical) or by calling the Philly 311 hotline or the Historical Commission office at 215.686.7660.
Other information on regulation and review:
Examples of historic district nominations -- to come
Examples of building nominations to the Philadelphia Register -- to come
Pennsylvania Conservatorship Law:
Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia General Regulation on the Conservatorship Act, including sample filings
Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Conservatorship Act Resource Center, including full text of the law
Regional Housing Legal Services Conservatorship Manual (draft as of December 2009)
Assistance to religious properties: Partners for Sacred Places
Home improvement loans: PHIL loan programs
The Preservation Alliance is assembling a list of milestone events in the history of historic preservation in Philadelphia. The following are some of the highlights we’ve discovered. If you know of others, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1748 - Swedish botanist Peter Kalm visits Philadelphia, reporting: "A wretched old wooden building, on a hill near the river... is preserved on purpose, as a memorial of the poor state of that place before the town was built on it. Its antiquity gives it a kind of superiority over all the other buildings in town."
1813 – A public outcry ensues when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania proposes selling the former State House, now known as Independence Hall.
1818 – The City of Philadelphia takes possession of what is now known as Independence Hall.
1856 – Carpenter’s Company of the City and County of Philadelphia renovates its hall at 3rd and Chestnut Streets, declaring it would “preserve, as much as possible, every feature in said Hall as it now exists indicative of its original finish.”
1867 – A former home of William Penn, the Slate Roof House on 2nd Street north of Walnut Street, is demolished despite efforts to preserve it as a house museum.
1883 – Thanks to the efforts of John Fanning Watson, Letitia Street House is purchased and moved to Fairmount Park. At the time, the building was wrongly believed to have been built for William Penn.
1898 - The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects organizes the Committee for the Preservation of Historic Monuments in reaction to poor restoration work being done at Independence Hall. Original members include noted architects Walter Cope, Frank Miles Day, and Edgar Seeler.
1899 – The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchases Stenton Mansion to be operated as a house museum.
1900 – The Site and Relic Society of Germantown, now the Germantown Historical Society, is founded.
1917 – Members of the Germantown Historical Society form the Women’s Club of Germantown to acquire the Johnson House.
1921 – A court order requires the proposed Benjamin Franklin Bridge be moved south to prevent demolition of St. George’s United Methodist Church.
1929 – St. Clements Church is moved 40 feet west to preserve the church and enable 20th Street to be widened.
1930 - The Old Philadelphia Survey begins to identify and document over 100 historic properties in Old City and along the banks of the Schuylkill River. The campaign, a precursor to and model for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), employs local architects for four years.
1930 – The City Planning Commission rejects architect Paul Cret’s 1924 proposal to demolish all but the tower of City Hall.
1930 – Hatfield House is moved from Nicetown to its current location in Fairmount Park.
1931 – Frances Wister helps found the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks to save the Powel House. The group would later acquire the Physick House and Grumblethorpe.
1934 - Elfreth’s Alley resident Dorothy Ottey organized a group of men and women to save several colonial houses from demolition by absentee landlords. They called themselves the Elfreth's Alley Association and would continue to defend the street from additional threats, including construction of Interstate 95 in the late 1950s.
1942 – The Independence Hall Association is formed to spearhead the creation of Independence National Historic Park.
1944 – Upsala Foundation is formed to save Upsala in Germantown.
1950s – Best known for creating the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) in 1933, Charles F. Peterson later serves as chief architect of Independence National Historic Park, where he helped save the Free Quaker Meetinghouse by moving it.
1950 - Oskar Stonorov’s Friends Cooperative Housing project at 8th and Franklin Streets is the nation’s first urban renewal project to incorporate the adaptive reuse of historic buildings for low-income housing.
1955 – The Philadelphia Historical Commission is founded.
1956 – Margaret Tinkcom is appointed to lead the Philadelphia Historical Commission, a position she held until 1974.
1956 – Planning begins for the preservation of colonial-era buildings as part of the redevelopment of Society Hill.
1957 – The Elfreth’s Alley Association, founded in 1934 by a group of concerned residents and other volunteers, successfully blocks a plan to demolish part of Elfreth’s Alley for I-95.
1960 - The Frank Furness-designed University of Pennsylvania Library is threatened with demolition. At a faculty meeting convened in protest, Robert Venturi meets future wife and partner Denise Scott Brown. The building is saved, and Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates complete an award-winning restoration of the library in the 1980s.
1967 - The Citizens Committee to Preserve and Develop the Crosstown Community (CCPDCC) forms in opposition to a planned interstate freeway along South Street. After seven years of effort by a diverse coalition of neighbors, business owners, and community planners, the plan is finally abandoned in 1974.
1977 - Interior designer Kenneth Parker purchases the abandoned Reading Grain Elevator near 20th and Callowhill, converting it into offices and a private residence. This is one of the city's first industrial adaptive reuse projects and an early Federal tax credit project. In 2010, after first proposing drastic exterior alterations to the building, Pearl Properties announces an historically sensitive redevelopment plan for the landmark structure.
1978 - The Joseph Sims House is moved one block, from 228 S. 9th Street to 234 S. 8th Street, to make room for a parking lot. The house is the last remnant of Franklin Row, an 1810 row house development designed by Robert Mills.
1981 – Hundreds of residents march around the Lit Brothers department store at 8th and Market Streets protesting and eventually successfully preventing its demolition.
1982 – Rhoda Richards helps found the Rittenhouse Preservation Coalition to stop a high-rise proposal that would have demolished two historic houses. That group later expanded into the city-wide Preservation Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which was a predecessor to the Alliance.
1983 - Reading Terminal is selected as the site of the new Philadelphia Convention Center, reversing years of conventional wisdom that the landmark structure should be demolished. The train shed and headhouse anchor redevelopment of the site, which opens in 1993.
1983 – City Council passes special legislation establishing the Manayunk Main Street Historic District, protecting 471 properties from demolition or adverse alteration. This is the city’s first local historic district.
1984 – The city’s preservation ordinance is rewritten to give the Philadelphia Historical Commission more authority. For the first time, the Commission can now prevent demolition of certified historic structures and can designate historic districts without special legislation. To date, fourteen such districts have now been designated.
1992 - The Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust is established to preserve, develop, and manage Fairmount Park’s extensive collection of historic properties. The Trust has successfully restored and secured new uses for many of the park’s most important and interesting structures.
1995 - The Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District is established, protecting 5,828 historic properties. This remains the largest of Philadelphia’s local historic districts.
2009 - The Philadelphia Historic Preservation Ordinance is again amended, giving the Commission authority to designate and protect public interior spaces. In 2010, City Council Chambers become the first interior listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
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