It’s Been A Bad Year For You, Samuel Sloan

 

400 S. 40th Street in 1963 | Photo: PhillyHistory.org, a project of the Philadelphia Department of Records

Samuel Sloan’s rather quiet Italianate designs found a welcome audience among mid-19th century Philadelphians. The houses, schools, and churches integrated well with the city’s Quaker influenced aesthetic, lending it a bit of elegance and a hint of the timelessness of the Old World. And so they endured through countless shifts in taste and architectural theory.

“Between the heydays of Thomas U. Walter and Frank Furness,” says preservationist Aaron Wunsch, “Sloan was Philadelphia’s most important and, probably, most prolific architect. He did more to shape the new fabric of Consolidation-era Philly and environs than anyone else. Mansions, twins, schools, courthouses, and whole neighborhoods bear his stamp, and so do many of the most important ‘therapeutic’ institutions of the era, notably mental hospitals, like West Philadelphia’s Kirkbride Center.”

But in the last year, two of Sloan’s buildings in West Philadelphia, where he was particularly active, were put in danger: the 40th Street Methodist Episcopal church at 40th and Sansom Streets and the mansion at 40th and Pine (pictured above) that has been the subject of a long-standing battle among the University of Pennsylvania, developers, neighbors, and preservationists. The owners of both of these buildings have secured demolition permits.

Fayette Consolidated School, now part of Politz Hebrew Academy, 1900

Now there is a third, Sloan’s last remaining schoolhouse, on Old Bustleton Avenue in the Northeast. The schoolhouse, which has been much altered and literally overwhelmed by a 1915 addition, is the only building on the National Register of Historic Places in zip code 19115. Federal Register status offers no protection from demolition, only the possibility of accessing historic tax credits for restoration.

The school building is part of the K-8 Politz Hebrew Academy. The school has no public plans for the land where the Sloan building now stands. The Bustleton Civic League opposes the demolition, according to an official of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, but once a demolition permit has been issued, it’s generally hard to reverse the process.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine.



2 Comments


  1. And to add to this, there has been talk this year of razing Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains, NJ, one of Sloan’s crowing achievements.

  2. Historic Register status really should protect buildings from demolition. It almost means nothing these days since people can demolish them seemingly at will by simply saying “Oh, it won’t make enough money”, maybe the shouldn’t have fuckin bought it then.

    UPenn is a huge disgrace demolishing the historical building so they can make money. They just are trying to line their pockets, there is big education for you. Its not about education or teaching people, its about sucking in money. You think a university as prestigious as UPenn would love to incorporate a building designed by Samuel Sloan into their campus. Nope, cash rules.

Recent Posts
New Delaware Avenue Development Proposals Put Maritime Supply Warehouse In A Corner

New Delaware Avenue Development Proposals Put Maritime Supply Warehouse In A Corner

April 17, 2015  |  News, Vantage

Time bought for the former Edward Corner Marine Merchandize Warehouse in a zoning meeting Wednesday night. Fishtown neighbors shot down developer Michael Samschick's large-scale mixed-use proposals for the three adjoining lots along Delaware Avenue. Contributor Stephen Stofka was there and has a few take-away recommendations for a less sprawling, more conscientious treatment of the blocks > more

The City Of Neighborhoods, For Better Or Worse

The City Of Neighborhoods, For Better Or Worse

April 17, 2015  |  Morning Blend

A look at the decentralized state of affairs in Center City, Live Nation announces plans for reuse of Fishtown factory, and distressed parkers fight South Philly proposal > more

Broad, Market, And The Wholesome City

Broad, Market, And The Wholesome City

April 16, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Reflections on the laying of the cornerstone to City Hall, short film eavesdrops in on Philadelphians in motion, Samschick’s Delaware Avenue projects not too popular with residents, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia celebrates milestone, and community input for West Philly plan > more

In Strawberry Mansion, Making The Case For Adaptive Reuse

In Strawberry Mansion, Making The Case For Adaptive Reuse

April 15, 2015  |  Soapbox

The 100-year old Metropolitan Garage in Strawberry Mansion is as unique as it it is oddly charming. Located right across the street form the entrance of East Fairmount Park, with a great view of the city skyline to boot, Hidden City contributor Oscar Beisart thinks that a bold reuse of the building just might be the kind of creative investment the neighborhood needs. Though, demolition permits are already in place and another opportunity to keep our historic, industrial fabric intact may soon be lost > more

“Air” Installed By The Schuylkill

“Air” Installed By The Schuylkill

April 15, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Famed sculptor’s 1979 piece back on public display, storefront improvement program reportedly strangled by federal regulation, northern concrete City Hall apron to be repoured, and using co-working spaces as a reinvigorator of East Market Street > more

Original Design Of Courtyard Gates To Be Installed At City Hall

Original Design Of Courtyard Gates To Be Installed At City Hall

April 13, 2015  |  Morning Blend

New gates for City Hall were designed in 1869, the mixed blessing of the South Philly refinery, Guinn to design mural for Wissahickon train station, Brandywine Realty moves into Old City, and Squilla promotes valet parking as solution for waterfront clubs > more