Another Historic Property To Meet Its Maker

 

Not big enough, gotta go | Photo: Christopher Mote

Not big enough, gotta go | Photo: Christopher Mote

Newer and taller is the big development trend in Logan Square, with a 14-story apartment building under construction at 19th and Arch Streets and now Comcast’s skyscraper announced Wednesday, planned for the surface lot across the street.

That trend may claim a historic brownstone as its latest victim: 1924 Arch Street, known as the Francis McIlvain House, received a demolition notice last week.

Orange notice of death | Photo: Christopher Mote

Orange notice of death | Photo: Christopher Mote

The house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the adjacent lot were acquired in December by PMC Property Group, the developer of 1900 Arch rising next door. The sale price for both properties was $2.1 million according to public records. The nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency occupied the building before relocating its offices to its LEED Gold facility on Clearfield Street in Kensington.

The demolition notice does not show the earliest date on which the building can be torn down; the original date, which appears to read “1-31-14,” is crossed out. The Department of Licenses and Inspections typically requires a 21-day period for notifying near neighbors of demolition activity.

The Second Empire house was built in 1869 as the home of foundry owner Francis McIlvain, and was also the residence of his son-in-law, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin publisher Ferdinand Fetherston. When it was added to the National Register in 1979, the house was cited as a rare surviving example of the neighborhood’s 19th-century middle class residences.

However, the listing, which enabled a tax-credit rehabilitation of the property, does not preclude demolition as a local historic designation would.

Logan Square Neighborhood Association president David Searles called the news “a shame” and said he was looking into the matter. “It is a wonderful building and a piece of historic fabric whether listed or not,” he said.

In 2008, neighbors campaigned unsuccessfully to save the 1860s Fernley & Fernley Building at the corner of 19th and Arch from demolition. A historic nomination was submitted but deemed incomplete by the Historical Commission, and PMC proceeded to knock it down. The lot remained vacant until PMC broke ground on 1900 Arch last year.

PMC senior vice president Arrus Farmer declined comment, citing official company policy.

About the author

Christopher Mote covers stories of preservation, planning, zoning and development. He lives in South Philadelphia and has a special fondness for brownstone churches and mansard roofs.



10 Comments


  1. With all the DEMO’S going on , what use is the Historical commission ? Sounds like the Historical commission is either incompetent or on the take . They should ALL disclose if they’ve gotten any gifts or special treatment from developers or third party’s ( trips /dinners / if they chair any boards or get paid in any way by developers or whomever ). REALLY what’s the point if these gems keep getting torn down. And why should it only be Historical importance ? Most people dont know or care about the history , but it looks beautiful and it’s a piece of the past.
    Why isn’t that given as much weight if not more than its place in history ?

    • I like your point — history is history and beauty is beauty , yet sometimes the twain do meet and that make it even more interesting!

      • Why not have both ? Let the developer build next to and around and over if possible , maybe make it part of the new tower. When architects are constrained interesting designs appear. Honestly if the architects say is not possible…………………. They probably got their certification from K MART !
        There should be a moratorium on all demolitions involving any historically or architecturally important structures . Pretty sooni Philly’s gonna look like suburbia. Putting a halt to all this distruction can only be a plus for Philadelphia and will secure its place as a place of great architecture. People come here for what they don’t have where the are , if HERE looks just like
        THERE then why would they come ? Save what makes us unique as far as structures are concerned and you will always have people wanting to be here. And you’ll havea much better crop of architects as well. LEAVE BLAND IN THE BURBS !

  2. Wait… because its on the national list, but not the local… it can be torn down!? WHAT!?!?!? Of all the historic pieces of crap in Philly that are being rescued from developers saying the building are too broken to fix, we can’t save a historic brownstone that actually IS already restored!?!?? That is crazy! I’m all about development, and building high… but what the heck are they really going to be able to put on that tiny lot that will be better for the historic and city fabric than a fully restored historic brownstone? The lot is small… not like you can build a skyscraper there or something. This is awful.

    • Since the owner bought that house and the building next door, I’m guessing they plan to demolish both buildings and build higher. Sound right?

  3. What does the Landmarks Commission do? Are we essentially funding a program that does nothing?

  4. Nothing says “New York’s Sixth Borough” like a luxury high-rise where history used to be.

  5. How awful. Is there anything we can do????

  6. Q: Is there anything we can do????

    A: The short answer is YES.

    A: Long answer, the National Register of HP is an honorary listing and recognition program, also establishing standards that the FEDs use for grants (not many exist) and tax credits projects. Many municipalities use the National Register as a standard to protect local historic properties. Not in Philadelphia. Although, what would it matter, since Philadelphia, the “historic commission” seems to allow the DEMO of the “protected” on a regular basis.

    In Washington, D.C., a much smaller city, local law protects all National Register-listed properties. “Protected” properties are not demolished for development, but, instead, are incorporated, even if just the façade in some cases.

    In Philadelphia, the thought of requiring “incorporation of the façade” and other development restrictions is perceived as anti-development. Do they honestly think that saving a façade would decrease potential development in areas like Center City? When talking about historic preservation, the first reaction is infringement on property rights and anti-progress, but, in today’s climate, where developers alone are rebuilding cities, the only control residents have is through “historic preservation” and other planning requirements. Only the residents of Philadelphia can save their historic city. And that’s a fact.

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