Incentives Coming For Renovating Kensington Mills

 

Quaker City Dye Works | Photo: Powers and Co.

The fire that destroyed the Buck Hosiery mill in Kensington has helped to galvanize an effort to create a National Register historic district for commercial and industrial buildings related to Kensington’s textile industry–the first such attempt to systematically treat the remnants of Philadelphia’s “Workshop of the World” as assets for the city of the future.

The “thematic” district, which should receive full approval by the end of 2012 or beginning of 2013, will designate 48 buildings as historic, meaning that they will become eligible for historic preservation tax credits and other financial incentives should owners seek to renovate. The buildings are all in the area bounded by Girard, Lehigh, Frankford, and Germantown Avenues, 6th Street, and Norris Street. The project was initiated by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and has the support of the State Office of Historic Preservation.

The Buck Hosiery building would have been in the district had it not been destroyed by fire.

“What makes this unique is the concentration of factories in Kensington,” says Logan Ferguson, a senior associate at Powers and Co., the consulting firm contracted by the Preservation Alliance in October to prepare the nomination. Unlike the vertically-integrated textile mills of New England, where all processes–from looming to cutting to dyeing–happened under the same roof, in Kensington, “all this happened within the neighborhood and the products were taken from building to building.”

Ruins of Buck Hosiery | Photo: Peter Woodall

With so much of this urban fabric now lost, says Ferguson, “more attention should be paid, really.” Her hope is that the new district will enable City officials and neighborhood organizations to work proactively with building owners to avoid more tragedies like the Buck and to help leverage the buildings as assets as development picks up speed in the neighborhood.

“It’s a good idea,” says Sandy Salzman, executive director of the New Kensington CDC, which had Beatty’s Mill, at Coral and Hagert Streets, designated historic before converting it to live/work apartments in 2005. Salzman also cited the historic designation of the 26th District Police Station as critical in that building’s redevelopment process (though in that case the system broke down, as we reported HERE). “We have a lot treasures in the neighborhood we’d like to restore, but historically accurate renovation is expensive–you have to ensure the integrity of the structure and to do that you have to use top contractors–so the tax credit definitely is a good tool.”

In addition to great mill complexes like Quaker City Dye at Front and Oxford (where the evolution of manufacturing technology and architecture can be seen in one place), the proposed district includes the original Bromley carpet mill across the street from Buck Hosiery, the Drueding Brothers chamois mill at 5th and Master, the two monumental, and threatened, banks at Front and Norris (established by textile manufacturers to serve the industry), and the Hosiery Knitters Union Club on North 4th Street.

Ferguson says that having done a great deal of the surveying and research necessary for the National Register, potentially these buildings can be placed on the Philadelphia Historic Register. Doing so would grant them a much higher level of protection from demolition and make them among the first buildings related to work and industry on the city’s list.

For our report on Philadelphia’s broken system of historic preservation, click HERE.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



4 Comments


  1. Cool idea. I hope they keep the ruins of the hosiery remaining, they kind of look nice. (I mean, if the building itself had to be lost.)

  2. Max Richardson

    How about changing the tax policy that drove these companies out of Philadelphia in the first place?

    • In this case, it wasn’t just unfavorable taxes. Loft industrial structures slowly became obsolete over the first half of the 20th century as the assembly line came to dominate earlier gravity-based chute-fed systems. (See, for example, the massive Atwater Kent plant and Budd complex on Hunting Park West for early examples of such groundscrapers.) Older industrial companies, like Buck Hosiery or Quaker City Lace, have generally had to (a) modernize their plant–that means move to a groundscraper–(b) merge with a company that had already modernized their plant, (c) find and exploit a niche business, or (d) go out of business.

      Making this more difficult is the fact that the needle trades have historically been concentrated in the South, meaning that most mergers occurred with Southern firms, and that the rise of Chinese industrialism has effectively expurgated whatever remained of the American needle trades.

      So, to make a long story short, while I agree that Philadelphia’s business taxation needs reformation, it is unfair to assert that the taxation schema was the only, or primary mechanism driving the needle trades’ decline.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Upzoning A Potential Aid For Affordable Housing And Historic Preservation Woes

Upzoning A Potential Aid For Affordable Housing And Historic Preservation Woes

July 18, 2019  |  Vantage

Changing zoning laws in historic neighborhoods to allow for more density and multifamily conversions could be one smart solution for affordable housing and historic preservation issues. Jacqueline Drayer takes a look > more

New Record Pressing Plant Drops The Needle In Old Bread Factory

New Record Pressing Plant Drops The Needle In Old Bread Factory

July 15, 2019  |  News

The vinyl revival is coming to Lawncrest where a new record pressing plant is setting up shop in the old Bond Bread building. Bryan Bierman has the scoop > more

After The Trocadero’s Closing, Preservationists Ponder Saving The Interior

After The Trocadero’s Closing, Preservationists Ponder Saving The Interior

July 12, 2019  |  News

Philly's famous Trocadero Theater closed in May after 149 years of continuous use. Protections are already in place for the facade of the building, but can the interior be saved too? Kimberly Haas takes a look > more

Op-Ed: Painted Bride Art Center Mosaic A Lesson In Limits To Historic Designation

Op-Ed: Painted Bride Art Center Mosaic A Lesson In Limits To Historic Designation

July 10, 2019  |  Soapbox

Last fall the Philadelphia Historical Commission declined to legally protect a colorful mosaic, nominated by Philadelphia's Magic Garden, on the exterior of Painted Bride Arts Center in Old City. In this editorial Sharon Barr opines that the decision was the right one and unpacks the thorny issues of designating public artwork and ownership rights > more

A Crude Awakening: Explosion On The Schuylkill Brings Philly's History Of Oil Refineries Into Focus

A Crude Awakening: Explosion On The Schuylkill Brings Philly’s History Of Oil Refineries Into Focus

July 8, 2019  |  Vantage

Ed Duffy gives us a history lesson on Philadelphia's 150-year-old oil industry following the explosion, fire, and pending closure of Philadelphia Energy Solutions' oil refinery in Southwest Philly > more

Summer Break

Summer Break

July 1, 2019  |  News

Hidden City Daily is taking a short summer vacation. We'll be back on Monday, July 8. Have a great Fourth of July! > more