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

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."



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.

Leave a Reply

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

Recent Posts
Lost In The Shuffle: Finding Philly's Displaced Soldiers

Lost In The Shuffle: Finding Philly’s Displaced Soldiers

May 25, 2018  |  Vantage

In honor of Memorial Day, Mickey Herr tracks the reinterred remains of soldiers who fought in the American Revolution and Civil War from Washington Square to Palumbo Recreation Center to Old Swedes' Church in South Philly > more

<em>Ours To Lose</em> Captures West Philly Landmarks In Decline

Ours To Lose Captures West Philly Landmarks In Decline

May 23, 2018  |  Vantage

Photographer Vincent Feldman delivers a eulogy for neglected neighborhood anchors in his new exhibition. Michael Bixler has this interview > more

PA Ballet Swings Wrecking Ball At North Broad Landmark

PA Ballet Swings Wrecking Ball At North Broad Landmark

May 21, 2018  |  News

A 107-year-old terra cotta treasure on Automobile Row will be demolished for a vacant lot. Michael Bixler has the story > more

Kensington Workshop Keeps Neighborhood Clocking In

Kensington Workshop Keeps Neighborhood Clocking In

May 16, 2018  |  Last Light

Inside a 124-year-old mill in Kensington, World Manufacturing Inc. is buzzing with work orders. Theresa Stigale puts us on the production line with this photo essay > more

Take Me Up To the Ball Game! Rediscovering The Bleacher Houses Of North Philly

Take Me Up To the Ball Game! Rediscovering The Bleacher Houses Of North Philly

May 15, 2018  |  Vantage

Dave Coyne gives us a rooftop view of old Shibe Park and the backstory behind Swampoodle's little-known "bleacher houses" > more

On Motherhood & The Circle Of Life At City Hall

On Motherhood & The Circle Of Life At City Hall

May 11, 2018  |  Soapbox

For Mother's Day, Stacey Meadows takes us inside the Register of Wills office at City Hall with this moving personal essay > more