After a year of inactivity, the Philadelphia Historical Commission is moving forward with its backlog of nominations to the City’s Register of Historic Places. (See our previous coverage HERE.)
A total of fifteen individual buildings and sites are on the agenda for the Committee on Historic Designation’s meeting next Wednesday, May 29. The nominations include Joe Frazier’s Gym, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, and fourteen other properties which are or may become vulnerable to demolition, abandonment or redevelopment. Among those are the Stiffel Senior Center, considered one of the last remaining non-ecclesiastic buildings of South Philadelphia’s Jewish community, and the home of Dox Thrash, an African-American artist renowned for his contributions to the printmaking profession.
Following the committee meeting, the full body of the Commission will vote to officially add the nominations to the register on Friday, June 14.
The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, which produced seven of the nominations and sponsored two more through grants, applauded the Commission for its action on the designations.
“This agenda represents the cumulative efforts of Commission and Alliance staff, concerned citizens and neighborhood groups, historians and students to protect and honor Philadelphia’s architectural and cultural heritage,” said Ben Leech, the Alliance’s director of advocacy. “In terms of architectural, geographic, and cultural diversity, this is one of the most exciting designation agendas in recent memory.”
The nominations came from a number of sources, including four from the Commission’s own staff and one—the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park—from the City’s Planning Commission. Terry Buckalew, a retired facilities manager for the University of Pennsylvania, submitted the nomination for soon-to-be-renovated Weccaccoe Park in Queen Village, which is believed to contain archaeological evidence of the burial grounds of the historic Mother Bethel AME congregation.
The body of nominations also reveals an expanding focus into the periphery of the city’s overlooked neighborhoods. One of the PHC’s staff nominations, St. Petri, is a monumental church significant to West Philadelphia’s German Lutheran community in the 19th century. Another, the 18th-century Box Grove Plantation in the Northeast, is the ancestral home of the family of colonist John Holme, after whom the Holmesburg neighborhood takes its name.
Also submitted by the Preservation Alliance is the Paschalville Library in Southwest Philadelphia, one of the city’s “Carnegie libraries” constructed through a grant from the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. The Historical Society of Frankford also nominated the boarded-up Worrell-Winter House, believed to be, from 1728, the oldest house still standing in the neighborhood.
Patricia Coyne, a board member of Historical Society of Frankford, said that she and the Frankford community are “absolutely thrilled” about next week’s meeting. “We are a richness of largely unknown and underappreciated historic treasures,” Coyne, who previously expressed her frustration with the PHC’s delay, told Hidden City. She believed that a designation will allow the Worrell-Winter House to become “an anchor for the ongoing preservation efforts in this important Philadelphia neighborhood.”
(The Historical Society of Frankford is one of the host sites for the Hidden City Festival 2013, ongoing now.)
Notably absent from the agenda is the Rieger & Gretz Brewery in South Kensington, which has been under intense scrutiny from L&I. The nomination, submitted in the fall of 2012, was determined by staff to be incorrect and incomplete, and will need to be revised and resubmitted.
In addition to the nominations, the committee will consider one request for rescission. The owners of a warehouse building at 18th and North Streets, listed as a contributing property to the Spring Garden Historic District, have requested for the designation to be rescinded, or for the property to be reclassified as non-contributing.
While pleased with the agenda, Leech also cautioned that it should be no excuse for the understaffed Commission to put future designations on the back burner.
“We have suggested that the Commission establish at least three fixed designation committee dates a year in order to avoid another backlog,” Leech said, “and the Alliance is committed to producing nominations at a pace that would support this meeting schedule. There is certainly no shortage of historic resources across the city that deserve inclusion on the Philadelphia Register.”
The Historic Designation Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission meets Wednesday, May 29, at 9 a.m. in Room 578 of City Hall. The meeting is open to the public and all are invited to comment on the nominations.
Nominations to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places
• Joe Frazier’s Gym (Cloverlay Gym), 2917-19 N. Broad Street
• Dox Thrash House, 2340 Cecil B. Moore Avenue
• Stiffel Senior Center (Jewish Education Center #2), 2501-15 S. Marshall Street
• A. Pomerantz & Co. Building, 1525 Chestnut Street
• Chinatown YMCA (Chinese Cultural and Community Center), 125 N. 10th Street
• Horn & Hardart Building, 15-21 S. 11th Street
• St. Petri Evangelical German Lutheran Church (Community Church of God), 838 1/2 N. 42nd Street
• Leech House (Worrel-Winter House), 1548 Adams Avenue
• Box Grove Plantation, 8047 & 8049 Walker Street
• George T. Pearson House, 125 W. Walnut Lane
• Flavell Family House, 5340 Greene Street
• Happy Hollow Playground Recreation Center, 4740 Wayne Avenue
• Bethel Burying Ground (Weccaccoe Playground), 405-25 Queen Street
• Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, 4301 Lansdowne Drive
• Paschalville Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 6942 Woodland Avenue
Request to rescind historic designation
• 1713-27 North Street (contributing property, Spring Garden Historic District)
Note: This article has been corrected to identify John Holme as the patriarch of the family that owned the Box Grove Plantation, not Thomas Holme, the city’s first surveyor and planner. While both men were contemporaries, they are not believed to have been related.