Two New Historic Districts And Grand Court Protected

July 13, 2018 | by Starr Herr-Cardillo


“Meet me at the eagle.” The Wanamaker Building’s Grand Court at Macy’s Center City was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places on July 13 by unanimous vote. It joins only two other historic interiors currently protected by the Historical Commission. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Two new historic districts and a well-known Center City interior were added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places during today’s monthly meeting of the Historical Commission. A unanimous vote of approval by the Historical Commission makes the Wanamaker’s Grand Court, nominated by the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, the third interior added to the city’s list of protected properties, joining the City Hall Council Chambers and the Family Court Building.

The Historical Commission also voted unanimously to add Satterlee Heights, a set of four handsome twins set on expansive lots in Spruce Hill, to the local register. The nomination was written by Oscar Beisert, local preservation activist and founder of the Keeping Society, and was supported by the University City Historical Society. The Wayne Junction Historic District, a collection of large-scale industrial buildings surrounding the Wayne Junction Station, was nominated by the Historical Commission staff. The official vote among commissioners was unanimous. Both Satterlee Heights and the blocks surrounding Wayne Junction fall within existing National Register Historic Districts.

Community members and stakeholders spoke in support of the proposed Wayne Junction Historic District, including developer Ken Weinstein, president of PhillyOfficeRetail, who owns several buildings both within and surrounding the proposed district. Weinstein has been actively working to develop mixed-use transit-oriented projects in the area. 

The Arguto Oilless Bearing Company factory at 149 W. Berkley Street is now protected on the local register through inclusion in the Wayne Junction Historic District. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Sole opposition to the nomination came from an architect representing The Original Church of God in Christ Inc., the owner of a one-story contributing property at 149 W. Berkley Street, which asked that the property be omitted from the Wayne Junction District on the premise that it was a hazard to the public. The compact brick structure, formerly the Arguto Oilless Bearing Company factory, is owned by the church which occupies the adjacent building at 147 W. Berkley Street. The church is pursuing demolition of the structure.

Jon Farnham, executive director of the Historical Commission, stated that the agency was aware that the old bearing factory had been issued a violation by L&I, but that it was only deemed “dangerous” and not “imminently dangerous,” which would not be adequate to justify demolition. Weinstein later added that he has approached the church seeking a conservatorship of the property, but that the owners had not been receptive to the proposition. In the end the district was accepted with no new modifications.

Commission members also voted against a proposed amendment to the Diamond Street Historic District boundaries, which was submitted by Historical Commission staff. The proposed change would have eliminated two vacant parcels at the edge of the district, thus removing the agency’s jurisdiction over the lots and any subsequent new construction. The lots were left when L&I demolished a number of vacant properties decades ago that had fallen into disrepair.

One of four West Philly twins that make up Satterlee Heights, a mini historic district in Spruce Hill. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, spoke in support of maintaining the existing Diamond Street district boundaries, which he branded the “do no harm” approach. Pointing out that the City is exploring plans to build a police station on the site, Steinke made the case that it would be in the City’s best interest for the Historical Commission to retain the right to review any future development to ensure that any new construction is compatible with neighboring properties and those across the street, which are included in the district.

Farnham confirmed the plans for a police station on the block and clarified that the City had not approached the Commission to reconsider the boundaries. He also pointed out that a municipal building would have to undergo public review whether the vacant lots remained under the Commission’s jurisdiction or not, and that in the past the Commission has eliminated non-contributing buildings from historic districts in similar cases.

Farnham also mentioned that a similar proposal to reduce the size of the district, though one that would have also eliminated buildings from the boundaries, had been put forth nearly 20 years ago, but was never approved. Commissioner Emily Cooperman suggested that best practice would be to eliminate any noncontributing parcels from the boundaries of districts. Members voted eight in favor and three opposed to modifying the district boundaries to exclude the lots.

A hearing to consider a nomination to add the Painted Bride building at 230 Vine Street, dressed in Magic Gardens artist Isaiah Zagar’s signature mosaic work, was postponed until September.


About the Author

Starr Herr-Cardillo is a staff writer for Hidden City Daily. When she’s not covering local preservation issues or writing editorials for Hidden City, she works as a historic preservation professional in the nonprofit sector. Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Herr-Cardillo was drawn to the field by a deep affinity for adobe and vernacular architecture. She holds a Certificate in Heritage Conservation from the University of Arizona and an M.S. in Historic Preservation from PennDesign.


  1. bob crapster says:

    The corner property on 43rd is listed for sale, but won’t be worth that with a historical designation, and no ability to build on the large corner lot. The problem with non-homeowners nominating other people’s properties is that they have no sense of economic reality in afflicting this terrible designation on somebody else’s lifetime investment. What would be a million dollar property is worth far less as a result. Does some affinity for an old house trump the economic well being of a long time homeowner? Is the Historic Society going to pay for the repairs and compensate the owner for their losses due to this designation? Didn’t think so. That’s why you get “demolition by neglect”. Because nobody can afford to fix or live in their historic house ultimately.

  2. Kathy says:

    The property at the corner, 4300-4302 Osage, was individually designated in October 2015. The MLS currently has it listed for $1,150,000. The city’s property website shows that this building was last sold in May 2015 for $725,000. So how exactly has historic designation negatively affected the value of this property?

    1. bob crapster says:

      Has it sold for that? Listing doesn’t mean anything. If you could split the lots it would be worth a lot more than that, no pun intended.

  3. Davis says:

    This is great news!

  4. Rick Roo says:

    Asking Price and market value are entirely different. I agree with Bob. Someone w no skin in the game shouldn’t be allowed to nominate a property.

  5. B says:

    Just across City Avenue: On July 18, the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners voted to designate nine historic resources, including the original Barnes Foundation gallery and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

    1. James says:

      Lower Merion Township has screwed up plans to construct housing on the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary property because of neighbors who do not want new construction of housing to screw up their values of homes they live in when it comes to the time to list their houses for sale.

      Extremely unlikely anyone else will buy the Borromeo Seminary property if they cannot tear down the existing buildings and put what they want to put on the property. I always thought the existing building s could be converted to condos with shuttle bus to the nearby regional rail station.

      To preserve buildings because they are “historical” is nebulous if you cannot find developers willing to keep them in this condition especially when there are no other seminaries interested in purchasing the Borromeo Seminary property.

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