Op-ed: Balance Lost Buildings With Those Saved In 2018

 

Hidden City Daily’s annual Lost Buildings list has become a holiday tradition, although it hardly comports with the merriment and good cheer for which the season is known. The 2018 edition, published on December 27, did not disappoint. Collected in the piece is a fascinating, yet depressing rundown of landmarks that have been reduced to rubble over the previous 12 months. The list feeds into a prevailing narrative that preservation advocacy in Philadelphia is usually about a steady, mournful drumbeat of loss.

The 2018 Lost Buildings feature does succeed in highlighting the inadequacy of historic preservation protections and incentives that plagues Philadelphia, one of the most historic of American cities. Mayor Jim Kenney’s Historic Preservation Task Force, which issued its final report in December 2018 after 18 months of deliberation, is meant to address these shortcomings. How many of their recommendations will become official policy will be a closely watched subject in 2019.

But it’s not all doom and gloom out there. 263 properties were protected from demolition in 2018 by virtue of being listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Not all of these buildings were necessarily threatened, although many certainly were. The list includes more than 200 properties that stand within five newly designated historic districts: two in North Philadelphia and one each in Mt. Airy, Spruce Hill, and Roxborough. 

The process of adding properties to the local historic register plays out at the monthly meetings of the Philadelphia Historical Commission. Each newly designated property is the subject of a historic nomination researched and submitted by a private individual, organization or, in some cases, the Historical Commission staff itself. The nominations are then considered for approval in a two-step process over at least two months, sometimes longer in cases of property owner opposition. 

Once designated, listed buildings face a far smaller chance of finding themselves on Hidden City’s  Lost Buildings list. The media often pays little attention to these proceedings, choosing instead to report on the painful and controversial losses. But it is real preservation in action.

This partial list of new designations is submitted in the spirit of wanting to celebrate our successes, in addition to trying to learn from our losses. As a counterpoint to Hidden City Daily’s Lost Buildings list, here are some of the highlights of buildings that were saved in 2018.

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1416-32 W. Girard Avenue in Francisville. | Photo: Peter Woodall

1416-32 W. Girard Avenue Historic District

Built: 1882

Architect: Willis G Hale

Nominator: Donna J. Rilling

A grand speculative row of nine Gilded Age attached houses developed by William Weightman, one of Philadelphia’s largest landowners and wealthiest men of the 19th century. The row was designed by Willis Hale, one of the city’s most imaginative architects of his time.

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3910 Chestnut Street in University City. | Image: Philadelphia Historical Commission

James A Connelly House

Location: 3910 Chestnut Street

Built: 1866, Reconstructed: 1896

Architect: Horace Trumbauer

Nominator: Staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission

Noted architect Horace Trumbauer extensively redesigned a 1860s-era brick twin into a Chateauesque-syle mansion worthy of a successful weaving mill owner. The other half of the twin was demolished in 1959. The Connelly House is owned by the University of Pennsylvania and stands in an area of intense pressure for new development for student housing. The house is now shielded from this threat.

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1430 N. Broad Street in North Philadelphia. | Photo: Bradley Maule

Charles E. Ellis House

Location: 1430 N. Broad Street

Built: 1890-91

Architect: William E. Decker

Nominator: The Staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission

This imposing Richardsonian Romanesque structure was built as the residence of streetcar magnate and philanthropist Charles E. Ellis. It is a survivor from North Broad Street’s heyday as an avenue of exuberant homes and social clubs of the Gilded Age.

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1401 S. Water Street in Pennsport. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Engine 46 Firehouse

Location: 1401 S. Water Street

Built: 1894

Architect: John Windrim

Nominator: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia with Ben Leech

This former fire station of Flemish Revival and Queen Anne design was built during a rapid expansion of municipal services that delivered an ambitious building program including numerous architecturally distinctive firehouses, police stations, and bath houses. Only a small fraction survives today and this is one of the finest. Engine 46 was threatened with an active demolition permit starting in 2013. The building was designated after the permit lapsed in 2017.

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1524-38 Germantown Avenue in Olde Kensington. | Image: Google Street View

William Gretz Brewery

1524-38 Germantown Avenue

Built: 1858-1961

Architect/Engineer: Jacob Herold and Kurt W. Peuckert

Nominator: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia with Oscar Beisert

William Gretz Brewery is one of the few largely intact brewery complexes still standing in the city. It was one of 20 breweries to reopen after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. The field steadily narrowed until Gretz emerged in the 1950s as one of only four remaining city breweries, becoming one of the first to use cans for their products. The complex finally was shuttered in 1961, although it has survived largely intact since then. It is now subject to a redevelopment proposal that would convert it into apartments with a new construction addition. Now, thanks to its historic designation, the revitalization of this long-moribund complex can be done with an eye to preserving its historic appearance.

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2041-55 Coral Street in Kensington. | Photo: Google Street View

Harbison’s Dairies

Location: 2041-55 Coral Street

Built: 1895-1914

Architect: Stearns & Castor

Nominator: The Keeping Society of Philadelphia

This four-building dairy complex was once among of the largest in the city. It was founded by a family that rose to prominence and gave its name to Harbison Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia. A prominent water tower, designed to look like a glass bottle of Harbison’s milk, punctuates the enduring industrial character of Kensington.

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The Wanamaker Building’s Grand Court in Center City. | Photo: Michael Bixler

John Wanamaker Department Store’s Grand Court

1301-25 Chestnut Street

Built: 1910-11

Architect: D.H. Burnham & Co.

Nominator: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia with Ben Leech

The Grand Court inside the Wanamaker Building is one of Philadelphia’s most iconic interior spaces. It is the centerpiece of the only department store ever to be dedicated by an American president. It is also only the third interior to be added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places since interior designations were permitted by law in 2011.

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228-36 S. 52nd Street in West Philadelphia. | Image: Google Street View

Locust Street Theater

Location: 228-36 S. 52nd Street

Built: 1914-22

Architect: Stuckert & Sloan, Hoffman & Henon Co.

Nominator: Noah Yoder

Locust Street Theater is a rare survivor of the once ubiquitous neighborhood movie house with most of its architectural character intact. It was later adapted for live performances by one of the city’s longest-running African American theater companies.

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7301 Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. | Photo: Google Street View

Lutheran Theological Seminary Historic District

Location: 7301 Germantown Avenue

Built: 1889-1972

Architect: Furness & Evans, Watson & Huckel, and others

Nominator: The Keeping Society of Philadelphia

Lutheran Theological Seminary is a verdant, picturesque campus built on the site of Mount Airy, the onetime country estate of William Allen, Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. A total of 22 properties comprise this new historic district.

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836 N. Preston Street in Belmont. | Photo: Joshua Bevan

Alexander McGaw Mansion

Location: 836 N. Preston Street

Built: 1890

Architect: Unknown

Nominator: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia with Josh Bevan

Alexander McGaw was a successful masonry contractor specializing in building bridges, dams and other public works by the time he built his massive, Richardsonian Queen Anne residence in West Philadelphia’s Belmont section in 1890. Among his projects were the nearby Girard Avenue Bridge, the Duluth Superior Bridge, and the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. When he died in 1905 the Washington Times listed him as among 300 “Men and Women Whose Place in This World’s Work It Will be Hard to Fill.” The mansion was later incorporated into the West Philadelphia Hospital for Women. Today it is owned by the Friends Rehabilitation Program.

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3200 Belgrade Street in Port Richmond. | Photo: Google Street View

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church

Location: 3200 Belgrade Street

Built: 1890-94

Architect: Edwin Forrest Durang

Nominator: Celeste Morello

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church is one of three Roman Catholic churches that dominate the skyline in Port Richmond that have been listed for protection on the local register. The imposing Romanesque structure was built to serve a burgeoning Irish immigrant population. It remains an active worship space to this day.

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4200 Ridge Avenue in East Falls. | Photo: Google Street View

Odd Fellows Hall

Location: 4200 Ridge Avenue

Built: 1868

Architect: Unknown, Contractor: Henry G. Becker

Nominator: Staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission

Odd Fellows Hall is a largely intact and very old example of the fraternal organization clubhouses of 19th century Philadelphia. In this case the structure was used simultaneously by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Freemasons.

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2424 E Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond. | Photo: Google Street View

Our Lady Help of Christians Church

Location: 2424 E Allegheny Avenue

Built: 1887-98

Architect: Albert Wolfring Leh

Nominator: Celeste Morello

Our Lady Help of Christians Church was founded by a group of German Catholics who struggled to fit in with the predominant Irish Catholic parishes that dominated Port Richmond in the late 1800s. This flamboyant, Gothic Revival church building was designed by a German-American architect from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. The extensive ornamentation employed in his design makes it stand out on Allegheny Avenue’s parade of landmark church buildings.

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4800-14 Lancaster Avenue in Cathedral Park. | Image: Google Street View

Our Mother of Sorrows Church

Location: 4800-14 Lancaster Avenue

Built: 1867-73

Architect: Edwin Forrest Durang

Nominator: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia with Josh Bevan

Our Mother of Sorrows Church is a largely intact example of Edwin Forrest Durang’s work. The impressive church in West Philadelphia exhibits Romanesque details including rounded arches, entrance-flanking towers, and abundant stained glass windows.

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559 Righter Street in Manayunk. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Ridge Avenue Thematic Historic District

Location: Manayunk and Roxborough

Built: 1681-1908

Architect: Various

Nominator: Staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission

Ridge Avenue Thematic Historic District is the largest local historic district approved in years. The 188 properties now protected on Ridge Avenue are scattered on a 5-mile stretch of road from the Wissahickon Creek all the way up to the Montgomery County line. 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones imposed a 1-year demolition moratorium on the avenue in December 2017, prompted by neighborhood concerns about the loss of historic fabric in favor of fast food restaurants, bank branches, and other corporate chains. Over the ensuing months Historical Commission staff identified nearly 200 buildings that warranted preservation. The nomination was approved in November 2018 with little opposition from the affected property owners, ensuring that Ridge Avenue’s historic appearance as a mainly residential thoroughfare with ample green space, and a commercial core between Martin and Hermitage Streets, will be preserved.

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4200 block Osage Avenue in Spruce Hill. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Satterlee Heights Historic District

Location: 4200 block Osage Avenue

Built: 1871-86

Architect: Unknown

Nominator: University City Historical Society with Oscar Beisert

This eight-property historic district of semi-detached dwellings was built on part of the former site of the Civil War-era Satterlee Hospital and was designed in the then-popular Second Empire style.  Remarkably intact, the district is an early example of the suburbanization of this part of West Philadelphia.

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625 S. Delhi Street in Bella Vista. | Photo: Google Street View

William Still House

Location: 625 S. Delhi Street

Built: 1847-48

Architect: Unknown, Builder: Peter Glasgow

Nominator: The Keeping Society of Philadelphia

625 S. Delhi Street was the home of famed African American abolitionist, historian, writer, and civil rights activist William Still during a pivotal five-year period in the 1850s. The row house also may be the only newly designated property in Philadelphia to make recent national news, having been picked up by the Washington Post.

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6907-11 Torresdale Avenue in Tacony. | Photo: Google Street View

Tacony Post Office

Location: 6907-11 Torresdale Avenue

Built: 1935

Architect: Morris & Erskine

Nominator: Alex Balloon

Tacony Post Office is an excellent example of Art Deco Classicism. The building’s large footprint and distinctive facade make it an anchor along the revitalizing Torresdale Avenue business district in Tacony. It served as a post office until the 1960s and now houses a computer retailer and servicer.

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Wayne Junction Historic District in Nicetown. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Wayne Junction Historic District

Location: Nicetown

Built: 1884-1910

Architect: Various

Nominator: Staff of the Philadelphia Historical Commission

This assemblage of seven brick factory buildings surrounds the recently restored Wayne Junction commuter rail station. These former factories exemplify the preeminence of Philadelphia’s industrial heritage at the turn of the last century. The area is now poised for a 21st century revival on the strength of these sturdy structures, which have begun to accommodate apartments, live-work spaces, and dining and entertainment venues.

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Soapbox gives readers, contributors, and staff of Hidden City Daily the opportunity to share their thoughts on topical issues with smart, engaging discussion. Have an idea for an op-ed? Drop us a line and join the conversation: editor@hiddencityphila.org

About the author

Paul Steinke serves as executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, a membership-based organization whose mission is to promote the appreciation, adaptive re-use and development of the Philadelphia region’s historic buildings, communities and landscapes. He started in this role in June 2016 after serving on the organization’s board of directors for many years. A lifelong Philadelphian, Paul holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Economics from Pennsylvania State University, and pursued an MBA at Drexel University. Paul serves as board co-chair of the William Way LGBT Community Center and is on the board of directors of The Fund for the Water Works. He lives in University City with his husband and partner of 22 years, David Ade, an architect with a practice based in Center City.



9 Comments


  1. Thank you Mr Steinke and all those who worked so hard on these successful nominations. This is a fine work and hopefully the harbinger of more to come.

  2. Thanks to all who contributed to this proactive work.

  3. I am surprised to see Catholic Churches added to this list.
    My family was members of St. Edward the confessor at 8 th & York street.
    I wish that we could have gotten that beautiful church on the historical list there have been many of the old perishiners who are extremely up set as th what has happened to this beautiful old building.
    This is truly a lost artifact.
    Would you happen to know if there is anything that could be done to save St.Eds?

    By the way my great grandfather had something to do with the construction of Nativity church at Belgrade and, Allegheny Ave.

    • You might want to contact the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.

    • My father was baptized at St. Edward’s in 1912. When I was a student at Cardinal Dougherty HS (graduated 1966), our freshman World History teacher, Fr. James Mortimer (deceased 2018, former pastor, St. William’s in Lawndale, Philadelphia) taught us that St. Edward the Confessor Church, 6th and York Sts, was the prime example of Norman Gothic architecture in this hemisphere!! On the pennies of immigrants!! Absolutely amazing! I myself was baptized at St. Athanasius in West Oak Lane but moved to North Philly when my Dad bought a bar at Germantown and Glenwood Aves in the Fairhill section, and made First Communion at St. Bonaventure Church, a BEAUTIFUL church in the German style, demolished in January 2017. Now retired Navy O-5 and living in Virginia Beach, I appreciate having grown up in those old neighborhoods!

  4. Thank you! This is a great list.

    I’m particularly glad to see Our Mother of Sorrows Church on the list. My great-grandmother was baptized there in 1882 or 1883. I’m also glad to see that the Charles E. Ellis house is on the list just to keep Temple from destroying any more of N. Philly’s history.

  5. Thank you to all of those involved in preserving Philadelphia’s rich architectural history. These are great assets to our city and it will only help us as we move forward in becoming more of a world class city. These buildings and churches are a part of a great history and it’s nice to seem them preserved. Thank you for the article, Paul, it’s nice to read about the great efforts being made to preserve our collective heritage.

  6. Is this list of only those the Commission arranged for?
    What about the other buildings that were landmarked, like the Musical Art Club?

  7. What a disgrace!! You idiots sit in your high tower and tell us what we should do. Why don’t you use your own money to fix those ugly, worn out pieces of crap. The city needs to get rid of these unusable eye sores and make way for new 21st century modern bldgs. Liberty square, the Convention center, and many many other beautiful would not be there if we listened to you clowns.

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