Four Germantown Landmarks and Others Added to the Local Register

November 22, 2023 | by Kimberly Haas

At its meeting on November 10, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added five properties to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, amended an earlier designation, and declined to withdraw another. Its deliberations were occasionally punctuated by procedural questions. Two separate, historically-related parcels in Germantown were reviewed.

The Sallie Watson House at 5128 Wayne Avenue. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The Sallie Watson House at 5128 Wayne Avenue was designed by architect Wilson Eyre, Jr. in the English Arts and Crafts and American Shingle styles. It had been previously designated in June 1972 before the current criteria for designation had been adopted. It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The current nomination aimed to improve the documentation about the property.

The Sallie Watson Barn at 5114 Wayne Avenue was built in 1886 and repurposed in 1907 by George E. Savage, a prominent church architect, for the First United Presbyterian Church of Germantown.

The Historical Commission found that both properties satisfied Criterion D and E as having characteristics of a particular architectural style and as representatives of the work of their respective designers. The structures also met Criterion J as examples of the suburban development in Germantown during that time, and in the case of the barn, a reuse pattern that occurred in the neighborhood in the 19th century. The Sallie Watson House designation also included Criterion C, reflecting a distinctive architectural style of that era.

Heartsease at 724 Locust Avenue. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Heartsease, a 1856 Gothic Revival style cottage at 724 Locust Avenue, was also designated. It was the home of Hannah Ann Zell, a prominent contributor to civic and charitable issues in Germantown, until her death in 1911. In addition to Criteria A and J, it was attributed with Criterion I due to the possible presence of intact archaeological resources relating to the 1777 Battle of Germantown, including human remains.

The Historical Commission added two more Germantown properties to the local register after grappling with the problem of how to designate two non-adjoining, separately owned properties, but omitting a non-contributing addition between the two, despite all three constituting one parcel according to the Office of Property Assessment.

Far right: The Warren H. Poley Apothecary at 6519 Germantown Avenue. Far left: The George W. Cox House at 6525 Germantown Avenue. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The Warren H. Poley Apothecary at 6519 Germantown Avenue was built circa 1882-83 in the Second Empire and Queen Anne Revival styles. The George W. Cox House at 6525 Germantown Avenue was built between 1875-76 in the Italianate style. The Historical Commission found that the two buildings have distinguishing characteristics of their respective architectural styles, which reflect the era in which they were built, satisfying Criteria C and D.

Saint Agnes Roman Catholic School at 804-16 N. Orianna Street. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Another address issue arose with the designation of the Saint Agnes Roman Catholic School building at 804-16 N. Orianna Street. Having been purchased by a developer earlier this year, a subdivision request is in progress, as it is currently part of the church parcel at 801-15 North 4th Street. The owner noted that they were seeking historic designation to utilize the provision in the City’s zoning code that allows exceptions in the case of adaptive reuse of historic buildings, as they plan to convert the building into apartments.

The 1926 school building was the work of Peter F. Getz, a prominent church architect for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, making it significant under Criterion E. Saint Agnes was the first and only school in Philadelphia founded by a Slovak congregation and also served as a meeting place for the Slovak community of Philadelphia, satisfying Criterion J.

After discussing whether to use the current or future address for the building, and whether one or the other would cause problems in securing permits, the Historical Commission approved the designation.

Saint Donato’s Roman Catholic Church at 401-09 North 65th Street. | Photo: Google Street View

A court-ordered reconsideration of a prior designation also raised procedural questions. Saint Donato’s Roman Catholic Church at 401-09 North 65th Street in Haddington was completed in 1920 and designed by Francis Ferdinand Durang, Sr., son of Edwin F. Durang, Philadelphia’s foremost Catholic church architect of the 19th century. Its school had been established by Saint Frances X. Cabrini, the first American saint, who also founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Cabrini University.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia merged the parish with nearby Our Lady of Lourdes in 2013 and ultimately closed the building altogether in 2020. The Society of St. Frances Cabrini of Philadelphia has expressed interest in assuming responsibility for the church.

The Historical Commission designated St. Donato’s in April 2021, which led to the church’s appeal, claiming it had not been notified of the nomination and the court order remanding the designation to the Historical Commission. At the same time, the nominator asked to withdraw the nomination.

After discussing how to interpret the court order and which item to address first, the Historical Commission voted unanimously to deny the request to withdraw the nomination and then voted unanimously to affirm the designation.

Church of the Atonement at 4700 Kingsessing Avenue in 2015 | Photo: Peter Woodall

A simpler church nomination was also reviewed. The Protestant Episcopal Church of the Atonement at 4700 Kingsessing Avenue, was built in 1901. Its parish house dates back to 1893. The buildings were designed by the firm Furness, Evans & Co. whose work significantly influenced the architectural development of the city, meeting Criterion E, and are representative of the development of West Philadelphia as a residential suburb, satisfying Criterion A. In 2014, the church and parish house were purchased by an apartment rental agency based in West Philadelphia.

Another developer received approval for in-concept modifications to a historic church building they purchased earlier this year. Originally known as the Church of the Holy Apostles, and later, Shiloh Baptist Church, the complex at 2030-38 and 2040 Christian Street in Graduate Hospital was completed in 1870 by architect George Hewitt, then with the firm Fraser, Furness & Hewitt. It was designated in 1980. Final approval for the owner’s request to replace windows and add skylights as they convert the church into multi-family housing will be considered at a later date.


About the Author

Kimberly Haas is a staff writer for Hidden City Daily. She is a long time radio journalist, both nationally and locally with WHYY and WXPN. In particular, she enjoys covering Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, culture and history, as well as urban sustainability and public policy, in both print and audio.

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