Four New Additions to the Local Register and One Demolition

May 14, 2024 | by Kimberly Haas

The Order Sons of Italy in America, Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in South Philadelphia. | Photo: Michael Bixler

At its meeting on May 10, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added four buildings to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. It also approved the demolition of an industrial property located within the city’s oldest historic district.    

1200-08 South Broad Street was erected in 1954 for the Order of the Sons of Italy in America, Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Its design represents an era characterized by a distinctive architectural style and embodies many of the defining characteristics of modernism, satisfying Criteria C and D. The work of architects Carroll, Grisdale, & Van Alen, a significant firm that designed buildings in the mid-20th century, Criterion E was also met. As the state headquarters for the Order Sons of Italy in America, Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, it satisfies Criterion A, owing to its importance to the Italian American community in Philadelphia, as well as Criterion J, exemplifying the cultural, political, social, and historical heritage of the South Philadelphia community.

The Smith-Steel-Humphreys House in Germantown. | Photo courtesy of The Keeping Society of Philadelphia

The Smith-Steel-Humphreys House at 424 E. Woodlawn Street, built around 1850, was part of the development of Germantown into a prosperous suburb in the second half of the 19th century. It is an example of early suburban Romantic style dwellings designed for wealthy residents, exemplifying the economic and social heritage of Germantown (Criterion J). It was also cited as satisfying Criterion A, owing to its association with Phebe Remington Westcott Humphreys, a horticultural author and photographer who occupied the house from 1894 to 1939.

Griffith Hall in West Philadelphia. | Photo courtesy of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

In West Philadelphia, Griffith Hall at 4201-47 Woodland Avenue is the oldest building of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, now part of Saint Joseph’s University. The Historical Commission found it satisfied Criterion A, as part of the first college of pharmacy in the United States, an institution that helped establish the modern field of pharmacology in the 19th century and continued to make significant contributions throughout the ensuing centuries.

The three-story Georgian Revival style masonry building was designed in 1927 by architects Norman Hulme and John J. Dull. Its style satisfied Criteria C and D, embodying distinguishing characteristics of the Georgian Revival style, during an era characterized by the use of this style on academic and other buildings. Although the lot on which the building stands also includes four other academic buildings, the nomination is for Griffith Hall alone.

The Julia Hebard Marsden House in Chestnut Hill. | Photo: Michael Bixler

A historic house at 8835 Germantown Avenue on the campus of Chestnut Hill hospital was also designated. Known as the Julia Hebard Marsden House, it’s an example of the Colonial Revival country houses that were built in Chestnut Hill in the late 19th century (Criteria C and D), contributing to the neighborhood’s elite status (Criterion J). As the work of nationally significant and Philadelphia-born architect Charles Barton Keen, Criterion E was also met. The designation is limited to the main section of the house and its east and west wings, but excludes the rear wing, its detached carriage house, and a parking garage structure behind it.

The Historical Commission heard a request for the demolition of a 19th century mill complex at 4045-61 Main Street in Manayunk. The site, which has housed the G. J. Littlewood & Sons dye works since 1869, has experienced occasional flooding over the years. Damage from Hurricane Ida in 2021 caused the fifth-generation owner to cease operations.

The G. J. Littlewood & Sons dye works in Manayunk. | Photo: Google Street View

The application identified 10 structures on the site, several of which are interconnected, and included the former Fountain Hotel, used by the company as an office building. Although not individually designated, it was deemed significant to the Main Street Manayunk Historic District, Philadelphia’s first such district, created in 1983. The proposed seven-story, 167-unit building would incorporate a portion of the original building’s wall along Main Street, but would be largely clad in brick and corrugated metal.

Last month, the Historical Commission’s Committee on Financial Hardship recommended approval, provided the site is documented to HABS standards, as did the Historical Commission staff, while the Architectural Committee recommended denial of both the demolition and the proposed new building, saying the mill buildings should be retained to a greater extent and the proposed building would be too large in size, scale, and massing for the Main Street Manayunk Historic District.

One public comment asked, with the demolition request relying on the floodplain location, is it possible to put another building there? Another cited a federal program that acquires properties in floodplains and maintains them as green space, asking if it qualified as a hardship claim if this appears to be a potential buyer.

The Historical Commission granted the demolition request, with the caveat that it could not proceed until HABS-level documentation is completed and the new building plan is approved, permitted, and financed. The applicant had also submitted plans for subsequent new construction, which were denied and remanded to the Architectural Committee.


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.

One Comment:

  1. James says:

    If the building is structurally compromised due to hurricane damage, the developer is entitled to demolish it provided a HABS plan is submitted and new building plans are approved. Problem is risk developer is taken if he builds a bigger building and if by right planning permits such construction but what happens if they turn it down and limit height to existing building.

    Perhaps developer is would consider a trade of his building site for a more generous site permitting a taller building for apartments or condos. Or the City might acquire site for a public playground.

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