By Samantha Kuntz
Philadelphia has managed to accrue some significant historic resources over the past, oh, 300 years or so. It is home to no fewer than 550 resources (including districts) listed on National Register of Historic Places, and it holds over 11,087 resources (including districts) on the local Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. Philadelphia possesses relics of our nascent nation (the U.S. Constitution, the Liberty Bell), contains a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Independence Hall), and boasts an impressive new heritage association (full membership in the Organization of World Heritage Cities).
In other words, there must be something in the (Schuylkill and Delaware) water here.
With such a vast inventory of historic properties comes an increased need for documentation. Throughout the past year, the PA SHPO has been working to transform the approach to cultural resource protection by integrating historic preservation into local hazard mitigation planning via the Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative. For Philadelphia, this primarily meant documenting over 600 registered historic properties located in flood hazard zones for consideration in citywide disaster planning.
However, it also meant considering stewardship from another angle: what about resources not yet recognized by either Register?
Community Landmarks and the Citywide Vision
To help answer this question, AECOM was tasked with a second survey to explore potential historic resources hiding in plain sight. Working beyond the identified flood hazard boundaries that defined the first phase of the Philadelphia survey, the AECOM team launched an additional, non-flood related cultural resource survey in two of Philadelphia’s city planning districts to suss out historic properties that have not yet been documented or designated.
Since the beginning of the Disaster Planning project in Philadelphia – and in concurrent surveys throughout Monroe, Bedford, and Cameron counties – the PA SHPO has emphasized the importance of identifying resources with substantial local and historic value that are not protected by designation. Deemed Community Landmarks, these properties form the core of continuing survey work in Philadelphia.
For the purposes of the resulting survey, Community Landmarks are known as buildings, structures, sites, districts, or objects that are eligible for listing in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places (PRHP) and hold value within the local community due to their ability to convey information about its local history, identity, or social and cultural heritage. Furthermore, Community Landmarks need either have been identified by city agencies as worthy of study, or have been a focal point for neighborhood advocacy efforts.
You may know them as your neighborhood park, the civic meeting center, or even the diner where you had your first date.
And there are thousands of them spread throughout Philadelphia. To narrow the scope, the PA SHPO partnered with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC, recent recipient of the American Planning Association’s (APA) 2016 National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Agency) and selected two planning districts to ground the Community Landmark pilot surveys: North Delaware and Lower Northwest.
Delving into the Districts
AECOM’s cultural resource team completed survey of the North Delaware planning district in early April. In total, 40 resources were assessed for potential listing on the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places. Ranging from neighborhood parks to roadside inns, workers housing blocks to wealthy mansions, and civic facilities to local shops, these resources reflect a broad collection of architectural styles, construction eras, and historical development types – capturing a diverse subset of historic resources grounded in local heritage. Take, for example, the following sites:
All of these resources have been documented in the North Delaware district. Despite their differences, each site helps to communicate a sense of place germane to a particular time, place, and group of people. Each serves as an anchor to the neighborhood and its history.
If found eligible for listing on the National and Philadelphia Registers of Historic Places, these properties may qualify for financial incentives related to rehabilitation work.
With North Delaware district survey worked wrapped, the Community Landmark and National Register identification efforts will continue in the Lower Northwest planning district in the coming weeks. AECOM has slated approximately 120 resources for survey in the district, including Frank Furness rowhouses, Mid-Century Modern dwellings, and WPA-era park structures in the Wissahickon area of northwest Philadelphia.
Check back this summer for more on Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative as AECOM gears up to survey historic resources in flood-hazard areas in Bedford and Cameron counties next month!
Samantha Kuntz is an Architectural Historian for AECOM Technical Services, Inc. A recent addition to the AECOM Cultural Resources Department based in Burlington, New Jersey, Ms. Kuntz is a Philly resident, former PCPC intern, and a new member of the Young Friends of the Preservation Alliance Steering Committee. She has a M.S. in Historic Preservation (MSHP) and an M.A. in City and Regional Planning (MCP) from the University of Pennsylvania.